When I saw two friends at the end of the grocery aisle, my stomach clenched.  I hadn't seen them in months, so I should have been grateful for a chance to catch up.  But I was picking up supplies for the afternoon of cooking I had planned.  I find bulk cooking saves me effort during the week and builds up my introvert energy reserves.  I hadn't allocated energy for social time that day, and I feared the minutes spent in conversation would risk the energy reserves I was trying to accumulate.  I didn't want to make that trade.

It's easy to see how introverts might get accused of being antisocial.  I just revealed a time where running into friends caused minor anxiety.  It would be easy to assume I shun people and social time.  But that's not true.  I cherish quality time with friends.  I value meaningful activities.  I enjoy surprises, and most of the time adapting comes easily to me.  If I come across as antisocial, it's because my energy levels are threatened or low.

The feeling when my reserves are depleted is raw and desperate.  I avoid it at all costs.  When my energy levels are threatened, my brain jumps into a scarcity mentality.  I calculate the bare minimum actions I must do.  I drop pleasantries and ignore social cues.  My primary goal becomes protecting my reserves.

Running out of energy is a daily fear.  I know there are much larger concerns in the world, and I have no intent to diminish those.  But on the small-scale, personal level, running out of energy is my greatest fear.  To protect myself, there's a constant calculation in the back of my mind about how much energy remains.

So no, introverts are not antisocial.  But yes, next time I see you at the grocery store, you might find me behind the cereal boxes.

I have a feeling my grandmother never once heard or used the phrase "context switching."  Growing up on a farm there was hard work to be done and little time for competing priorities.  Yet for me the concept is so familiar that I've even wondered how different personality types respond to context switching and are affected by it.  Is it easier for some folks than others?  Does the energy use required impact introverts more?  Susan Cain's 2011 blog post for Psychology Today shed some light for me, which made me reflect on context switching for introverts and the impact in my own life.

What I've observed is:

When I switch gears to another category, it takes more energy than when I switch activities within the same category.

Categories at work might be project planning, personnel and hiring, project creation, strategic thinking, mentoring, problem-solving, etc.

For example, if I'm working on a plan for an upcoming project, my brain is running through a bunch of logistics, such as who needs to be involved, what is the timeframe, what needs to be included in the first release, etc.  Switching among those tasks seems to use the same part of my brain.  But if I then need to switch to, say, emailing a response to a job applicant, my brain comes to a crashing halt and takes time to start up again.  Now I need to account for things like answering politely, communicating clearly, and remembering what not to say during the hiring process.

Categories at home might be spending quality time with family members, household chores, reading, exercising, planning for an upcoming event, etc.

For example, I usually talk with my parents on the phone on Sunday evenings.  It's a ritual I look forward to, but depending on what I've been doing beforehand, the idea of a phone call, even to loved ones, can sound draining.

I find that a lot of my energy is gobbled up during context switching.  I try to structure my days to avoid it, but is seems like this aspect of modern life is here to stay.

I often wonder what percentage of my energy each day gets spent on communication, both sending and receiving.  On days where I feel exhausted from communication, I wish I were a robot.  I picture a robot rolling around, performing my daily responsibilities, and approaching every moment of communication without the fear, second guessing, or energy loss that I experience.

Need to deliver bad news?  The robot would send a short, accurate message without worrying about how the recipient will take it and whether the message has been delivered with enough care.

Need to write an email about a debated subject?  The robot would state the pros and cons of each option without worrying about how the list will come across and what will be the outcome.

Just received bad news?  The robot would process the impact of the news without worrying about what it should have done differently or how to deal with the aftermath.

If being a robot didn’t also mean losing the best parts of being human, I think I would go for it!