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The Introvert's Guide To Being Alone Without Feeling Guilty

You don't need to totally overhaul your schedule to give your introverted brain the space it needs to refuel.

[Photo: Flickr user Nelson L.]

We all need a little space to mentally process life and recharge so we can function at our best and enjoy time with others. It's just that introverts may need more of it. For introverts, time alone is as essential as sleeping or eating. Not getting enough can cause frustration, resentment, and fatigue to set in.

But finding these moments to replenish your energy can be difficult and even guilt-inducing—especially if you have a family. "If I’m gone all day at work," many introverts think, "shouldn’t I want to spend what little time I have left with my loved ones?" Others skimp on alone time for more practical reasons, worrying that taking a break from an endless to-do list will only put them more behind.

So how do you find space to be by yourself in your already tight schedule—and not feel guilty about it? These strategies can help.

Start With Acceptance

As "kumbaya" as it may sound, your first step is acceptance. Embrace the idea that there's nothing selfish about needing or wanting time alone. Accept that your life's daily irritations may be exacerbated by malnourishment in the introvert area. So while it will take some minutes or even hours away from your professional aspirations and personal priorities, investing in time for yourself will leave you better off. Alone time is a valid desire, but before we can seek it out, we first need to come to terms with that.

Does that mean that you can or should spend the whole weekend playing video games? Not necessarily. Bingeing on a solo activity won’t really satisfy your rejuvenation needs. There's a point at which introvert time can actually become the type of counterproductive overindulgence you may guiltily fear it is, especially if you’re a parent and have little people looking to you for love.

But don't paint all solo time with too broad a brush. If you can consistently find an hour a day—even parceled out in shorter segments—to feed the part of you that needs time away from people, you’ll find yourself in a better place not just for yourself but also for your family and your career.

The next step is to find small, practical strategies to begin to eke out that time in your schedule. You probably shouldn't try for a massive overhaul—that probably won't be feasible or effective. The key is to start with modest changes and decide over time what works best for you. It's okay to mix and match from these five strategies—to stick with one (or a combination of a few) for a few weeks or months, then try another. Stay flexible, just stay committed.

1. Get Up Just A Little Earlier

Waking up even slightly earlier than you're used to can be a great way to start the day with a sense of peace. Setting your alarm earlier isn't always a recipe for exhaustion; in my work as a time coach, it's often the reverse. My clients tend to use this time for meditation, prayer, planning, or simply thinking. I recommend getting up earlier for alone time instead of staying up later because the latter can lead to a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation.

Many of us are too ambitious when we revise our wake-up plans—you may not need another whole hour each day to flex your introvert muscles. Plus, if you’re extremely tired at night already, you'll likely wind up doing less satisfying introvert activities like watching a TV show you don’t really care about.

2. Start (Or End) Your Workday In Solo Mode

Some of my coaching clients make a purposeful introvert stop at a coffee shop at the beginning or end of their workdays. This gives them 30 minutes or so to be alone, without having to interact with anyone around them—colleagues or family members. They typically use this time to read, plan, or just decompress. If you commute, choosing not to talk on the phone and sometimes even avoiding listening to music can give you time to work through everything in your head without external input.

3. Ditch Your Gym Partner

Introverts tend to benefit from exercising alone. Going on a run or walk at lunch can not only help you get into better shape but also provide some much needed mental space. For some introverts, listening to no music while working out can be more refreshing than cranking up that playlist. But for others, a good soundtrack is rejuvenating—experiment with both and see which leaves you feeling more energized and centered.

If you play a team sport or have a regular gym buddy you meet up with after work, try asking for a day or two each week free of the commitment so you can exercise on your own. See how that works for you and adjust accordingly.

4. Swap Your Mindless Breaks For Mindful Ones

Instead of taking mindless breaks at work—where you check email for no apparent reason or scroll aimlessly through Facebook—take intentional moments to do something you really enjoy. That could be going for a stroll outside, reading a few pages of a book or magazine, or taking time to journal.

5. Set A Regular Recharge Time

Especially if you're a parent as well an an introvert, you may need time at home to just be—but it may feel like your home doesn't let you. Planning in daily periods, no matter how short, when you know you’ll have time to be alone can help you make it through those times when you find your energy running low. Maybe that's as simple as a 30-minute break when your spouse agrees to watch the kids or get them ready for bed so you'll have time to read, do something crafty, or even just cook without interruption.

Of course, you should return the favor for your partner. If you’re parenting solo, set some intentional time once the kids are in bed. You may be grateful for even a 15-minute space for reflection, reading, or what have you before your head hits the pillow. And it'll be pretty hard to feel guilty about that.

related video: are you taking breaks the wrong way?

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