Dr Perpetua Neo

How Introverts Can Master Their Calendar (And Weekends!)

[This DrP article was first published on MindBodyGreen]

There is biohacking, where we experiment with our body via fasting and nutrition to create major transformations. Then there is what I call personality hacking, where we experiment with our lifestyles in a way adapted to our personalities, so we function more optimally.

As an introvert, one of my favorite experiments has been flipping my weekdays and weekends. That means instead of going out on the weekends like most people, I plan all my social activities for weekday evenings after work and then block off my entire weekend for myself. Here’s why:

1. By planning your social activities for after work, you group all your human interactions together.

Most people work a nine-to-five and are already out of the house and around people the whole day because of it, so planning all other social activities for after work allows you to tick off your weekly “fun hangout” box on days when you’re already socially switched “on.” This way, you don’t have to flip on that switch at all on the weekends, if you don’t want to.

2. Weekday hangouts are shorter hangouts.

Most people will not stay out late on a weekday because of work the next morning—or at least would not judge you for throwing in the towel early. That makes it the perfect kind of social activity for the introvert, who usually has energy for only so much uninterrupted social time. You only have to be at the group gathering for an hour or two before it’s over or at least socially acceptable to peace out.

3. The hyperactive energy of weekend social gatherings often exceeds introverts’ neurological capacity for it.

Public spaces tend to be more crowded and noisier on weekends. For an introvert, all this activity can be overwhelming. We have a lower dopamine threshold and are therefore more easily stimulated than extroverts.

What this means is that while the extrovert gets more incandescent and magnetic, the introvert starts shrinking.

4. Going out on weekdays usually means smaller groups and more meaningful activities.

Fewer people are available to hang out on a given weekday evening, and that’s a good thing for introverts. Not only do small groups help assuage the aforementioned problems introverts face with overstimulation, but they also tend to cater toward more meaningful and connective activities, which are like soul food for the introvert. The introvert brain has a more active right frontal insular; this area is involved in empathy, self-reflection, and emotional meaning. And with larger and thicker gray matter in our prefrontal cortex, we tend to engage in deeper and more abstract thought.

This doesn’t mean we spend all our time philosophizing and engaging in heavy existentialist discussion, of course. Introverts thrive on all sorts of explorations of meaning, from savoring new cuisines with like-minded foodies to attending interesting talks being held around town to simply picking up new skills with others. Book clubs and spirituality groups also satisfy these meaning cravings quite well. And what ties all of these activities together is that they’re better done in smaller groups and can easily be explored in an hour or two after work before returning home at a reasonable hour.

5. Weekends can become uninterrupted self-care time.

After a long week of work and a few peppered-in evenings of seeing people after hours, the weekends can then become your reward. Because I have spent time being social and working, I can sleep in with a light heart—I know I have earned it.

The weekends are an optimal time to withdraw, recharge, and revel in what I call the introvert hangover. Introverts notice all sorts of details, especially errors, because our right frontal insular cortex is overactive. This makes us more self-conscious about the mistakes we make, whether real or perceived. Our frontal lobes, which evaluate outcomes, light up, meaning we have a busy mind worrying about what’s going to happen. With these neurological factors in mind, it is easy for our nervous systems to get overwhelmed, even more so if we are also socially anxious. But the introvert hangover—that is, taking conscious time to recharge alone and away from the stimulation of social gatherings—activates a different brain pathway that stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, helping us to wind down from all the cortisol and adrenaline that have been coursing through us during the week. Recharging, whether in the form of reading, sleeping, or cleaning our houses, kicks the acetylcholine pathway into place, calming us down and making us happy.

Weekends provide an extended time period to fully engage in the introvert hangover, unlike the snatches of time at the end of each weekday, which enables a fuller extent of recharging our metaphorical batteries.

So how do you make the flip?

Scheduling all your social activities for the weekdays does involve some finagling and reprioritizing since you’re not the only one in charge of the plans—you also need to convince the people you’re socializing with to buy in. Here’s how to successfully make the flip:

1. Curate your circle.

One question I get is “What if you’re invited to events?” Importantly, flipping my weekdays and weekends doesn’t mean I am rigidly hermit. I’m perfectly willing to spend my weekends with people who are special to me and with whom I am happy to share my energetic space.

With that, I teach my introvert clients to draw layers of circles like onions, where you list who is in your inner, center, and outer circles (and you can have more layers if you prefer!). The people in your inner circles are the ones you’re likeliest to say yes to during the weekends. For all other times, people in your outer and middle circles are those you’ll also say yes to.

Feel overwhelmed “sorting out” your circle? First, decide what kind of people they are: healthy, ambivalent, or toxic. The healthy relationships are really the only ones worth keeping, especially for introverts who have limited emotional energy for keeping up with people. And you’ll still have to decide how close the healthy people are to you, meaning which circle they exist in. My friend and fellow psychologist Dr. Jonathan Marshall suggests these reflective questions for deciding whom you should let into your inner circle:

  • Do I feel psychologically safe with this person?
  • How does my heart feel around them?
  • Do I like myself more or less as a person when I’m around them?

When you curate your circle of people and honor your energy, it’s important to be able to say no. Sometimes it’s difficult to turn others down because we’ve been taught to people-please or because we don’t believe we have the permission to. Learning that we can say no with grace is often the first step. My friend and executive coachVanessa Bennett says we have a limited amount of energy credits to spend every day, so if you spend it on people who don’t enliven you or with whom you are merely going along with to play nice or because you can’t say no, then you are depleting yourself. You are doing a disservice to yourself and the people important to you because you’ll have less energy for them.

2. Embrace the latergram wholeheartedly.

In the age of Instagram, there’s a lot of social pressure around having an active and exciting social life. Even simple questions like “What did you do this weekend?” can often make us feel like we wasted our weekend (even if we know it felt good) if we simply say we stayed in and rested, as compared to someone who’s told you about the exciting itinerary they had. Spending time recharging and on yourself isn’t considered sexy or cool, and as a millennial, I often get remarks where I’m thought to have done nothing worthwhile or have been in a depressive funk if I’m absent from social media for a prolonged bit of time.

Here’s my advice: Subscribe to a policy of only posting latergrams. Especially for introverts, updating your life on-the-fly in real time tends to feel like a 24/7 spotlight shining upon it and compromises your enjoyment and immersion in the experience or relationships—which you likely already struggle with as an introvert. Resolve to forget the metaphorical bull’s ring of live Instagram Stories and accept that you’ll almost always be posting later, in your own time, when you have the time and energy for it.

3. View your solo activities with pride.

Another way I’ve gotten around the awkwardness of saying I “did nothing this weekend” is to change the script. Because the truth is, I didn’t do nothing. I recharged by engaging in solo activities that I love. I’m proud of my hobbies, be it cultivating my indoor jungle or reading alone in my room for hours on end. I’ve also found role models in my life who proudly showcase their hobbies, which, in my earliest days of embracing my introvert wiring, helped me feel I have permission to live like an introvert.

When someone asks you what you did this weekend, don’t be afraid to share all the meaningful things you did at home, alone, by yourself. Be proud of your ability to take time for yourself and enjoy it.

4. Most importantly, remember that “this is what feels good to me” is enough of a reason.

At the end of the day, you don’t need to make excuses to anyone for living the lifestyle that sustains you.

By spending time on yourself, you buy back more time, meaning, and a healthier well-being. You also protect against burnout.

Just because some people choose to spend their time in a certain way doesn't mean you need to follow suit or that the lifestyle that rejuvenates you is any less worthy.

If you’d like to be in-control of your energy and calendar, in a way tailored to your personality, I offer signature 8-week 1-1 programs, book your free Chemistry Call here

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