03 Apr Quiet Mouths, Quiet Minds: The Opposite of Introversion?
I have slowly come to realize I am an introvert. I find it difficult to join a conversation in a group, and am often assumed to be disinterested as I don’t keep interjecting my thoughts and opinions, but I know it is because I need to process what is happening before I am ready to jump in.
It is probable that extroverts think that because introverts have “quiet mouths”, because we have “quiet minds”, but I think this is unlikely. Most of the introverts I know think long and hard, and also only speak when they are ready. “Quiet mouths, loud minds” seems like a more accurate summary of the way introverts function.
For most introverts, we need time to filter out what is important from the tidal waves of creative stimuli we encounter each day. We then need time to think about this filtered information, and then decide what we wish to do with it. If we skip the filtering stage our minds become a log jam of overwhelming information making even a simple decision – “Tea or coffee?” feel beyond us.
This doesn’t mean that we sit with our quiet mouths passively absorbing whatever is going on around us. When fresh we can cope well with the listening, filtering and processing in real time. We still may not feel ready to issue an opinion, but when the moment is right we will tell you all about it – and perhaps in much more detail than you were expecting! When we have had a day full of over-stimulation from sounds, light, printed information, conversations, and music, we need to be quiet. The overload level has to subside to the point where we can hear individual thoughts again, and not just the cacophony.
We may choose to meditate and let the clutter fall away and the important, creative ideas bubble up. We might walk or run to keep our body busy and let the thoughts calm down. After a long day of driving my father would choose to sit quietly and let the “marks on the road stop flying past”. Each of us has to find our peaceful place where we can breathe and decide what to focus on first.
Sometimes, and counter-intuitively, reading or listening to music helps. The material is important as it can’t add to the overwhelm, it has to help smooth the chatter down to an acceptable level. Many of you will recognize yourself as the child who ran to read their book while the rest of the family excitedly relived the day. In our digitally preoccupied lives playing an undemanding game can have a similarly calming effect. At some level the day’s creative input is being filtered and sorted while externally it appears that some other task is happening. People tell me they think better when their hands are busy, so will knit or crotchet while the thoughts settle down and the mental dross is allowed to fall away.
This doesn’t mean we are sitting passively by and waiting for an idea light bulb to pop up over us with “Think about me first!” emblazoned on it. For me a brain dump onto paper is often the first line of defense. The things I need to process now get priority listing, while the less pressing ideas can be added to another list for another time. Sometimes the fragments of information come together and make a clear pattern that can be easily identified, a decision made, and then acted on, but more often the parts have to rumble around for some time before their purpose or process becomes really clear.
During that time it can be difficult for others to understand that a decision is pending, and can’t be hurried. Talking about it doesn’t help; the thoughts are still far too wispy and unformed to be brought out into the world yet. It is also difficult when there are external interruptions or additional incoming information heading for us while these wisps of thought are still trying to coalesce. Sadly the wisps can vanish – and then are gone for good when new input demands our attention.
So does this thinking process lead to introverts having quiet mouths? Not in my experience! Once that idea has been wrestled and wrangled into existence, you will definitely hear about it – and maybe more than you want! When introverts have an idea they want to share, you will be expected to listen. Stephen Hawking put it quite succinctly, “quiet people have the loudest minds.” Quiet mouths, quiet minds…really?!