For most, it is important to spend time around and engaged with other people. In social groups and at work, by surrounding ourselves with colleagues, family members and associates who challenge us to think and move outside our comfort zone, we find we can improve our habits and learn new things. Of course, much of life’s biggest joys and most lasting memories stem from our relationships, and in times like these, those can become absent, strained or even strange.
And some say too much “people time” might also be a bad thing. Our digital devices often make us feel like we need to be connected 24/7. All of the noise, activity, constant contact and hustle can wear us out and, ironically, can leave some feeling lonelier than ever. If our electronics are all we have right now to get our work done and stay in touch, truly disconnecting during this isolation may become even more important.
While we may not all be enjoying the global forced cloistering we find ourselves in today, let us think a bit about how some alone time, and maybe even this particular version of alone time, well used, can be an essential component to improving our health and well-being. What follows are the benefits of alone time, ways to create it, and ideas on how to maximize its advantages.
The benefits of being alone
As a leader who routinely counsels people to sit with and examine themselves, convincing people to spend time alone can be a tough sell. In a world where we are all trying to cram 48 hours’ worth of information and activity into 24, the benefits of solitude are rarely discussed.
Consider this quote from Nikola Tesla, the famed inventor, who discovered and freely shared much of what moved us into the common use of electricity: “The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone – that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born.”
Amy Morin, an author and “mental strength trainer,” believes being alone makes you more compassionate, increases empathy, builds mental strength, leads to greater introspection and gives you an opportunity to think about, “your goals, your progress and changes you want to make in your life.” Here is a list from the author and her contemporaries that extols the great reasons for finding occasional isolation.
1. Solitude helps you get to know yourself
An ancient Greek sage was asked, “What is difficult?” His reply was, “To know yourself.” A clear view of our true self does not come naturally, compared to how easily we perceive the environment and goings on that surround us. It also requires humility to bridge the gap between who we think we are and who we are in reality.
For any of us to achieve peak performance, and perhaps what every one of us needs most in this time, is to get clear on who we are. We might take this chance to sit and truly get close to the person in the mirror.
Connections with our inner self can be lost in the constant distraction of friends, gadgets and unnecessary demands. Against the popular notion that being alone is somehow strange, we can also take this time to search for peace and create calm within ourselves.
Some solitude also offers you the opportunity to discover this reality — that you are unique and wonderfully made — you do not need any comparison with anyone to validate this fact. Success, then, can be found in understanding who you are, what you are called to, and what you want out of life.
When you’re by yourself, you may be allowed to make choices without outside influence. You can choose how to spend your time without worrying about anyone else’s feelings. Making choices on your own will help you develop even better insight into who you are as a person and be much clearer in your guiding principles.
Solitude can eventually create a sense that you do truly know yourself, more than anyone knows you. Spending time alone for just 20 minutes each day offers you the clarity and space you need to grow yourself independently and diminishes the herd mentality. It equips you with knowledge and the necessary qualities to achieve personal development and success. It gives you an introspection on who you are and what you want. And understanding your thoughts, actions and reactions gives you the power to have utmost control over your life.
The more you know yourself, the better equipped you’ll be to be your authentic self when others are around. Get clear in this time about who you are and ensure, when things return to normal, you bring your very best self back into the fray.
2. Alone time could improve your relationships and help you develop empathy
Spending time with friends, family and colleagues sometimes contributes to a “us vs them” mentality. Although unintentional, you’ll see people who don’t fit into your inner circle as different from you, and you’ll develop decreasing empathy for them.
Spending time alone breaks down those barriers. Studies show you’ll develop more compassion for other people when you set aside time for solitude.
Just as time alone offers you a better understanding of yourself and what you desire in life, it can also help you better identify the relationships that will make your life richer and that are necessary to your growth. All relationships are better appreciated after you spend some time alone.
3. Solitude boosts creativity and productivity
There is good reason artists, musicians, and authors seek solitude when they want to create something. A private space, whether it’s a secluded studio or a cabin in the woods, allows them to be far more inventive. Studies confirm being alone often fosters creativity.
Throughout history, great accomplishments have begun as tiny seeds or flashes of inspiration in someone’s imagination birthed in isolation. Such moments have triggered great ideas for icons like Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and Thoreau.
Solitude works opposite to the way in which distractions work. While distractions block most noteworthy progress and valuable contribution we can make in life, solitude helps develop a more involved experience with yourself and your ideas. The brain integrates internal and external information while at rest in silence, Joseph Moran, Ph.D., wrote in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal. He says the brain processes things more deeply when it is not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks.
Solitude allows you, then, to listen to yourself and focus on what you really want. Sometimes distractions can alter our thoughts and stop us from thinking out of the box. Spending time alone offers us the time to reflect and tap into our most innovative self.
It is important to consider how our forced solitude could increase and boost your level of success and how you might best use some planned alone time in the future to do the same.
4. Solitude improves psychological well-being and mental strength
We’re social creatures, and it’s important for us to have strong connections with other people. Learning how to be comfortable by yourself may take some getting used to, but solitary skills could help you become mentally stronger. Studies have found people who set aside time to be alone tend to be happier. They report fuller overall satisfaction and lower levels of stress. They’re also less likely to suffer from depression.
5. Being alone gives you an opportunity to plan your life
Most people spend a lot of time planning weddings and vacations but never plan how to get the most out of their existence. While it’s important to have joint goals with your romantic partners, family members, or business associates, you also need to make sure you’re living your best life as an individual.
Be intentional during this time about planning out your journey, similar to the way you might plan for goal achievement or retirement. Spending time alone can give you a chance to ensure there’s a purpose to all of your hustling and bustling. Quiet space provides an opportunity to think about your goals, your progress, and contemplate changes you want to make in your life when we get back to a new normal.
Setting aside time to be alone can help you reflect on your goals, dreams, and aspirations. Take a break from the whirlwind to think about whether you’re living life according to your values and highlight areas where you might want to make some changes.
6. You can find relief from anxiety in isolation
Stress builds up in our lives, and it grows increasingly difficult to differentiate between the stress within and the outside pressures bearing down on us. Spending time alone, without distraction, offers us the opportunity to slow down, catch a deep breath and set our minds straight. During this process, we can rid ourselves of thoughts that are negative and unnecessary. Calming the noisy mind and releasing anxiety allows for that time of innovation and self-searching described above.
7. You can make smarter decisions
Solitude gives you the opportunity to think through every action you are about to take. You can be willing to stand for anything you want to commit yourself to. Solitude helps you find your own voice and your identity instead of following the herd.
8. You can use this time to become more focused
According to a study, students who studied alone fared better than students who studied in groups. Such study identified that students who spent time during solitary reflection had a more improved concentration. Better concentration leads to success in both your personal and professional lives.
9. You can recharge
The human mind was designed to take breaks and recharge so that it can be replenished. Without distraction, spending “alone time” allows you to clear your mind and think more clearly. Your body also takes advantage of this time to revitalize, recharge and re-energize itself.
10. You can attack problems effectively
No one’s life is free of problems or challenges. Yet, with constant noise and distractions, it is difficult to have a clear head as to what actions should be taken. You need some time to analyze and actualize. Solitude makes you see problems as temporary setbacks rather than becoming overwhelmed in them.
11. You might gain an appreciation of the simpler things in life
Solitude makes you see life from a clear perspective. You are not looking for sophistication and can avoid ambiguity. You can appreciate just, well, being. Your time becomes more valuable and details that you may never have been aware of begin to surface. You can sift thoughts and cherish what has true worth.
12. Focus on the development of your skills, or new skills, and review their effectiveness
This time can be invested to help you continuously improve your life, rather than just tediously plod on with some form of status quo. Spend time really challenging your strengths and be honest with yourself about weaknesses. Build plans to amplify the good and minimize the deficits. Her clear about what it means to be your best self and ensure all you are doing brings that to life. This forced isolation can prove an essential time of self-learning and self-discovery.
How to Set Aside Time to Be Alone
Strange question for today? Right now, many of us are experiencing more solitude than we would like, quite possibly. But what if you are not? What if you are, like many, discovering the difficulties and navigating the complexities of two spouses working from home trying to juggle a full work schedule, and maybe even with kids riled up from being cooped up. Some of us may be more “together” right now in ways we never have been and haven’t prepped for..
You don’t need to set aside huge chunks of time to be by yourself in order to benefit from solitude as described above. Just 10 minutes of alone time each day could be enough to help you rejuvenate from the daily grind of this new together time. If you think you don’t have time to sit quietly and think, you probably need alone time now more than ever. The busier you are, the more likely you are to benefit from some quiet time.
Whether you decide to meditate, write in a journal, or take a moment to sit outside in nature, it’s up to you. Whatever you do, silence your electronics and allow yourself to be alone with your thoughts.
If you’re not used to solitude, the silence and lack of activity can feel uncomfortable at first. Just the thought of spending time alone paralyzes some people. In fact, research studies show some participants are unable to endure six minutes of time all by themselves in a room. They said they would rather do mundane activities than sit, thinking, alone in a room. In an article in The Atlantic, Brent Crane correctly observed, “Humans have long stigmatized solitude. It has been considered an inconvenience, something to avoid, a punishment, a realm of loners.” Maybe that’s why some fear being alone so much they would opt for electric shocks rather than focus on their own thoughts.
But, setting aside time to be alone is an essential component of building mental strength and living a rich and full life. As Picasso said,
Without great solitude no serious work is possible.
Every day, spend time in solitude. Soon, those few minutes alone could become the single most important part of your day, so much so it could even nourish your soul. The busier you are, the more likely you are to benefit from some quiet time, so:
1. Learn how to appreciate silence.
It’s as simple as turning off the outside distractions, and specifically electronics. “Today’s digital world means we have the opportunity to be constantly surrounded by noise,” Morin says. “Our electronics help us stay constantly connected, and it often takes extra effort to find a few quiet minutes each day.”
Once you’re comfortable in a completely silent environment, you can begin using it to your advantage.
2. Take a few minutes to be alone with your thoughts.
“For many people, slowing down seems like a waste of time, But our brains need a chance to process what’s going on around us,” notes Marin.
All it takes is finding 20 minutes each day to allow your brain to relax and process the day.
3. Learn how to meditate to quiet your mind.
Meditation benefits your body and your mind. Learning to meditate intensely can take time, but here is a simple, three-step beginners guide from her book:
- Sit in a relaxed and comfortable position that allows you to keep your spine straight.
- Focus on taking deep, slow breaths, and “really feel your breath as you inhale and exhale.”
- Return consciousness to your breath because “your mind will wander, and thoughts will enter your mind.”
4. Practice mindfulness skills to focus on one task at a time.
“The more you practice, the more you’ll become fully aware, and fully awake, throughout all your daily activities,” Morin writes. It takes practice to focus on activities as simple as eating or brushing your teeth.
But we need to take a step back and refocus our attention spans. “Eventually, you can learn to train your mind to stop replaying what you did yesterday or worrying about what you need to get done tomorrow,” she notes.
5. Start a journal to sort out ”the tough stuff” and record ideas.
A daily journal can help you interpret your emotions and identify and manage your stress. Basically, it’s a chance to vent on paper, rather than to a family member or friend.
Just a few sentences each day about what you did or how you’re feeling can help you stay on track, and it “often promotes healing, sparks creativity, and strengthens your resolve to reach your goals,” she notes.
6. Reflect on your progress and goals daily.
“Long-term goals require you to have healthy habits that you practice on a daily basis,” Morin writes. “Reflecting on your goals every day can help remind you of why you want to reach them.”
Solitude VS Loneliness
Some people feel lonely even among 100 people and some people don’t feel lonely even in silence. The difference lies in their level of connection with themselves. Solitude is the antithesis of loneliness. It gives us the strength and the confidence that we will be OK if we act per our standards and not per others’ expectations. For us, while it hasn’t come out of choice, we can realize the benefits of holding to our guiding principles and appreciate the independence it offers.
Being alone and feeling lonely are two completely different things. In fact, building more solitude into your daily life might actually reduce your feelings of loneliness. Solitary skills take practice if you’re not used to being alone, but over time, you can grow more comfortable with being by yourself.
But shirking loneliness isn’t the only reason you should spend more time in solitude. There are many other reasons spending time alone can help you build the mental strength you need to reach your greatest potential.
Often, we get loneliness and solitude confused. But in essence, the two are very different aspects of the same physical manifestation. Solitude is by definition, being alone, whereas loneliness is a negative emotional response, typically to solitude.
Being alone is innately uncomfortable. As humans, we are most comfortable in the presence of others. This primordial response goes back to the Dark Ages, when living in groups provided safety and security.
In modern times, we no longer need this social community to survive – yet it is still ingrained in our subconscious. We ALL value love and connection with others.
This need for social interaction and sense of belonging is still an important part of our personal well-being. But in order to inspire individual thought and introspection, one needs to cleave from this paradigm and free up the mental space necessary to focus on the bigger picture and long-term goals. For this moment, it’s okay to forget about the needs of others.
Also, the two are NOT mutually exclusive. Loneliness can provide a conduit to self-reflection and enlightenment. Through the process of attaining solitude, you are able to contemplate your own beliefs and ideas, rather than be influenced by the opinions of others. This is invaluable in the quest for self-belief and confidence.
Self-reflection can be the most significant emotional release allowing self-validation and securing your own identity. It can also bolster your aspirations and set aside negativity, going a long way to balancing your life as a whole. According to Reed Larson, a Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois, who has studied the effects of solitude on development and long term well-being in teens and adolescents, being alone – although NOT particularly enjoyed – creates positive emotions and less self-reported depression.
Being Alone: The Role of Social Media in Loneliness
People immersed in contemporary life expect that they will feel lonely if left alone. This expectation is now a cultural assumption. People feel anxious and immediately begin to fidget or reach for a device the minute they are alone in the quest for connection, be it a virtual one.
We are so connected with the world these days via social media, access to emails, and news feeds directly to our smart phones, most find it difficult to disengage with society and truly be alone. But this is where the magic happens. Disengaging from the information overload provided by modern life gives you the opportunity to open up the thinking processes and spur creative thinking.
It can be very valuable and rewarding to be alone with NO interruptions. This gives you time to think. It releases you of your immediate responsibility to others and allows you the time to focus on YOUR needs. Christopher Long and James Averill advocate that alone time is essential:
The paradigm experience of solitude is a state characterized by disengagement from the immediate demands of other people—a state of reduced social inhibition and increased freedom to select one’s mental and physical activities.
The human brain is not built to multitask. However, we do it every day and thus dilute the quality and efficiency of our actions. When given time alone, we are able to focus on ONE thing at a time and give it our full attention, without distractions. This is so important, especially when pondering the goals and strategies of life.
Work on Yourself and Spark Creativity
In reality, it is almost impossible to be alone with the demands of daily life. There are always commitments to fulfill and people to make happy. Sometimes disengaging with this paradigm allows us the time to reflect and consciously work on ourselves.
By using time alone to set goals and align your subconscious mind towards their achievement, you empower yourself and turn loneliness into meaningful time for self-reflection. The most important questions to ask when self-reflecting regard assessing your strengths, weaknesses, skills, problems, achievements, happiness, and solutions to improve all these areas. Self-reflection is NOT wallowing in self-pity or self-absorption. It is taking an active role in yourself for the aim of self-improvement.
It may seem odd, uncomfortable or selfish, and it is not what societal convention perpetuates; but if practiced effectively, being alone can result in a happier, more efficient YOU. So, take the gift of this time of isolation during the COVID Crisis and do something amazing with it.
Scott Rivers is the Managing Director of Cerca Talent+, a talent agency for the Diagnostic and Life Science Industries. Scott’s recruiting experience extends into the areas of Diagnostics, Life Sciences, Oncology and Genetics. His team manages recruitment for all levels within the commercial area of these businesses.
As a leader who has worked at all levels of commercial, medical sales and global marketing, Scott is an intense professional who works with organizations to fine tune talent branding. If you are a leader looking to expand your team with professionals who are focused on delivering work in which they take pride, and you can be proud of, every day, then Scott would be privileged to help you in the process. Having been a professional in the fields where you focus, Scott knows the ins and outs of the companies, the business and the customers you are working to come alongside.
Cerca Talent+ is a full-service Executive Search Firm with a strategic focus in the areas of Clinical Diagnostics, Molecular Diagnostics and Oncology, Genomic and Genetic Medicine. Our clients choose to work with Cerca because of our deep understanding of the industries we serve. They continue to work with us based on our extensive market knowledge, vast connections and quality of results.
That’s a good match for any company. Partner with the group that can talk shop and gain rapport with the pros who will lead your business into the future. Email Scott Rivers today at email@example.com, or call direct at 201-594-2101, and we will begin the process of finding you Allstars that help you set records.
5 Ways Solitude Can Make You More Successful, Backed By Science, By Amy Morin, Author, “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do”
The Advantages of Solitude, By Shagun Agarwal