Being alone, for me, means allowing myself the space to own my thoughts and discover my voice. It is in these moments of solitude where you are free to discover just what your true identity is. You are free from interruptions, outside opinions, noise, distractions…it is just your own voice.
Sounds like a good plan, doesn’t it? (Silence, uncertainty, crickets….) Uh oh! Maybe not. Being alone means looking at who we are, who we’ve been, reminding ourselves of who we are not. Could this be the reason so many people fill their time with endless tasks such as checking voicemail, texts, emails, social media, watching tv, listening to the news, podcasts, magazines, listening to music…the list is endless. For me, I love to drive my car in silence. I open the window so I can hear the swish of life outside and feel the air reminding me of nature and life. I do not turn on my music or listen to an audiobook or downloaded YouTube video unless I’ve checked in with “me” first.
If you really think about it, we’re never really alone anymore unless we seek out opportunities for quiet solitude. Our devices ensure we’re always connected to the rest of the world. Social networks, instant messaging, emails, and the like are constant. Technology has made interaction a click away and the world has gotten a lot smaller. In some ways this is exciting, but in others it makes me feel sad. I remember the days when I had to wait in a line and just think or look around. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone benefited from this kind of quiet?
Funnily enough, it seems like at the same time, we’ve seen a movement towards collaboration in every facet of our work. The buzz words are endless: group think, team building, engagement, cooperation, open culture, and so on. The idea of the lone genius is all but fading and collaboration is the new king. Both of these movements have signalled a sign of the times, but they have also overshadowed one of the most important parts of our lives – solitude.
The power of being alone should not be dismissed. Unfortunately, our culture has transformed the idea of being alone into some sort of eccentricity that the well-adjusted individual shouldn’t experience. In this case, we are talking about being alone and not being lonely, although it seems the distinction has been blurred. Yet solitude has much to offer in all facets of our lives and a conscious effort should be made by every individual to experience it regularly.
I found this quote from Henry David Thoreau, “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part lonelier when we go abroad among men.” For me, this means that when we are in touch with our “selves,” it is healthy and good. It becomes obvious how cut off from one another we truly are when we can feel more alone surrounded by hundreds or thousands of people than when we are in solitude.
Despite all the external factors that are pulling us away from our ability to be alone, we need to strive to have such moments because they are invaluable. Here are just a few of the many benefits that come from solitude.
Creativity… being alone allows you to be with your own thoughts and discover your own voice. It is in these moments of solitude where you discover your true identity and means of expression. You are free from any interruptions or outside opinions. It is just your own voice.
Be alone – that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born.
Creativity flourishes in solitude. It allows you to dive into ideas, focus on problems, think outside the box, and reach deep within your self and your imagination in a way that is not possible around others.
Understanding… At the same time, solitude provides you with the perfect opportunity to be with yourself and truly understand who you are. Being alone with your thoughts can reveal a lot about you that you otherwise wouldn’t realize.
Gaining this deeper understanding of yourself will help you in all facets of your life. And not only for yourself, but for others as well. The better you know yourself, the better you are able to be a partner, friend, and person in all other relationships. Furthermore, this understanding can be applied to anything you are dealing with; your fears, your struggles, your demons – anything can be realized with some alone time for you to think.
Restoration… A great part of solitude is that it also gives you a chance to relax and recover from your day-to-day stresses. We don’t realize the toll our day may take on us. Our daily commute, sleep routines, distractions, people, and so much more all have an invisible impact on our lives. Over time, this can beat us down: break your will, your inspiration, and your beliefs.
Getting away from it all allows you to break the cycle and recover from your typical routine. It allows you to ground yourself, re-discover your goals, and remind yourself what’s important in your life. Having this space will make it all the easier to be ready to get back to the grind when you return.
Productivity… We’ve all heard of the great artist or writer running off to the highest mountain or desolate lake to work, away from all distractions. They do this because it really does work. When you have a clearly defined task that requires focused attention, being in solitude is the best way to achieve your goals.
Without great solitude no serious work is possible.
It’s certainly easier to get your work done when you don’t have a phone call or a meeting or a beep or buzz always competing for your attention. In these situations, your full attention can go to the task at hand.
Solitude is clearly a valuable practice in life that we all need to try and take advantage of more often. The question is how can we do this in today’s world? It sounds great, but making it happen may be a bit more difficult. There are two main approaches to take that can help you find solitude.
- As Nike suggests, Just Do It! You pretty much need to shut yourself off from the rest of the world, when the opportunity arises and hunker down. Here are some suggestions I find helpful, close your office door for an hour, head into work earlier so no one is around, take lunch breaks alone, go on a daily walk by yourself, stay up late or wake up early at home.
The point is that you steal away these opportunities for some time to be with yourself. A major part of this is turning off the technology. While we naturally have moments of solitude throughout a day they are often consumed by technology. So, for this to truly work, you have to remove it from the equation. Turn off the phone or laptop or iPad or TV or whatever you may have and just be.
- Run Away! The second approach, which is not only more fun, but also more beneficial, is to get away from it all. Instead of shutting yourself off from everyone, just put some distance between you and them. Take a road trip, go on vacation, take a hike, go up to the mountains or find an open body of water. In this case, you’re just trying to get away from civilization.
One of my daughters recently decided to “just do it and run away!!” She announced a few weeks ago that she was taking to the open road, just her and her Juke. I’ll never forget that first night as I went to bed, imagining her 5”10 inches curled up in the back of her car parked in a Walmart parking lot. But she did it. She’s been gone just over a week now and she’s had so many interesting experiences so far. You know what they say, nothing will change unless you do, and that is not easy when you are reliving the same day over and over. She is just amazing, and I believe this experience will change her and her life forever!
If you’re able to take this approach, just remember to keep these points in mind to make it worth your while:
- Give yourself enough time, if you’re going to go away, make it count
- Go somewhere calming, nature is a great place to start
- Leave the technology behind, this is importdant for solitude in every situation
- Let your mind wander and explore your new environment
The trip should primarily be about being alone. Don’t set huge expectations that you’re going to have the next big idea or write an entire book or figure out your entire life. You might accomplish these things and you might not, but the real value is in the practice not the outcome.
In reality, you can find solitude anywhere, you just have to make the extra effort to do so. By paying attention and making the most of the lulls in your day, you can find solitude daily.
And just a word or warning. The goal is not to be in solitude all the time either. There is value in interaction and collaboration, but there must be BALANCE. Right now, it seems like we’ve gotten away from this balance and are a little too connected.
So, try and take some time for yourself and be alone. You may find that it’s a lot more enjoyable than you thought.
Living life impossibly,