Solitude is often overlooked in our modern always-connected world. Countless experts praise the virtues of being connected; improved stress resilience, immunity, and even an increased lifespan. While being alone is often assumed to imply loneliness. Research even suggests that isolation and loneliness lead to an increase in depression, anxiety, obesity, and even premature death.
That being considered, research is increasingly showing that choosing to experience some moments alone has real benefits too.
THERE’S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING ALONE AND LONELY
It’s important to remember that there is a very real difference between being alone and being lonely. Being alone is the act of taking time for yourself between regular social interactions. Loneliness, however, is when you’re isolated from people even though you don’t want to be. The one is chosen, the other is unintended.
THE PERSONALITY FACTOR
People may fear seclusion at times, but research has shown that some personality types may seek and prefer solitude every now and then. Conventional wisdom points to introverts preferring alone time, while extroverts dislike it.
But just because you’re an introvert doesn’t mean you like to be alone all the time – even introverts need a social support system. Just like being an extrovert doesn’t necessarily imply that you are incapable of enjoying your own company.
LETS TALK BENEFITS
1. Solitude can lead to self-discovery; finding the true you and your own voice.
In today’s world, we’re constantly bombarded with expectations of who we should be, what we should want, and who we should be with. This sort of environment not only leaves us unsure of who we really are but also insecure about our own decisions. Ultimately, lacking a sense of self could very well lead to or increase anxiety and depression.
Being alone is an important aspect of anyone’s self-development, and by making time to do things by yourself you’re opening yourself up to regain your sense of self. You won’t be tempted to make decisions or pass on your own passions just to appease others. Not only will you learn new things about yourself but you will also enable yourself to really understand what you stand for. And when we know what we stand for we feel more secure in making decisions that stay true to who we are.
2. Solitude makes you more empathetic.
We tend to spend the majority of our time around the same group of friends, coworkers, and family. In a way, this puts us in a bubble where we develop a mentality of “we vs. them”. When you spend time alone you may develop more compassion for those who do not fit into your inner circle.
The same holds true for social media, and while it’s becoming ever so difficult to disconnect, one study has shown that teens who went five days without communication devices were able to improve their ability to interpret emotions and facial expressions.
3. Solitude can improve your relationships.
We all know the old adage – Absence makes the heart grow fonder. There may be some truth to the statement; one study found that frequent socialization led to a decrease in life satisfaction for intelligent people.
Social connections are necessary for emotional well being, but taking some me-time every now and then will help you appreciate and value those relationships so much more.
4. Solitude can make you more productive.
Group work is generally praised for improving collaboration and innovation, and it’s no surprise that even most offices are laid out to facilitate this. But group work can also be incredibly distracting and may ultimately lead to a loss in productivity.
5. Solitude can improve concentration and memory.
When it comes to group work we suffer from the interesting, yet counterintuitive social loafing bias – we tend to exert less effort to memorize information because we assume team members will fill in the gap. Research has shown that groups working collaboratively perform worse at recollecting information than their solo working peers.
You can still practice the ethos of solitude even if you don’t have the luxury of working solo on projects:
- Focus on completing one task at a time
- Find a quiet spot in the office and set boundaries so everyone knows to leave you in peace for a set period of time
- Consider working remotely a few days each month or week, be firm with the group on what your goals are and be sure to remove all distractions like social media.
6. Solitude can lead to increased creativity and problem solving.
In keeping with the modern-day office, collaborative brainstorming is often seen as one of the most effective ways to foster new innovative ideas. Research suggests that in general people are better at solving problems when they go at it alone – it’s hard to think of effective solutions when you’re bombarded by distracting information from people.
HOW TO BE ALONE
Being alone certainly does not come naturally to everyone, one study found that participants would rather administer electrical shocks to themselves than spend 6-15 minutes alone in a room with just their thoughts. Learning the joys of me-time may take some time, but it’s well worth it.
- Plan it out.
Remember, alone time is planned. Isolation is not. The best me-time usually happens when you have set aside a specific period to be by yourself. It can be as simple as an hour every morning or an entire evening. Once you’ve realized the joys of alone time you may even be tempted to set aside an entire weekend.
- Say no to distractions.
You may find yourself tempted to resort to normalized habits like constantly checking your feed, your mail or even making phone calls. Resist the urge by switching off your devices, leave them out of sight. Rather focus your energy towards something you’ve never gotten around to or better yet, something you wouldn’t normally do.
- Value your thoughts.
With no distractions, you may find some thoughts or inner dialogue you weren’t aware of. Just sit with them and experience them. In doing so you will allow these thoughts to take you on a journey of self-discovery.
You don’t have to escape all forms of external stimulation to experience inner solitude. The point is to engage in activities that allows you to connect with the inner you. For some, it’s as simple as reading a book, some may find that moment through meditation, while others may enjoy the solitude of a solo hike. Just find what works for you and return to it often.
If you’re keen on increasing your sense of self and expanding your knowledge on the topic, check out these awesome books.