The great omission in American life is solitude; not loneliness, for this is an alienation that thrives most in the midst of crowds, but that zone of time and space free from outside pressure which is the incubator of the spirit. -- Marya Mannes, author and critic
In today's constantly connected world, finding solitude has become a lost art. In fact, Western culture tends to equate a desire for solitude with people who are lonely, sad, or have antisocial tendencies. But seeking solitude can actually be quite healthy. In fact, there are many physical and psychological benefits to spending time alone.
Benefits of Seeking Solitude
1. Solitude allows you to reboot your brain and unwind. Constantly being "on" doesn't give your brain a chance to rest and replenish itself. Being by yourself with no distractions gives you the chance to clear your mind, focus, and think more clearly. It's an opportunity to revitalize your mind and body at the same time.
2. Solitude helps to improve concentration and increase productivity. When you remove as many distractions and interruptions as you can from your day, you are better able to concentrate, which will help you get more work done in a shorter amount of time.
3. Solitude gives you an opportunity to discover yourself and find your own voice. When you're a part of a group, you're more likely to go along with what the group is doing or thinking, which isn't always the actions you would take or the decisions you would make if you were on your own.
4. Solitude provides time for you to think deeply. Day to day responsibilities and commitments can make your to-do list seem as if it has no end. This constant motion prevents you from engaging in deep thought, which inhibits creativity and lessens productivity.
5. Solitude helps you work through problems more effectively. It's hard to think of effective solutions to problems when you're distracted by incoming information, regardless of whether that information is electronic or human.
6. Solitude can enhance the quality of your relationships with others. By spending time with yourself and gaining a better understanding of who you are and what you desire in life, you're more likely to make better choices about who you want to be around. You also may come to appreciate your relationships more after you've spent some time alone.
Despite knowing these benefits, it can be a challenge to find time alone in a world that seems to never sleep. Here are a few ideas to help you find more time to spend with yourself.
♦ Disconnect. Set aside some time each day to unplug from all the ways you connect with others. Turn off your cell phone, Turn off your Internet. Turn off your TV. If you use your computer to create, such as writing, then write without all the bells, dings, and beeps that come along with being connected to the Internet. You'll be amazed at how much more you can get done when you're not distracted.
♦ Get Up or Get In Early. Wake up a half hour or an hour earlier than everyone else in your house and use that time to create, produce, problem solve, meditate, or whatever makes you happy. This strategy also works if you can get to work before everyone else arrives and the phones begin to ring.
♦ Close Your Door. It's simple, but can be very effective. A client who owns a community-based magazine puts a sign on her door when she doesn't wants alone time. The sign reads "I'm editing or writing. If the police are here, the office is on fire, or George Clooney calls or stops by, you can interrupt me. If not, please hold all questions until my door opens." She said that she decided to put up the sign after she realized that her presence in the office was a stimulus for questions. "Whenever I was in the office," she said, "it seemed like there was one question after the next. I was constantly getting interrupted, and it was hard to get my work done. Then I noticed that on the days I was working on a story outside the office, my phone hardly ever rang, even if I was out the whole day. Apparently, whatever questions came up somehow got handled without me. It made me realize that just by being in the office I was a magnet for questions. So I put up the sign and it works like a charm."
♦ Use Your Lunch Time. Don't spend your lunch time working at your desk. Don't spend it running errands. And if you regularly go out to lunch, don't think that it always has to be with others. Once a week or even just a couple of times a month, commit to spending lunch with yourself. Walk. Sit in the sun outside. Go to a park and eat. Enjoy the time you have alone.
♦ Schedule solitude.
Literally. Mark off time in your day planner or calendar for spending time with yourself. If you can make time for all the little extras you fit into your day, like stopping at Starbucks or picking up something at the mall, you can schedule time in your calendar for solitude. It doesn't have to be long. Any time that you can spend alone with yourself to reboot, meditate, focus, relax, create, produce, and/or think deeply is better than no time.
In my next post, Why You Shouldn't Feel Guilty about Stealing a Little Time for Yourself, I talk about ways to negotiate alone time with friends and family and how to avoid feeling guilty about it. And if you have effective strategies you use to steal a little time for yourself, please share them with readers in the comments section below.
© 2012 Sherrie Bourg Carter, All Rights Reserved
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Sherrie Bourg Carter is the author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout
(Prometheus Books, 2011).