Understand Other People

Better communication through a better understanding of behavior

Don’t Leave Me Alone With My Thoughts!

Prefer an electric shock to spending time with your thoughts?

What do you say to yourself when you have a few minutes alone? In this day and age it’s rare that we don’t have some stimuli to keep us company. A recent article in The Boston Globe  was titled “People Prefer Electric Shocks to Time Alone with Thoughts”.

How can this possibly be? An opportunity for solitude and reflection and most people would prefer to have an electric current run through their body rather than taking that time? Many of the greatest spiritual leaders – including Buddha, Jesus, the Dalai Lama and modern day mindfulness gurus – advocate for time alone. These spiritual beings went to mountains and out to meadows and farmland to get away from the crowds and be alone with their thoughts. How can it be that now in the daily lives of most people, we’ll do anything to avoid a similar experience?

One of the reasons is probably due to what we say to ourselves once we enter that stillness. Instead of allowing our thoughts to uplift us and enlighten us, or to use the time not to think at all, we allow the negative things we say to ourselves to overpower us. Most people talk to themselves in such a negative way that they have to do it in their heads – they would probably never speak such negativity out loud to another person!

When time alone is the opportunity to rue your life, beat up on yourself for where you are or where you are not, and examine every wrong thing you have ever done, what sane person would want to be alone with that? An electric shock might be preferable to feeling as though you are being beaten down by the very person you thought you could trust – you.

Alone time is very important. The space between action and ongoing thoughts is where creative ideas are born. It’s where you may have a chance to see something about yourself you didn’t realize before. It’s where you may have your best brainstorm for how to get somewhere you want to go, or how to get out of some mess you are in! Without that quiet time – surrounded by constant stimulation – a lot is lost.

So if your thoughts are not the company you want to keep, what can you do? Here are five steps you can take to become better company for yourself:

(1)    Choose to spend time alone. Take a walk without your iPod or cell phone. Walk the dogs at a local shelter, if you don’t have one of your own. Drive without the radio on (and you should not be talking on your cell phone while driving anyway!). The more conscious choices you make to be by yourself, the more comfortable you will become with it.

(2)    Catch yourself in negative self-talk. Notice what you say. Become interested in it. “Hmmm…. Isn’t that interesting how hard I am on myself right now. What’s that all about, I wonder?” Don’t judge it, but rather become aware of it.

(3)    Choose positive self-talk. Have sayings or quotes at the ready. “I am a calm and confident person.” “I enjoy my own company and find I use this time alone to be more creative.” “I get my best ah-hah moments when I am by myself.” “I have choices about how to feel and what to say to myself, and I make choices that are good for me.”

(4)    Tell your mind you need answers to something. Ask your mind to work on problems while you are alone. Practice pushing negative thoughts out, to make room for positive ideas or new creative brainstorms to enter.

(5)    Be excited about spending time alone. Tell yourself you look forward to it and that you enjoy it!

Practice makes perfect and with some changes, and some time, you may find that you really can be your own best friend!

Beverly D. Flaxington teaches at Suffolk University.

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