7 Ways Spending Time Alone Will Change Your Life
If you're not regularly spending time alone, you're not living your best life.
Posted December 27, 2017 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
Finally, the door closed and the noise stopped. I was in my bedroom, my own bedroom, with the lights turned perfectly low and no one else around. It was the holiday season, and I had just spent nearly two days straight with family, passing around casseroles and opening presents and trying not to scream when I realized there was no escape, at least not until the cut-out cookies had been served.
But now, I had this: Time alone. The relief felt as real as a drug carrying me away to bliss.
Don’t get me wrong; I love my family. I really do. But as an introvert, I can only take so much “together time" before my energy is sapped, my brain becomes mush, and every cell in my body demands a quieter, less stimulating space.
Introverts need alone time like we need air to breathe.
If you’re an introvert like me, your alone time comes sporadically. When your roommate, spouse, or kids happen to be out for the night, you get the place to yourself. Or you find yourself “lucky” to have no plans for the weekend. Suddenly, with hours of couch and pajama quiet time stretching out infinitely before you, you realize just how much you needed this break.
But what if you could feel so enchantingly energized as a rule, not a reaction? You can — when you start deliberately scheduling solitude. This year, my New Year’s resolution was to spend at least 30 minutes each night reading — alone in my bedroom.
I invite you to join me on the fast track to bliss because I believe you’ll find that spending time alone will absolutely change your life. Here’s how.
The Life-Changing Benefits of Spending Time Alone
1. You’ll show up better for the people in your life.
Not getting enough solitude can turn you into a trash-can-dwelling grouch. You start snapping at every little thing. You start wondering why you ever thought it was a good idea to marry this guy or start a family. You grump at your husband when he can’t find the milk that’s staring him in the face in the fridge. You snap at your kid when she forgets her lunch at home. You turn into everyone’s favorite person to avoid.
But have you ever noticed what happens when the energizing salve of solitude is spread across your evening? You become a pleasant person again. Someone people actually want to be around. And not just pleasant, but downright engaging. You actually want to chat with your roommate about her latest Tinder disaster. You ask your coworker how his weekend was — and you mean it. Taking more time for yourself has the ironic effect of ultimately making your relationships better.
2. You’ll get smarter.
Alone time isn’t all just binge-watching your favorite shows in sweatpants. Many introverts spend their solitude reading books and articles or listening to podcasts. And the benefits of reading are huge, including helping to keep your brain sharp, possibly staving off Alzheimer’s disease, and even making you more empathetic (if you read fiction). If you’re not spending five hours a week learning something new via reading, you’re being irresponsible with your time, argues entrepreneur and bestselling author Michael Simmons. Business leaders like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Oprah spend five hours a week deliberately learning; they’re pretty busy people, so the moral of the story is that if they can find time to do it, so can you.
3. You’ll improve your health.
You can also use your alone time to do something healthy (mentally or physically) like jogging, yoga, meditation, or prayer. Regular exercise is basically a wonder drug for your mind and body, and meditation has been shown to increase your immune function, decrease pain, boost your happiness, make you less lonely, and So. Much. More. Similarly, time spent in prayer has been found to offset the negative effects of stress, have a calming effect, and increase feelings of well-being and joy.
4. You’ll solve problems and optimize your life.
When you don’t have to make small talk with Grandma or listen as your coworker details his latest Amazon order, your mind is freed up. You start imagining a better way to organize the yearly training seminar you run at work. You pull out a deeper meaning behind a recent experience. You think about everyone you’ve ever dated, what qualities drew you to them, what that says about you as a person, and how you’ll use that information to make better choices in the future. If there’s one thing introverts are great at, it’s reflecting on their experiences and optimizing things — and that's best done alone, sans distractions or interruptions.
5. You’ll get creative “aha!” moments.
When you spend time alone, you may get unexpected flashes of creative insight. Suddenly you know what should happen next in your novel, or you get a brilliant business idea. That’s because, as I explain in my book, letting your mind wander helps creative incubation — it allows your brain to work on a problem in the background, subconsciously.
6. You’ll have more energy.
A recent study found that spending time alone is probably the best way to rest — whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. (Duh.)
7. You’ll feel calmer and happier.
When you spend time alone, you get to focus on your own thoughts and feelings — and no one else’s. You don’t have to take anyone else’s needs into account — only your own. Spending time alone is a form of self-care. People who regularly partake in self-care are generally happier and calmer than those who don’t because the “me-timers” prevent overload burnout.
Mental health professionals recommend that we spend at least 20 minutes a day doing something for ourselves. I’m going for a solid 30 (or more). The exact number of minutes matters less than the fact that you actually do it. You might have to get creative to fit it into your day, especially if you’re a parent or a very busy person.
But once you start spending more time alone, you’ll probably find that it’s so magical that you don’t have to grunt or work or sweat to make yourself do it. Pretty soon, you won’t be able to imagine living any other way.
A version of this post also appeared on Introvert, Dear, my community and publication for introverts.