“If we are to survive, we must have ideas, vision, and courage. These things are rarely produced by committees. Everything that matters in our intellectual and moral life begins with an individual confronting his own mind and conscience in a room by himself.”
Most of the people who know me, think I am an extrovert. However, being constantly surrounded by people, thinking what to do, what to say, what they want, what they need and how to compromise all of their needs and wishes with mine – tires me after a while. Once I start to get irritated easily and fail to communicate properly, I know that my mind and my body are screaming: “Ivona, we need to spend some time with you – alone“.
My “alone time” is like an update to my nervous system and I need it to function properly. When I do not have it, I get stuck: physically, intellectually, and emotionally. I start to forget things, to not be productive, and above all – to take all the stress out on the people I care about the most, even when they are only trying to be nice to me. These are the moments when I hate my behavior the most.
While the form of my alone time varies: from going running on my own, to sitting at home with a cup of coffee and writing, to taking a trip on my own, to drawing or reading, or taking care of my plants (recent hobby by the way, I used to be terrible with plants), the idea always stays the same: I need to spend time alone in order to unwind from all the pressure and stress by doing the things I enjoy doing without having the need to justify to anyone why I do what I do.
For several years now, I have this ritual of “having a date with myself”. I took the featured image above on my last date. I go out in a cafe, or a bar, or a restaurant, preferably somewhere where there is a quiet, live music, and just let my mind take over. I often catch some reoccurring thoughts or ideas and realize that my mind has been trying to tell me something for a while, but my busy, noisy life would quiet the whispering mind each and every time. Unless, I quiet the noisy life and let my mind whisper. Many of us name these thoughts “intuition”, but for me, intuition is nothing else than just your mind screaming the things you have tried so hard to suffocate. It is also in these moments when I realize why the alone time is so important and thus, I have decided to share my list of top ten reasons why I think everyone should have some time alone – even if you fear it.
1. Being alone does not mean being lonely
The one parameter that sets apart the alone time from the lonely time is: choice. We choose to spend some time in solitude willingly, but being lonely gives you feelings of social isolation, even when you do not want that, making you feel hopeless and desperate for most of your time. Loneliness is often correlated with many illnesses and many consider loneliness the disease of the 21-st century: with our constant need to be connected, we ironically end up disconnecting more than ever. However, alone time can help us understand how much time we want to spend with people, what kind of people we want to be surrounded with, which activities do we want to do with these people, and above all – end the alone time when we want it, how we want it.
2. Being alone helps you build mental strength
We are social creatures and no one negates that. We find purpose and joy in doing things for and with people, but finding a way to tolerate solitude requires the mind to adjust in a slightly different way. In return, this makes you feel empowered. With time, you start to feel like you can take on a new challenge more easily, even if it comes at the cost of moving away, getting a new job, or starting a new long-distance relationship because you have built the mental strength to spend time alone and not fear it.
3. Being alone helps you become self-reliant and independent
This connects in a way to the second point above. When we are spending time alone, we learn that in many ways we are enough. The relationships with other people exist to complement us, not to complete us. By spending time alone, you realize what your strengths and weaknesses are and you learn how to use both to your advantage. You try to do many things on your own and you often end up surprised to see not only that you can do them, but maybe that you also do them better and more efficiently than when you get the help from other people. With time, you start to trust yourself more, depend on yourself more, and finally – reach that level of self-confidence to say: I am independent and self-reliant and this obstacle can be overcome.
4. Being alone helps with self reflection and connects you with your inner voice, wishes, and opinions
You sit at home, your pajamas on, your messy bedroom screams “clean me up please”. Until you realize, you are alone and you do not have to do anything unless you want to. You take a deep breath and start to relax. You start to self-reflect and slowly, become more comfortable with who you are, what you want to do, what you seek, and what you value. You start to listen to your deeper inner voice, the one that goes beyond “wash the dishes, tidy the bed, do the laundry” and step by step, you free your mind from the thoughts of guilt and make space for the thoughts to form into opinions freed from judgment and criticism.
5. Being alone can help your relations with others, as well as increase your empathy for them and their struggles
No matter how much you value alone time, sooner or later you will get the need to be surrounded with the people you love once again. And when you do, you will go back to them refreshed, happier, and more dedicated to them. You will have the mental strength to listen to them because you made space in your mind and soul to do that and when you truly listen, it is very hard not to start caring, even if their problems seemed silly to you in the first place. And when you care, you empathize, and when you empathize, your relationship with others strengthens. Most of the time, we do not seek an advice when sharing our burdens, we seek support in the form of empathy, understanding, and compassion.
6. Being alone helps you set priorities and plan your upcoming months, even life
We love planing. We have our “to-do lists”, our “must-visit places when I am in XXX lists”; we even have our groceries’ lists and home activities’ lists. We have so many lists, that by the end of the day half of them are unfinished, making us think we are disorganized, or messy, or even – failures. The truth is, the day lasts 24 hours and there is only as much a person can do. When you spend time alone, you get to realize what the priorities are! Connecting to point 4. above, once you get to know yourself, you also get to know your priorities and long-term and short-term plans. You then start declustering your mind and your lists.
7. Being alone sparks creativity
An article from Harvard Business Review says: “when we’re not focusing on anything in particular — instead letting the mind wander or dip into our deep storehouse of memories, ideas, and emotions — the brain’s default mode network is activated. Many of our most original insights arise from the activity of this network…”. We often think that we are the most creative when we brainstorm in groups, but when are constrained in groups, we first and foremost care about the social acceptance. Therefore, we often step down from an idea we have due to peer pressure or just because we fail to pitch it well to the group because we are worried what the group would think about it. However, when we are alone, we are freed from these thoughts that block the natural flow of creativity. We let ourselves just “be” and we do not seek a permission to look out of the box and explore new intellectual and creative corners of our mind.
8. Being alone rests you, makes you more efficient worker, and a better problem solver
I am at work. My phone rings, people are walking in the corridor, colleagues are talking, e-mails are arriving. I forget what I was trying to do or which problem I wanted to solve. My brain fails to think of effective solutions because it gets overburdened by processing and filtering all of the surrounding information and I easily get stuck in trying to ignore external stimuli and trying to focus on the task at hand. I often fail, because I fail to see other perspectives and thus, I cannot see a way out.
However, it has happened when I go running after work, that the idea just clicks! I shift my perspective, I block all the distractions, and I get to the solution easily and promptly. We often have all the answers in our mind, or at least the ability to seek them effectively, but we just do not have the access to these abilities when we are constantly bothered. Spending time on our own not only forces us to solve the problem on our own, but also enables us to do that. The next day, we go back to work with higher self confidence and with dedication to the task at hand, and we start to work more efficiently. The distractions will still be there, but if you have alone time often enough and in a reasonable amount, you will learn with time how to have at least several productive hours a day.
9. Being alone gives you a sense of freedom
No better feeling than the one that you are not trapped in the chains of expectations, deadlines, and social norms. As we grow older, we have less and less freedom: we have partner to compromise with, kids to take care of, employees to deliver results to. Our life turns into a vicious circle of pleasing others in the hope that this will bring us happiness. Thus, our alone time becomes increasingly more valuable to us. It is our chance to get away from our everyday “mask” and by doing whatever we want on our own terms – to improve our mood and create balance in our life. Our alone time gives us a fulfilling feeling of freedom: no rules, no boundaries, no negotiating; just “me, myself, and I”.
10. Being alone helps you skip the wish to impress others
As soon as we meet someone new, we try to charm them with our strengths and feel like we need to hide our weaknesses. However, this guarantees only a superficial relationship – one without the deep connection of sharing vulnerability and sincerity. Sharing our strengths is normal, but it is a problem if we are continuously embarrassed of our weaknesses. Spending time alone and understanding ourselves (as explained in point 4.) helps us accept ourselves and above all – respect and cherish ourselves. When we reach this phase, we no longer crave the acceptance of everyone, and we no longer want to waste our time on people we do not get along with.
11. Bonus if you are a parent: your alone time may decrease behavior problems in your kids
By setting an example, you show your kinds that being alone does not mean being lonely and also, that being alone helps you in many ways. They become increasingly better behaved since young age, because they do not feel abandoned or isolated when they are alone in the room for a while. Instead, they find a way to amuse themselves and be joyful and playful when they see you coming back to the room.
How about you? Do you value alone time and what do you do when you are alone? Was this list useful to you? Feel free to share your opinions and thoughts in the comments.