Does the mere thought of being by yourself, alone with your thoughts for hours on end scare the living daylights out of you?
If you’re nodding your head emphatically in agreement, you should know you’re not alone – a study showed that some people would rather subject themselves to electric shock than be alone with their thoughts!
If you’re not one of those nodding in agreement, well, good for ya!
I used to believe I would do just fine if I decided to withdraw from the world and spend time in reflection and meditation – I had never been more wrong!
I guess this false assurance stemmed from the fact that I was already pretty acquainted with being by myself most of the time; what I did not realise was that there is an entire universe of difference between alone-time that involved mostly social media surfing, movie binging and indiscriminate napping, and proper solitude.
And by proper solitude I mean every single moment is devoted to activities ranging from studying to reflection to meditation and prayer; every single second spent in active self-development. I quickly realised I had three options:
- Grow bored and fall back into my normal routine,
- Drive myself crazy with all the thinking and reflecting and all the changes that needed to be made, or
- Embrace the process and consciously make efforts to make full use of the limited time I had.
When you look at it I really had only one option – to embrace the process and make maximum use of the time. That was exactly what I did and I am still reeling from the results.
Under the right conditions and with a defined goal in place, shutting yourself from the world every once in awhile brings some incredible benefits.
- This one’s pretty straightforward – solitude makes life easier. The thing about never having time for yourself, you know, to just sit and reflect, strategise and think is that life soon begins to blur into an endless parade of activities; activities that soon prove overwhelming.
Does it ever feel like there is no real direction to your constant motion? It was this exact feeling that drove me into the waiting arms of solitude. Our lives are overflowing with many “to-dos” but lacking in the projects and plans that we’ve actually completed. Taking time out to properly evaluate plans and goals and develop fresh strategies and commitments is important if you are to maintain even a semblance of order in the midst of all the craziness life serves you sometimes.
- Solitude births creativity – I’ve come to realise that very often my brightest ideas are born when I’m deeply immersed in my own company; when I allow my mind to roam free unhindered by the constraints external company usually places on my thoughts. I have found myself delightfully surprised by some of the ideas I scribbled down during such times. Many great thinkers, artists and creative minds have espoused this benefit – Lao Tzu, Emerson, Pablo Picasso.
- Solitude can be therapeutic – Jack Fong, a sociologist says that “When people are experiencing crisis it’s not always just about you: It’s about how you are in society. When people take these moments to explore their solitude, not only will they be forced to confront who they are, they just might learn a little bit about how to out-manoeuvre some of the toxicity that surrounds them in a social setting”.
Simply put, when you remove yourself from your daily routines, especially in the midst of problems, you are able to see more objectively the effect that these routines have on your life and even find solutions to your problems.
- Solitude helps you become more self-reliant – Sometimes we catch ourselves searching for worth in the opinions of people and relying on others for our happiness or satisfaction, and more often than not we end up disappointed.
Self-reliance is a function of your understanding of your own abilities, an understanding you only get when you disconnect yourself from society’s influence and look inwardly. You begin to realise that the more understanding you have about your abilities, the more productive you become. And this my friends is a huge confidence booster.
- Solitude can strengthen your relationships with others – This might seem like a contradiction seeing as the entire goal of solitude is to disconnect yourself from others, for a while, in order to look inwardly. But by gaining a better understanding of who you are, your abilities and values, you’re able to make wiser decisions as regards the people you spend time with and relationships you cultivate.
Daniel Goleman in his book Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships says: “The most striking finding on relationships and physical health is that socially integrated people, those who are married, have close family and friends, belong to social and religious groups, and participate widely in these networks, recover more quickly from disease and live longer. Roughly eighteen studies show a strong connection between social connectivity and mortality.” Cultivating healthy and positive relationships with others is just as important as having a sound relationship with yourself and solitude is an invaluable tool in this process.
Embracing solitude can be tough but the benefits cannot be overstated. For it to be effective however, certain conditions must be met and Kenneth Rubin, a developmental psychologist at the University of Maryland summarises them quite neatly; it must be done voluntarily, you must be capable of regulating your emotions effectively, you should be able to join a social group when desired and you should be capable of maintaining healthy relationships outside of it.