Yes, I know 2020 was the year of quarantine and isolation, but hear me out!
2020 the apocalyptic year where people have spent more time alone than ever before, and along I come suggesting that you head back off to your cabin in the woods for some more solitude. Yes it might sound bat shit crazy after the past twelve months of doom, I know that, but let me elaborate a little.
It has been the year where people were trapped in their homes, so it’s understandable that solitude may be the last thing we are all thinking about, but perhaps it’s exactly what everyone needs. A chance to take time out for ourselves, slow down, shut out the noise, reconnect, and be.
“The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.” ― Aldous Huxley
The words alone and lonely have been used interchangeably; they have become indistinguishable, intertwined; but this is inherently wrong. There is a distinct difference. In simplistic terms; being alone means solitude, and loneliness is when you feel no one is there for you.
Alone time has always been important to me, since childhood I have always enjoyed time by myself. Sadly, due to this year’s circumstances, it hasn’t been something I could factor in as much as I really needed. Having virtually no respite has left me feeling smothered and overwhelmed.
When I am alone, uninterrupted, disconnected, I am at peace; obstacles are removed, and the noise is silenced. I begin to find my focus and listen to my inner voice, which normally results in a spike in creativity and productivity.
It makes me feel a little sad that there is this stigma attached to spending time in solitude; you could be missing out on something that enhances your wellbeing. Really.
Five things I have learned that might help you too!
1. I get to be free, and others have to survive without me
My life is a whirlwind of plans; every day is stacked full of commitments, people relying on me, deadlines, events, and eventually, it can become crippling.
It has taken me many years to recognize that when these obligations begin to take over, I am no longer taking proper care of myself and it’s time to get away from the madness.
I am so conditioned to rushing around that I have to remind myself that now, I don’t have to, I can take all the time I need. The more stressed and overwhelmed I have been, the longer it takes to unwind.
Disconnecting can be jarring, especially if it’s been a while or maybe you have never done something like that before. I have felt confused, instinctively trying to plan things to fill up the void, but that’s the point, you don’t need to, the void is a good space that you need for your ideas and creative thoughts.
In the past when I have tried to escape, I have been riddled with work colleagues calling, emailing, skyping — you name it; you would think I was returning to a business in ruins, but guess what — everything was fine. I now know to disconnect completely to avoid this. I cannot relax with the bing bong of constant messages coming in.
I try not to schedule too much when I am having a retreat like this; that in itself is a challenge, I am a compulsive list writer and planner, but the whole point of this, for me at least is to have no plan, no structure, just nothingness and time to breathe.
2. It helps me to find clarity and my voice
In my world, everyone has an opinion to share, an agenda to push; it’s competitive, aggressive and it takes a certain degree of bravery to be an outspoken female, in an archaic, male-dominated business; I often find myself beaten down by those with the loudest voices.
Eventually, I get worn out, begin to doubt my own proficiency, and can no longer work out what is right; everything gets jumbled up in a mass of confusion.
Shutting out this noise is all it takes for me to find clarity; it also gives me time to rebuild my confidence, which is often in tatters.
For me, any kind of exercise is great for helping to rebalance. I love surfing. I am still learning, I am pretty awful, but I am determined. Because I have to focus on so many other things, you know — not drowning, not getting rolled around in the sea by the wave I wasn’t paying attention to, that kind of thing, there is absolutely no space to think about anything else. It’s a brilliant way for me to empty my mind, and afterward, when I am exhausted, the ideas start to flow.
3. You have to give creativity some space
When the chatter is drowning out my voice, there’s little hope for my vision. Sometimes all I need is a little bit of quiet time, a meditation, a peaceful walk down the beach, a bike ride through the forest, or a run in the rain to decompress and clear out some mental junk; but it’s not always enough.
I am fortunate that I often travel alone as part of my work; this gives me exactly the time I need to get space for my imagination to run wild. This year because of the pandemic I have traveled very little or made time for myself, I am now rectifying this.
You don’t have to travel far or even at all to disconnect, and a little space each day can make a world of difference. Think about the shower for example; I was curious to find out why I get so many ideas in the shower each morning; so I looked it up, and I wasn’t that surprised to find out that it is connected to solitude. In Scott Barry Kaufman’s study, he found that I am not alone; this is quite normal; 72% of us get our best ideas in the shower.
“The relaxing, solitary, and non-judgmental shower environment may afford creative thinking by allowing the mind to wander freely, and causing people to be more open to their inner stream of consciousness and daydreams,” says Kaufman
Now I take my phone into the bathroom to record any thoughts with Siri; I probably sound like a lunatic to anyone outside, chattering away to myself, but these are some of my best ideas, and I don’t want them to get away.
I find it fascinating that those few minutes of being solitary is enough to have me leaping out of the shower invigorated and inspired. So it goes to show you don’t need to lock yourself away in the woods for a fortnight, you simply need to give yourself some time and space.
4. I have learned a lot about myself
I have. My authentic self, not the image I have fabricated, not the wall I put up to hide behind in an attempt to protect me from the incoming debris. My real self; vulnerable, imperfect, uncensored, and, I have concluded that I am pretty ok.
When I do take some alone time, it can be a bit of a rollercoaster of emotional turmoil. Things I just shoved to the back of my brain to deal with, later on, things I thought I had sorted out, things I was pressured to handle in a way I didn’t like. It gives me a chance to revisit them, with a fresh perspective and reach an outcome with which I am content, away from the meddling of anyone else.
“If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.” ― Jean-Paul Sartre
I know that many people feel uncomfortable spending time in solitude, but like anything, it just takes a bit of practice. I have been spending time alone for so long that I get frustrated, grumpy, and overwhelmed when I don’t.
As I have got to know myself a bit better, I have started to feel more comfortable in my skin. It has taken a really long time, even now I have wobbles, but I do attribute a lot of my personal development to the time I have spent with no one else interfering.
It’s funny how so many things in our lives are skewed and influenced by others; I only started to realize this when I had no other distractions. It made me really think about who I am now and who I want to be.
5. I get to plan what is important to me
We spend our working lives tangled in a mass of responsibilities, we report, review and revise to make sure we are performing, that we are going to hit our KPI’s, and granted most of us spend a significant proportion of our time at work, but what about our lives? What about our hopes and dreams? We get so swept up in the day to day that often we forget to think about the bigger picture.
Being alone gives me some time to write out the fun things I want to do, the adventures I want to go on, set some personal goals. I start with a list of everything I can think of, then split them into the things I can do immediately, short term and long term. I then scribble down anything I need to be able to reach them. When I get home, I go through them with my partner so we can discuss them together and factor them into our plans.
Join me in the joys of solitude
Everyone is different, so it stands to reason that everyone will have a place or duration that will be the most beneficial for them. If it still feels intimidating, then why not start small; even going on a long walk alone is a great way to clear your head, get some exercise, and release some endorphins. You can gradually build-up to the obligatory log cabin in the woods.
I have read that being comfortable in solitude is recognized as a sign of emotional maturity; perhaps it is, I am not sure. What I am certain of is that it’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s a chance to work through emotions, get to know yourself better, and indulge your creativity; things that I think a lot of us are guilty of overlooking.
2020 has shown us that there are so many things that we cannot control. Life moves fast; none of us wants to be that person that regrets we didn’t spend a bit of time alone because we were scared.
So why not give it a try, who knows, you might even like what you find when you get a bit better acquainted with who you are.