Solitude

Most of our days are spent with other people. Whether we have to attend a meeting, grab coffee with a friend, or just work in an open office, we have to be around other people. Spending time with others is a great investment of our time: it allows us to learn from other people, develop relationships with people who can help us (and who we can help), and also allows us to get in touch with what it means to be human. We spend most of our days talking with others because it feels great — catching up with a friend is a very liberating experience.

The position of technology in our lives makes it easy for us to talk to anyone at any point in the day. If we need to talk with a co-worker about a sales lead, we can call them. If we need to ask a friend to help us move, we can call them. Most people have their phones on for the entire day, and so reaching these people is not a problem. However, the rise of technology has also made it easy for us to find people with whom to speak when we actually do not need to speak to anyone. We can scroll through Twitter for a few minutes, find someone to talk to, and spend the next hour exchanging DMs — indeed, something of which I am guilty. This type of interaction is harmful for both parties.

If you are only talking to someone because you are bored, then it is likely that the quality of that interaction will be low. If you have no intentions — you want to catch up, ask them for a favor, check-in on their progress, etc. — then the exchange will likely not be very constructive. The person who is receiving your messages will likely be happy to chat, but if there is no intention to the message thread, then they will quickly get bored. Conversations where no party derives any value from their contents are not worth having. Yet our culture of always being busy has made us constantly in search for a new conversation.

Over the last few weeks, I have started to make time in my day for solitude. Rather than thinking of someone with whom I can speak when I am bored, I instead spend some time in solitude. Often times in the evenings, I take some time to just be present. I don’t talk with anyone, I don’t write, and I don’t work; I do nothing. Initially, taking out time in my day for solitude felt like a waste of time. I did not feel productive, and I found little value in what I was doing. However, upon further analysis, there are a lot of benefits to finding time in your schedule for being alone.

Spending time alone gives you the opportunity to do some introspection and evaluate your life. In the evenings, I often reflect on the work I have done in my day, and whether I have acted in accordance with my values throughout the day. Having time to evaluate my life in peace allows me to explore my thoughts in more depth, and be more intricate in analyzing my actions. In addition, reflecting on your days helps you develop more insight into who you are as a person — what makes you a unique and great individual. This level of self awareness makes it easier to make decisions that are more likely to help you become a better person — you are more aware of what is best for you.

Spending time alone also gives you space to do some short-term and long-term planning, without having to worry about the opinions of others. You can think in-depth about who you are, where you want to be in the future, and consider exactly what steps you will need to take in order to reach your goals. Our always-on culture often distracts us from setting goals for our lives — we are too busy working in the moment to focus on the distant future — although long-term thinking is an important part of growth. In solitude, it is only you, and so you can control exactly what you think about.

Spending time in solitude also helps you become more detached from your work. Our modern society has developed an image where if you are busy, then you are valuable. Consider this: how many times do people respond “I have been busy” when you check-in with them after a week or so of talking? I bet that most people use that answer, because we naturally want to be busy.

Being in solitude allows me to take a step back and focus on life in general, rather than my work. I am alone with my thoughts; there is no work in front of me to complete. Being in solitude helped put my life into perspective, and realize that there is more to life than work. Solitude also allows you to analyze whether or not the time you are spending on work is worth it. Are you working just so you can say that you have “been busy”, or are you working because you love your job and are able to make a difference?

Spending time in solitude is difficult to start with, especially for people who default to finding someone else with whom to talk when they are bored. At first, I became conscious of a lot of thoughts I had buried because I did not want to deal with them. However, as I spent more time in solitude, I was able to work through these problems and become a more thoughtful and intentional individual. The best way to get started is to schedule some time at the end of your day and say that you will do nothing during that period. Perhaps that time is five minutes before you go to bed, or immediately after you finish eating your final meal of the day. Either way, schedule a time, and stick to it. By doing this, then you know exactly when you need to be in solitude, and are less likely to avoid the exercise.

Further, the time you choose should be when you are most able to be alone. If you have family commitments, perhaps taking a walk in the park alone during your lunch break would be most appropriate; if you live alone, perhaps reflecting after you get home would work. There is no specific place where you need to be to be in solitude, although I have found that being at home is more effective as I am surrounded by familiar items.

Plato is famous for saying “The unexamined life is not worth living”, and while this sentiment may be more extreme than I think it should be, it still conveys an important lesson: examining our lives can help us become better people. Spending time in solitude makes it easy to examine our lives and determine our strengths, analyze our weaknesses, and understand how we can improve various elements of our routines. As we continue to spend time in solitude, we can work toward becoming a better person.

Make time in your day for solitude. Reflect. Introspect. Evaluate.