Alone, Not Lonely: Benefits of Intentional Solitude
by Kinga Lewandowska — 6 min read
What lives in your heart might sometimes be hidden even to you. It’s like a heated debate birds tend to have among the trees. We listen to it, we admire different melodic chirps and songs, yet do we know what they are conversing about? Decoding our inner voices takes buckets of time, dedication, persistence, and perseverance.
Working on your self-awareness is the key to forming and preserving the most important bond in your life – your relationship with yourself. Humans are inherently social creatures and we need one another to survive. However, if you ever lose touch with your heart, your voice, and your individuality, others might not be able to help you out of your confusion and disorientation resulting from that breakup. You will need to find your way back to your bliss and, whether you like it or not, it will require some alone time.
What Would An Extrovert Say?
Introverts need no convincing. Spending quality alone time is their bread and butter, they can thrive in solitude for hours, days, or even weeks at a time. These intrapersonal, reflective types have mastered the art of inner exploration and are perfectly content with limited social interaction. People? Why would we need people when the reality within us is so rich and interesting?
Extroverts would beg to differ. These outgoing and vibrant social creatures bloom in the energy fields of others. Approachable and talkative, they easily make friends with strangers and find alone time too isolating and restrictive. Excuse me, social withdrawal? Why would we intentionally separate ourselves from people? How would we recharge our batteries?
Do Lone Wolves Ever Get Lonely?
The healthiest approach is to incorporate the best of both worlds into our lives. While we need to choose wisely who we surround ourselves with, worthwhile relationships and the kind of connection and safety they provide positively regulate our mental wellbeing. When we feel heard, seen, and valued, we are also more confident, secure, and happy. That’s a recipe for a good life.
Still, that feeling you might have in a crowded place? The feeling of loneliness while surrounded by people? It only means that social interaction, as vital as it is, may not be everything it’s cracked up to be. That’s precisely when we need alone time the most, to evaluate what we want out of life and if it means more people.
Individualists, free spirits, mavericks ― they work alone for a reason. Either they were excluded from the community, or they were hurt enough to leave on their own. It’s crucial to distinguish loneliness from intentional solitude, although very often the boundaries get blurry as one may be part of the other.
Loneliness is a state of mind that is rooted in the severe and multi-layered lack of connection with anyone or anything. It can lead to health problems such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, or depression. As a serious factor for mortality, it increases the likelihood of death by as much as 29%. Everyone gets lonely sometimes, even the lone wolves, and complete seclusion is detrimental and destructive to our physical and mental wellbeing. Yet, it’s also very different from a healthy dose of controlled and intentional alone time. Here’s why:
The Case for Self-Awareness and Authenticity
When you’re on your own, you are your truest, most authentic self you can ever be. Free of unnecessary noise, judgment, criticism, unsolicited advice, symptoms of imposter syndrome, or any other interference that could resurface within a group of people, you’re able to think more clearly, feel more deeply, and you can be 100% natural and honest with yourself. This in itself is a form of meditation. It’s the most important building block of self-awareness. Without the pressure of expectations or any redundant acts of fakery such as toxic positivity, you are liberated from anything that could limit your truth. Your inner self can breathe, smile, feel comfortable in your skin, and expand beyond your wildest dreams. Solitude is the path to flourishing through authenticity.
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Case for Independence and Strength
Spending alone time with your deepest truth will help you maintain inner peace ― the foundation for strength and resilience. Sitting with your thoughts and feelings, relaxing in your authenticity, and learning the contours of your inner self and its needs through quiet reflection can only build you up. Self-knowledge is power. When you stand proud in who you are, certain of your identity, your purpose, and your mission, there is nobody and nothing with the muscle to stop you. It’s a mechanism impossible to break – resilience makes you independent, self-reliance makes you tougher, and suddenly you realize you may never be invincible but this is as close as you can get.
“Strong people alone know how to organize their suffering so as to bear only the most necessary pain.” ― Emil Dorian
The Case for Creativity and Productivity
Alone time gives us space to discover new hobbies and passions, it provides fresh perspective, and activates blue sky thinking. Without the distraction of external ideas generated by other people, our mind is free to roam and come up with original paths, solutions, projects, stories, you name it. Creativity needs freedom to explore and quality aloneness can provide room for imagination and inspiration to thrive. Additionally, research shows strong links between some forms of social withdrawal and creativity ― those of us who seek intentional solitude tend to be more creative.
Moreover, studies proved that being surrounded by co-workers facilitates communication, but is also detrimental to focus and productivity at work due to noise, endless distractions, and lack of privacy. Bill Gates already knew that in the 80s. His think weeks – periods of alone time in a cabin in the woods – helped him boost his productivity and led to the launch of Internet Explorer back in 1995. Innovation likes solitude.
“Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.” ― Nikola Tesla
The Case For Emotional Intelligence and Empathy
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Nothing can encourage us to appreciate the good people in our life more than our time away from them. Solitude generates our gratitude for others because it can paint them in a completely different light and inspire us to understand their needs and motifs better. Empathy begins within you with little to no external stimulation because you first need to analyze yourself in order to be able to relate to others (especially if you have emotional healing of your own to work through). We need intrapersonal intelligence first so that we can naturally develop interpersonal intelligence as a result. Walk alone in your own sneakers for a while and you’ll be able to step into the shoes of others with much more ease.
“Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and, therefore, the foundation of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.” ― J.K. Rowling
Baby Steps of Going Solo
If you have never intentionally taken time off for solitude before, it’s natural if you feel apprehensive. However, in addition to all the benefits, let particular signs in your body and mind further convince you to at least give aloneness a go. Signals to watch out for include stress, burnout, or fatigue. Maybe you’ve started making excuses or complaining more often? Perhaps you’ve stopped putting your mental health first? Maybe you feel disconnected from your inner self and others? If so, that’s your cue.
When introducing a new practice, start small. There’s no need for you to get anxious about spending an entire day on your own if you are not used to it. Begin with 15 minutes. In a few days, if you feel ready, increase it to half an hour. Alone time is self-care and should only make you feel good so try not to force anything. Yet, if you’re consistent in your baby steps, you might find yourself reaching the level of appreciation for voluntary solitude worthy of the most advanced introverts.
And you didn’t think we would leave you without activity ideas for your alone time, did you? Start by choosing a power space in your house dedicated to your aloneness, a corner where you’ll be able to feel the shift of energy from overwhelm to embracing the power of limited social interaction. Meditation is the perfect introduction to a 15-minute (or longer) practice, yet should you need to start even smaller, consider journaling for 5 minutes first.
In time, you may feel more confident to take a solitary walk (for additional benefits we highly recommend using this time to reconnect with nature) or, to add more fun to the experience, invite yourself out on a date. Go to the movies all by yourself, buy a cup of coffee in that romantic little shop on the corner (your time alone can still involve people-watching), or stop to admire the work of a street artist. Solo time can be as entertaining and satisfying as any other social alternative. All it takes is to give it a chance.
One Head Is Better Than Two
Intentional solitude is nothing to be fearful of. Au contraire, it’s bursting with potential and possibilities. The freedom in it may provide you with insights you’d never experience in the presence of others and enhance your relationship with yourself in more ways than one. For the purpose of improving your self-awareness, authenticity, independence, strength, creativity, productivity, emotional intelligence, and empathy, we’d say it’s a pretty good bargain to test a few minutes of uninterrupted social withdrawal for free.
Ok, maybe it’s time we left you alone now, so you can put all the revelations from this article to practice. Take care and enjoy your own company.
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