Most days, I work from home, alone. I also often travel alone. Solitude is a central part of my everyday existence. Yet I am not lonely.
Working alone doesn’t meant I don’t collaborate. I schedule virtual and in-person meetings with team members and clients.
Traveling alone is less of a sentence to isolation and more of an opportunity to connect with strangers and welcome unexpected encounters into my journey. It also offers more freedom and flexibility than traveling with others.
There’s much written about our culture of distraction, but there’s too little discussion of the value of time spent truly alone. We largely fear it and cling to the pings and prods from our personal devices to keep us in constant company.
Don’t get me wrong. Connection still matters. It is an important indicator of health and happiness. Studies indicate that social isolation is more dangerous to your health than obesity, increasing your risk of premature death by more than 14%.
But quality alone time does not indicate loneliness. Celebrating solitude doesn’t condemn connection.
Why Is Alone Time So Crucial?
For introverts alone time is crucial to recharging . But everyone, even extroverts, benefits mentally from regular intervals spent alone. Think of constant social interaction — be it in-person or digital — as your brain running on a treadmill. It needs to take periodic breathers. When we burnout, we are useless to others and ourselves.
Groupthink, the psychological phenomenon when groups overconform and stop thinking as individuals, is largely a result of too much togetherness. Creative brainstorming is most effective when initially conducted solo, with collaboration to follow after those initial seeds of creativity and problem-solving are planted. But more often than not we feel compelled to air all of our ideas publically from inception. Because of our fear of rejection of “bad” ideas, this discourages the breadth of our creative potential.
Alone time has largely become taboo in our always-on, always-connected culture. But solitude clears our heads, gives us focus, and recharges our bodies. It also centers us and creates clarity. Distraction is the nemesis of clarity, so consider solitude your tool for sanity and clear vision. Solitude helps us to reconnect with who we are and who we want to become. In turn, this enhances our relationships and what we can offer those we love and encounter.
For those with families, alone time might seem like a scarce commodity or feel selfish. But once you realize you are actually more valuable to the people in your life if you periodically disengage from them, it becomes much easier to prioritize and give yourself permission.
How can you create more alone time? Here are three easy, immediately accessible ways you can implement alone time into your life starting today:
I encourage all my clients to turn their phones off while they sleep. Not on silent or “do not disturb,” but completely off. It allows you to be off-duty and avoid temptation to check messages or emails — to truly disconnect. Remember that digitally-distracted interactions are different than intimate, empathic conversations.
Bring that unplugged mentality to your individual encounters. Being truly alone with someone is one of the greatest gifts you can give.
2. Schedule Dates With Yourself
One of my favorite pastimes is to go to the movies by myself. I slip into an alternate reality where I don’t need to be social or productive. My mind wanders and my body relaxes. I emerge recharged and ready to re-engage with the world.
It’s also a way to take back control — to do what you want, how you want to do it. When we feel a sense of agency, we are happier. Your solo date might be a surf session or a hike in the woods, or perhaps it’s getting lost in a book. Whatever it is, schedule it, make it purposeful, and indulge regularly.
3. Actively Reflect
Sometimes we need to formally recognize the benefit of something before we can prioritize it. Identity the ways you want to spend your alone time — in nature, unplugged from technology, or lost in a creative pursuit — and actively reflect on how you feel before and after.
Perhaps you freewrite about your week after implementing these experiments. Or perhaps it’s only a 10-minute meditation session where you feel the difference in your mind and body. Using whatever method most resonates with you, take a few moments to recognize the feedback and results of your efforts, and use that to fuel your commitment to regular alone time.
By taking control of your time, and prioritizing time by yourself, you’ll be more productive and better connect with friends, family, and colleagues when together.
Bio: Anna Akbari, PhD is a sociologist, the founder of Sociology of Style, and the author of Startup Your Life: Hustle and Hack Your Way To Happiness. Twitter: @annaakbari