Spend Some Time Alone [and Focus on Yourself]
You need alone time!
Throughout the day we are bombarded with requests from others. Colleagues who need something or just want to chat at the water cooler. Friends who want to meet up and talk. The family wants to connect and take a bite out of your time. Meetings that seem to go on forever.
The time with others can be fun. You might enjoy every minute of it but every now and then take some time alone. Time for you to relax and do nothing or do something you love. Block out 40 to 60 minutes of your day and focus on yourself.
One study found that being alone is considered a restful activity by more than half of the 18 thousand participants in that study. When you take a look at the other activities that people consider restful then the top five contains things that you mostly do alone.
- Reading (58%)
- Being in the natural environment (53.1%)
- Being on their own (52.1%)
- Listening to music (40.6%)
- Doing nothing in particular (40%)
Another study showed that sometimes people avoid hedonic activities when they have to do it alone. For example, some people tend to think that going to the cinema alone is not a good idea because of what others may think. However, science says:
Notably, consumers seem to overestimate how much their enjoyment of these activities depends on whether they are accompanied by a companion. – Rebecca K. Ratner Rebecca W. Hamilton
Freedom of being alone is intoxicating. ~ Kangana Ranaut
Alone you are more productive
Private working space is the key to productivity. In open offices, the increase of noise and loss of privacy destroys your results. Although it may be blindingly obvious to many people, you are more productive when working alone. In this study you can see what aspects of environmental quality are important to people in different office settings.
Meditating and thinking
Meditation is something that you should do daily. You usually have to be alone or in a place where distracting other people is considered rude. But meditating requires mental focus and energy.
Do it when you can. If not, then you can go in the opposite direction.
Think about what you are doing and where you are going with your life, where is the current trajectory taking you. Think about your goals, has anything changed in your priorities, do you need to adjust your course?
More on thinking later.
Sometimes I sit behind the desk and just write down everything that crosses my mind for 40 minutes. Free-flow writing helps me to get a new perspective and ideas that may otherwise be lost in the rush of daily activities.
In freewriting, you are doing the opposite of meditation. In meditation, you want to stop your mind from wandering. In freewriting go off on any tangent that your brain throws at you. The exercise helps you clear your head and get a better understanding of the issues you are facing.
Working alone you are more productive and have better ideas. Usually, when I start with free-flow writing, I will converge to a topic that is important to me. My brain starts focusing after about 10 to 15 minutes of random writing.
What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be. ~ Ellen Burstyn
Thinking and planning
One important thing you can write about is your goals, progress, and plans. When you are constantly surrounded by people, you don’t have the time and focus to think deeply about your life. Take that time to improve the quality of your life. Do it in writing as the written format makes you focus even more.
I use these six questions to help my thinking process:
- Am I excited to be doing what I’m doing or am I in aimless motion?
- Are the trade-offs between work and my relationships well-balanced?
- How can I speed up the process from where I am to where I want to go?
- What big opportunities am I not pursuing that I potentially could?
- What’s a small thing that will produce a disproportionate impact?
- What could probabilistically go wrong in the next 6 months of my life?
I don’t know the author of these questions. If you do, let me know, and I’ll link back to the source.
Alone time doesn’t have to be a hard brainstorming session or even reading. If you feel like it, go for a walk and clear your head. If you have more time go to a movie or day spa. There’s no pressure; you can do whatever you want it is your time.
Walking is the easiest activity that lets you get away from it all. Walking is also low intensity and lets you think deeply about your life. But you can do some serious exercising by bending iron or maybe running. However, the more energy you spend on the physical activities, the less you have left for mental tasks.
But sometimes it’s totally OK to switch your brain off completely.
Of course, you also need a silent space. A location where you can’t bump into people you know. A place where there’s no noise. Some people think that coffee shop background noise doesn’t break their concentration. Well, it does.
If you have a quiet place like that then good for you. For others, one place that usually meets all those criteria is a public library.
To make sure that your time stays yours put your phone in silent mode, close all notifications from email, IMs, and social networks. And do not use the time to browse the net aimlessly.
I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel. ~ Audrey Hepburn
Whatever relaxes you, do it. Just a disclaimer here: no drugs, alcohol, or any other activities that leave you incapacitated to continue that day. Somewhere on the spectrum between meditating and crossfit workout are million other things: learn to play the guitar (don’t do it in the library). Start to paint or draw. Did you know that you can get pretty good at almost anything in as little as 20 hours?
In some cases, you can take off extended chunks of time. For me, one of the best activities for alone time is snowboarding alone on the powder slopes. Hours pass, and there’s no one around. You can get similar experiences when hiking or running really long distances alone. But if you don’t feel like moving yourself a lot, then you can spend a day on the secluded beach and enjoy the soothing crash of the waves in the background.
The dark side of loneliness
If you are lonely by choice, then that is a good thing. You need time to rest from social interactions where people have various expectations for you.
However, long periods of loneliness without any positive life events lead to more depression. In this case, loneliness is defined as having feelings and thoughts of being isolated and disconnected from others. The study found that:
Specifically, the positive association between loneliness and psychological maladjustment was found to be weaker for those who experienced a high number of positive life events, as opposed to those who experienced a low number of positive life events [PDF].
I wrote about random acts of kindness where you can invite your lonely friends and relatives to make their days brighter. Create interesting life events for them.
How often should you take time to be alone?
You don’t have to do it every day but make sure that you have enough alone time every other day or so. Your time alone does not mean that you are depressed or sad. It will lower your stress levels, and you get a better grip on reality.
If you feel that you can’t find the 40 minutes for this every other day or two times a week, then it’s a sign that you really need it.
You are not a robot.
Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone. ~ Paul Tillich
Do it at least once a week
There are a lot of options to take the time you need to be alone. The question is not what to do but where to find the time. Make a date with yourself. Put it on the calendar. You owe yourself some alone time.
Image by Priit Kallas: ‘Powder Day’
Image Screenshot of Audrey Hepburn from the film Charade