In terms of evolution, human beings are social creatures. And even though we appreciate someone who can think outside the box, we fill our corporate speak with the concept of synergy and being a team player. So where does this leave time by yourself? The reality is, a little solitude–or as Alice Koller describes it, “being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your own presence rather than of the absence of others”–is incredibly good for you.
1. Your brain and nervous system have a chance to decompress and recharge.
When we are around others, we constantly are taking in information, stimulated by conversation, body language and even the smell of the person next to us. Trying to process all this data and make sense of it, which requires constant shifting of attention from thing to thing (multitasking), is enormously demanding on the brain in terms of energy. And because your brain is constantly trying to figure out if any of that stimulation is a threat, you can end up on high alert and anxious. Like shutting off your TV, retreating for a bit reduces the input you can access, reducing stress. The less stress you have, the better your mental and physical health is likely to be.
2. You learn what you need.
When you are alone, you have time to think without a constant stream of “you should”s raining down from others. You can try different things to see if they satisfy without fear of being judged for the choice, leave the Joneses behind and tune in to your gut. And because no one else is there to make decisions for you, you learn that you–you!–can create the environment that makes you happy. That is incredibly empowering.
3. Your creativity and productivity can soar.
Just as input from others can cloud your understanding of what you require, it can dampen your ability to innovate–people take ideas in “safe” directions hoping the group will approve. But when you enjoy solitude, there’s no risk someone will tell you your idea stinks. Trying becomes more about learning than fitting in, and you learn to trust the process of tinkering. And because you’re not overstimulated and can tune in to what you need, you can focus and get more done as you experiment. This creates a cycle–seeing that you can come up with something wild and are capable of good efficiency can be a major confidence booster, so you become even more willing to hack it on your own.
4. Your relationships become tighter.
It might be hard to think of solitude as a catalyst for strong social bonds, but it is. That’s because, as you get rid of your stress, figure out who you are and build your confidence, you stop picking just anybody to hang around with. You think more critically about the role you play in others’ lives and the role they play in yours. And when you do spend time with someone else, you’re refreshed enough to really pay them due attention.
If you’re not used to solitude, it initially can feel awkward and even wrong. But as Rainer Maria Rikle puts it, “It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.” We grow from what is challenging. And if you are patient, the initial uncomfortableness of solitude will fade and your real voice will take over. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover that, even though you’re alone, you’re not lonely.