Not all moments of solitude are born equal
Spending time alone is as important as breathing air for introverts and highly sensitive people. “Guard well your spare moments”? Ralph Waldo Emerson warned, likening them to uncut diamonds. “Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.”
But how do you ensure that those moments alone are actually valuable? Do you know the difference between creative and destructive solitude?
“Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.”
- Honoré de Balzac
We know that solitude is something we need to carve out and even fight for in our busy world. Most importantly we need to give ourselves permission for it (to know that it’s OK to spend time alone). But even when do find that moment the fight is not finished. We have the universe in our pocket and we are always ‘on’.
It takes courage and discipline to make the best of solitude.
If I’m not intentional and aware of how I spend my time there are all sorts of things I will do without thinking when I’m alone. Things that often ironically end up draining me more.
The result can be a deeper sense of fatigue, a lack of motivation, and the start of the spiral of social isolation that can happen when I don’t feel like I’m getting enough alone time.
Alone: Default Mode
What do you tend to do when you kick off our shoes and get some time to yourself?
At the end of a long day and when Nic is at work (she does weird shift patterns) I frequently find myself slumped in front of the TV, flicking through and re-watching things I’ve seen a thousand times before. It wasn’t a decision to put myself there, it’s where my unthinking mind took me.
It seems that sitting in front of the TV would help me ‘relax’, but in truth this type of default habit is little more than a ‘numbing’ tactic. It’s something that fills the time between getting home and going to bed, before getting up and doing the whole thing all over again.
How do we take alone time more seriously? How can we make more from it?
As introverts and highly sensitive people our solitude is life-blood. It’s where we thrive. So how do we make sure that we are using it as creative rather than destructive or numbing solitude.
Identify your own default numbing habits:
1. Flicking the TV on with no agenda
This is a big one for many of us. Aimless, mindless flicking through TV to pass the time away. It’s certainly an effective way to kill time in the evening before it’s an acceptable time to go to bed. If there is nothing that you actually WANT (or had planned) to watch then take that brave step and turn it off.
Do something else. For example, read a book. I don’t know about you but I find once I force myself to read a few pages I hit my stride and am involved. It’s a much better activity for the brain and energises rather than numbs.
2. Saying No to Exercise
Exercise feels like something you need energy to do. But it’s just the opposite. I’m currently training my way up to run 10km.
When I get home from work, hitting the gym feels like the last thing I have the capacity for. But when I have finished exercising I am full of energy. Not only is it good in the short run but I then sleep better and wake up feeling refreshed, and am motivated to eat a lot better too. The more consistently I get decent exercise the more long-term energy I have.
3. Avoiding What’s Important, and Choosing Instead What’s Easy
What matters to you? What goals do you have, where do you want to see your life in one, five, ten years time? You can make movement on this right now, in those moments alone.
When you use solitude to plan and to make small steps in the direction of what’s important to you then you discover enthusiasm and energy about the future.
Some things take a bit of an effort push to start but once you’re there you’re flowing and the energy it takes to start is replaced by the energy you are rewarded with once you get going.
4. Aimlessly Scrolling Through Social Media
When I’m with someone and they go to the bathroom, or if I’m waiting to meet them, my phone comes out my pocket and I start aimlessly scrolling through Twitter and Facebook. I have no agenda, I’m just keeping myself from noticing the world around me or my own thoughts.
Disengaged and unintentional use of technology zaps energy and destroys the potentially positive use of solitude.
5. Putting Off The Thing You Know Will Make You Feel Better
Like exercise, there may be other things that will make you feel better so that you can properly relax. Perhaps some time in silence (meditation, quiet time etc). Maybe it’s even making or returning a phone call so that you can close open communication loops. For example I dislike the phone but usually find if I make or return a call on my mental to do list then I feel a lot better after.
6. Guilt from the Need to Feel Busy and Productive
This can mean we never truly relax and never re-energise in our alone time. When we feel guilty that we are not doing what we ‘should’ be doing we will never create the energy we require.
There is no ‘correct way’ to do solitude. It’s different for everyone. It’s worth identifying the default habits we engage in without thinking, so that we can replace them with more intentional, energy-giving behaviours that reach into the whole of our lives.
Over to You
Question: What is your default habit when you get a moment alone at home? I’d love to hear what you think about this, please leave your response in the comments below.