Quiet. It seems that the more connected we become, the less comfortable we are with silence. The thought of being alone with our thoughts terrifies us, so much so that we will do just about anything to escape our own minds.
A study conducted at the University of Virginia, asked participants to sit in a room, alone with no stimulation for up to 15 minutes. During this time, they were hooked up to a machine which they could use to voluntarily give themselves an electric shock during the experiment. Surprisingly, 25% of the female and 67% male participants did so – they shocked themselves to escape their own thoughts! One guy did it 190 times in 15 minutes! Yikes!!!
This begs the question – would you choose pain over solitude? Are you afraid to be alone with your thoughts? Are you addicted to distraction? If you answered yes (or maybe, or you’re not sure) to any of these (or know someone who might), please read on.
Why should you be alone? There are many benefits, here are three:
- It allows your brain to reboot and unwind. We are always “on” – receiving data, images, impressions and information. Imagine if you brought the mail into your home everyday for years and placed in on your kitchen counter. In all that time you never sorted through it and discarded the catalogs, circulars and coupons you didn’t want, leaving only the most salient pieces. This is what our minds begin to look like over time – full to capacity and overwhelmed. Solitude provides the opportunity to turn off the influx to our brains, sift through what is there and discard the unwanted and unnecessary, leaving only what is most useful or matters most.
- Solitude provides the opportunity to think deeply. We live with a constant sense of urgency. The urgent important (emails, texts, phone calls, bills, etc) and the urgent unimportant (social media updates, google headlines, etc) – these are the things that come from external sources and demand our time and attention everyday. We work tirelessly to meet these demands just to keep the plates in our lives spinning. We don’t feel in control, nor do we ever feel accomplished or fulfilled as we check them off our list, for new demands emerge faster than they are completed. Time alone allows us to disengage from the urgent, to turn our attention to the important. Solitude brings them into focus and places our mental energy on what matters most.
- Discover yourself and your voice. We are consuming the thoughts, ideas, opinions and judgments of others constantly. This occurs so much that the point at which we begin and “others” end begins to blur. What do we actually believe, and what is merely a mash up of collected opinions gathered over time? (Most opinions are a mash up of collected ideas, but one must be cognizant of this and deliberate in the views being included – to mindlessly take in the thoughts of others is to be controlled unknowingly.) Quiet time allows us to turn of the chatter around us and analyze issues personally. It gives us the chance to take a subject, overlay our core values and beliefs, filter through the noise and reach conclusions that are true to who we really are and what we believe.
Sounds great, but who has the time. With all those plates spinning and emails chirping – demanding to be read NOW – how can anyone find the time to be alone? Great question, here are three suggestions for creating a block of “you” time in your day:
- Get up earlier. For the past 20+ years I have been getting up at 3:42 a.m. For 90 minutes I read, write and think – alone – no distractions or interruptions. It is sacred.
- Use your lunchtime. I learned long ago not to go into the break room at work – it is usually filled with negative energy and attitudes, as peers complain about management and anything else they can think of. I don’t need that, nor do you. Instead, you can close your office door and have some “me time.” Just you and your sandwich. Even if it’s only for 10 minutes, give yourself some space to process in the absence of anything new entering your head space.
- Replace the frivolous with solitude. Look at the entire span of your day. How do you spend your time? Are there any gaps that you currently fill with distraction (sports radio, fantasy football updates, Pinterest, etc)? The most common is drive time. My commute is 22 minutes in the morning and 31 in the afternoon – 53 minutes everyday that I can choose to use for myself or fill with the inane. It is a choice.
We have been conditioned (mostly by our cell phones) to be constantly engaged. Your brain is now programmed to a certain level of stimulation. Turning off the noise will be challenging initially. Start slow. Do it for a few minutes at a time as you re-calibrate your mind to spending time with itself. The key in all of these steps is to DISCONNECT from all media. Go for a walk, take a hike, ride your bike or sit in the sun. Disengage and let your mind rest, it is a gift to yourself. Solitude gives us the opportunity to cleanse our minds and sort things out, for new ideas and perspectives to emerge and for your to discover your true self.
The great thing is, you can start immediately, with no investment. Next time you are in the car, on one of those short trips to the store perhaps, leave the radio off, put your phone on silent, and spend some quality time with yourself. Bottom line, don’t be afraid of spending time with yourself. Hermann Hesse once said: “Solitude is independence.” I agree.
Be Strong. Stay Hungry. Walk Tall.