When we hear the word solitude, we probably jump right to feeling like we’re the odd man out or that we’re being isolated from others. Granted, after the lockdown and stay-at-home orders, the definition of isolation now includes phrases like remote work and distance learning.
Pandemic aside, the word solitude seems to be synonymous with feelings of loneliness for most of us. Even the media warns of a “lonely epidemic” where we’re dedicating less time to cultivating healthy connections, which only adds to our feelings of disconnection.
It’s important to spend time around people. You can improve your habits and learn new things when you’re surrounded by interesting people. Of course, much of life’s biggest joys stem from our relationships.
But too much “people time” might also be a bad thing. Our digital devices often make us feel like we need to be connected 24/7. And all of the noise, activity, and hustle can wear you out and ironically can leave you feeling lonelier than ever.
If you are lonely when you are alone, you are in bad company.Sartre
Being alone and feeling lonely are two completely different things, however. Many people feel lonely even when they’re in a crowded room. And some people spend lots of time alone without ever actually feeling lonely.
In fact, building more solitude into your daily life might actually reduce your feelings of loneliness. Solitary skills take practice if you’re not used to being alone, but over time, you can grow more comfortable with being by yourself.
But shirking loneliness isn’t the only reason you should spend more time in solitude. There are many other reasons spending time alone can help you build the mental strength you need to reach your greatest potential.
1. Solitude helps you get to know yourself.
When you’re by yourself, you make choices without outside influences. You can choose how to spend your time without worrying about anyone else’s feelings. Making choices on your own will help you develop better insight into who you are as a person.
Being alone will help you grow more comfortable in your skin as well. The more you know yourself, the better equipped you’ll be to be your authentic self when others are around.
2. Alone time could improve your relationships.
Spending time with friends, family and colleagues contributes to a “we vs. them” mentality. Although unintentional, you’ll see people who don’t fit into your inner circle as different from you and you’ll develop less empathy for them.
Spending time alone breaks down those barriers. Studies show you’ll develop more compassion for other people when you set aside time for solitude.
3. Solitude boosts creativity and productivity.
There’s a reason artists, musicians, and authors seek solitude when they want to create something. A private space, whether it’s a secluded studio or a cabin in the woods, allows them to be more creative. Studies confirm that being alone often fosters creativity.
In addition to boosting creativity, solitude also skyrockets productivity. Studies consistently show people perform better when they have privacy.
4. Solitude improves psychological well-being.
Learning how to be comfortable by yourself may take some getting used to. But solitary skills could be help you become mentally stronger.
Studies have found people who set aside time to be alone tend to be happier. They report better life satisfaction and lower levels of stress. They’re also less likely to have depression.
5. Being alone gives you an opportunity to plan your life.
While it’s important to have joint goals with your spouse, partner, family members, or business partner, you also need to make sure that you’re living your best life as an individual. Be proactive about planning out your life, similar to the way you might plan for retirement or plan a vacation.
Setting aside time to be alone can help you reflect on your goals, dreams, and aspirations. Take a break from the hustle and bustle to think about whether you’re living life according to your values and whether you might want to make some changes.
If you’re not used to solitude, the silence and lack of activity can feel uncomfortable at first. But, setting aside time to be alone is an essential component of building mental strength and living a rich and full life.