When it comes to time alone, for me, it’s been feast or famine. I’ve been either forced by drastic changes to spend extended periods of time alone, or I’ve been surrounded by people and demands that pull me in many directions. Neither extreme has been helpful.
Being with other people, especially loved ones, is a human need. So is having time to disconnect from the world and be with oneself. We need a blend of both that suits our personalities and preferences.
Lately, I’ve been craving solitude. It’s in this silent space that we tune into our intrinsic creative energies and wisdom. And, more importantly, we get to focus—even for a short period of time—on our own wellbeing.
I read about other people spending months somewhere isolated and coming up with all sorts of brilliant ideas. And I feel discouraged. I have responsibilities that won’t allow me to even spend a week alone.
You might be thinking I should be thankful for having people I care about in my life. And I am, but I can’t ignore the need for quiet alone time.
So today let’s look at how we can have time alone, even when we think we can’t. It may not be as magical as a few months in an isolated cabin in the woods, but it’s definitely better than nothing.
Before we get into the how, let’s consider why we need time alone.
Why time alone?
Being alone and disconnecting—on purpose—doesn’t mean we have to feel lonely. What we’re seeking is the exact opposite: connecting within, away from the distractions and expectations of the world. We won’t feel we’re missing out, or desperately needing others. Consider these reasons and benefits.
Comfort with your own company: The more time we spend alone, the less fear we’ll have about ever being alone. And the less we fear, the more confident we become in living on our own terms and letting go of toxic relationships.
Deep focus: We can’t focus on anything if we’re surrounded by noise and swamped with countless tasks. We need that quiet alone time to dig deeper into our dreams and desires. The world might inspire an idea, but if we don’t give ourselves time to think about it and bring it to life, it will fade away.
Tune in to inner wisdom: We need quiet time to just sit and listen to ourselves. In this uninterrupted time, we can reflect on the past, or think about the present and the future.
Reduce avoidance and escapism: Time alone includes time away from all forms of noise—no phones, notifications, emails, social media, or TV. We sit and face ourselves. We can’t hide behind distractions, or use others as an excuse to avoid our fears and dreams.
Personal growth: Imagine if you spent focused time on doing something that’s meaningful to you for a year. How would that feel? What would you have learned? Over days and years, you’d learn and grow beyond your wildest expectations.
Carving pockets of time alone
If you’re like me and you want to have time alone, but can’t step away from responsibility for an extended period of time, think of a way you can take a little bit of time every day that’s just yours.
In order to have time alone you need to examine how you spend your days. The most opportune times are usually early in the morning, or late at night. You can also utilize your lunch break, or have a break right after work.
If you want to incorporate solicitude into your daily routine, consider the following steps.
1. Start small: You need 20 minutes to just sit and be, or do something you’ve been meaning to do for a long time—read, meditate, reflect, learn, work on a passion project, or sit with a blank page and see what comes up. If 20 minutes is too much, start with 15 or 10.
2. Rearrange or consolidate idle time: We all have little pockets of time when switching tasks, or while waiting, that we fill with distractions. Notice these little breaks and try to come up with ways to move things around so you can add a few minutes here and there to your solitude time.
3. Gradually increase: When you get used to the idea of having 20 minutes to yourself—guilt free, see if you can increase it by five minutes every week. If you can increase your alone time to an hour, you can get as much as 250 hours—over 10 days of time alone in a year (assuming you take an hour five days a week for 50 weeks).
4. Prepare ahead of time: Set up your environment and intentions. If you’re going to be indoors, designate an area as your sanctuary, if possible. If you have to be somewhere where there is noise and commotion, move to any room that’s not occupied, or put on some noise cancelling headphones with white noise.
Also if you need tools for creating (notepad and pen, musical instrument, timer and so on) get them ready so you don’t have to any excuses.
If you don’t know what you want to do, set an intention to sit and breathe … and get quiet. You’ll notice the inner dialogue that you normally ignore, which can inspire ideas and provide valuable insights.
5. Talk to your loved ones: Let your family know that you want time alone to think and be. They probably would want the same thing. It can be a good way to start a new family tradition of time alone for everyone.
6. Commit and do it: Don’t wait for a certain day or occasion. Start right away. You may have to change your time or environment later. That’s okay. You can improve and optimize your space and experience as you move along.
One of the most costly mistakes is waiting for the right time. If we wait for the right moment, it’ll never happen. Plus, if you keep talking about it, but don’t do it, your loved ones won’t take your need for time alone seriously.
7. Don’t give up on yourself: Life may interrupt the best of plans, or you may face difficulties and resistance. Make a promise to yourself and keep it—no excuses are strong enough for you to give up on your sanity. Stop if you need to, but get back to your solitude ritual, as soon as you can.
These days, it’s fairly easy to succumb to the pressures of hyper connectivity and constant noise, and lose our purpose and focus. That’s why we need to view our time alone as an essential part of caring for ourselves and living our truth.
We need this quiet and reflective time to connect with our inner world, to create, contemplate, and most importantly, to be at peace with who we are—even if it’s for a tiny pocket of time.
I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. ~Henry David Thoreau