When was the last time you were alone doing absolutely nothing? What was it like for you to have the time and space away from time pressures or responsibilities? How did it feel? Do you remember what it was like to get bored? It doesn’t happen anymore. By eliminating any chance to be bored, we’ve lost our ability to think and process.
Thoreau wrote in Walden:
I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.
We all have (and use) the two metaphorical chairs for friendship and society. We don’t spend enough time on that one chair for ourselves, which we need the most. We can’t help others unless we help ourselves first.
One reason our lives don’t change is because we don’t think about our lives enough. We’re so focused on doing things in our daily grind that we forget to take a step back once in a while and think about what we’re doing and where we’re headed. The demands of our daily work-life can really keep us from gaining perspective.
We need some time away from our day-to-day life in order to take a step back and think about our lives and to be able to create the space to explore and reflect. The truth is, the busier we get (or think we are) and the faster things are coming at us in life, the more solitude we need in our lives. It’s exactly what we need most, but it’s also what gets neglected first.
Solitude means setting aside distraction-free time for ourselves to do one thing. The point is to simply spend time with ourselves. It helps us find the quiet in order to listen to our inner voice, and it gives us the space to think (and process).
James Russel Lowell on solitude:
Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is wholesome for the character.
When we spend time alone, we are better able to listen to ourselves, which becomes increasingly difficult in an overstimulated world. This cannot happen in our daily life unless we create the space for it. It can only happen when we step away from it or look at it from the outside. Listening to ourselves helps us reflect on things (and process them), and only when we think and reflect about our lives can we explore life fully. That is when we can change ourselves for the better.
This affects our ability to work and play effectively in a sustained way. It helps us renew ourselves so we return refueled to do better work. Spending time alone allows us to be grateful for what we have, and when we spend time alone, we appreciate what we have more.
Making the space for solitude gives you a scheduled excuse to think about your life. Use this time to recharge yourself emotionally.
Making the space for solitude can be difficult because it forces us to face ourselves without distractions. Even spending a short time in solitude each morning can make a big difference. So how do we create more solitude in our lives?
First, block some time every day in your weekly work calendar for solitude. Personally, I find mornings best for solitude. It’s a great time for quiet introspection. This also ensures that no matter how busy things get later in the day, you won’t miss this alone time for yourself. Remember, process leads to outcome.
You can spend this time journaling, meditating, walking, and/or praying. Of course, all of these things require quiet contemplation. However you choose to spend this time, do it alone. Before getting to work, spend a few minutes each morning writing as a spiritual practice. Give yourself the space to read classic literature (instead of reading the nonfiction of today). Doing these things help you to be present and prepares you to transition to your work better.
Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.
When you’re at work, create your own space to concentrate intensely to make progress on your projects. Working in sprints can help. There are times where you’ll work in solitude, and then there are times where you’ll work with others. Of course, knowing what to do when you have any discretionary time at work goes back to having a Next list and using a trusted system.
You could also create space in the middle of your work day to find this solitude to do absolutely nothing (no agenda). This could also happen by way of an extended lunch break.
Next, spend a few minutes each evening to think (and reflect) about your day. Think about what went well. What could improve? Write about the best thing that happened to you that day. Celebrate it. Cherish it.
You can also take extended periods of solitude. Examples include taking a personal retreat — walking in the wilderness, trekking by yourself, spending a weekend in the woods, taking part in a writer’s retreat by spending the weekend at a hotel to work on writing, etc.
Solitude is about disconnecting and finding quiet in our busy lives, and we all need some solitude in our lives. Introverts need it more than extroverts. Solitude is how we renew ourselves so we return more refreshed and energized to do the things we want to do. Unless we create space for solitude consistently, we won’t be able to perform at our fullest potential.
Spend some time in quiet reflection every day in the morning. It will make you more at peace with yourself. It will allow you to be present, more focused, and engaged in whatever you do. It will help you process things better. Otherwise, we’ll end up like cars running on empty gas tanks, and we know how that works out.