Possibilities Playground Newsletter

Sometimes ‘Alone’ Is a Good Thing

Once upon a time, I didn’t know how to be alone. That may sound odd, but it’s very true. I always had the TV on in the background at home or in hotel rooms. I couldn’t be in a car driving alone longer than 10 minutes without getting on the phone. I felt weird going to events by myself. I wasn’t comfortable eating alone at a table in a nice restaurant, so I always brought “armor’ like a notebook to write in or something to read. And just forgot about going to a movie by myself!

For the longest time I chalked it up to being an extrovert. I’d tell myself, “You know how we trainers are…we like to be surrounded by people, right?” Wrong. (I’ve learned that I’m actually more of an introvert, but that’s a story for another time.)

My point is this: over time my high achiever ways had created deeply embedded habits – like the need to always be doing something. Like watching TV while doing the dishes, folding laundry and surfing on my laptop … or doing yard work instead of being able to just sit and reflect on the beauty outside. Perhaps you can relate, have you ever used your smartphone to distract you from being alone with your own thoughts? Be honest here, we don’t have to be attached to those things 24/7!

Like many of you, I’d gotten so good at making the most of every single minute that it was next to impossible to quiet my mind, which was constantly working on the next thing. Even when I’d recognize that I needed to take a break from all that go-go-go-ness, I still had to give my mind something else to play with in order to keep all the voices at bay.

Do you hear how crazy that sounds?

I would actually crave peace and quiet, but couldn’t get it by simply being peaceful and quiet. What?! That’s nucking futs!

It really wasn’t until I took my cross-country trip that I began to learn what being alone was really like. Admittedly at times I felt a sort of abandoned type of alone, but that’s not what I’m referring to here. I mean I started to learn how to be alone with just me, myself, and I.

Even then, it took time for me to be able to wind down my thoughts – give them time to run their course and dissipate. As I got better at it, I started to relish the benefits that came with sitting with my own thoughts, of not having someone else’s voice in my head telling me what I “should” be doing. You know the ones – from society, coworkers, family, friends, magazines, movies, even Oprah herself. We are bombarded with A LOT of information from others and if we aren’t careful to take the time to process things on our own, we can end up getting should’ed on…all day, every day (it’s not pretty).

It didn’t seem natural at first, but once I figured it out, I soon realized I could be 10 times more productive AND peaceful at the same time simply by stepping back, getting a little perspective, and checking in with myself around what was important for me to focus on. Who knew?!

With all that said, I’d be deceiving you if I didn’t share that my naturally optimistic self still leads me to tackle a lot all at one time. For example, in the span of the last three months I’ve helped purge the house, gotten certified and rolled out a new training program for a Fortune 20 company, done a backyard redesign, and started the ball rolling with a kitchen remodel – all while being gone 85% of the time in the last six weeks!

So while I’ll be the first one to tout the benefits of finding some alone time, I’m also keenly aware of how easy it is to get so busy that making the time can be hard. It’s hard to give ourselves anything that doesn’t have an immediate, obvious return on investment. (Hence, for many of us, working for a paycheck tends to get prioritized above exercise and eating healthy.)

For all those reasons plus a little selfishness (this is a great reminder for me too!), I’m sharing how you can reclaim some precious alone time starting today.

Here’s how I’m going to break this down for you:

1. Further define what ‘alone time’ means
2. Quiz you on your current use of ‘alone time’
3. Suggest ways you can experience more ‘alone time’

1. What Does Being Alone Mean?
Just so we’re clear, when I use the word ‘alone,’ I don’t mean that lonely-whoa-is-me kind of alone I’m sure we’ve all experienced from time to time. I mean the “I’m going to hang out with myself and not allow any distractions to take away from me, myself, and I” kind of alone.

Let me also address a few other terms that could be used to describe alone time: downtime, me-time, or vegging out. However you define these for yourself, the only way they’d accurately apply is if, at the heart of it, you find time to be with nothing but your thoughts. If you can do that while getting a mani-pedi for an hour, great, but if you get sucked into talking to the technician or flipping through a magazine because it’s uncomfortable sitting there without a distraction, then that does not qualify.

2. How Alone Are You?
Quiz time! Answer the following questions to get a better idea of how much ‘alone time’ you really have and what you’re doing with it:

I. On average, how many hours do you spend each week:
1. connecting to the outdoors in a way that you can think to yourself
2. losing yourself in a hobby
3. watching inspirational TV shows
4. reading topics that relate to your personal growth
5. writing in a journal
6. exercising in a non-multi-tasking way
7. meditating, praying, going to church or spiritual class
8. driving long distances or periods of time without music or audio books
9. having deep, meaningful conversations about life
10. sitting along with your thoughts

II. When you hear, read or see something that strikes a chord in you, typically you:
1. are aware of it but lose sight because of competing priorities
2. record it somehow so you can revisit it later and make the time
3. record it somehow so you can revisit it later but usually forget
4. stop what you’re doing and mull it over for a few minutes then
5. bring it up in conversation with someone who can ‘go there’

Section I:
Count the hours for just numbers 1, 5, 8, and 10. I’ve found these are the best ways to have time with your own thoughts without external distraction. Don’t get me wrong, all of them provide wonderful benefits, but if we’re just talking about time to be alone, then the four I referenced are where it’s at. There’s no perfect number of hours by the way, although I will remind you that we have 168 hours in a week – so just 1% would be 16 hours. Personally, I’m elated if I’m spending 2-3 hours in this way.

Section II:
You may do one or more of these, but I wanted to include them simply to spark your awareness of how you operate and what other options exist. I know it’s not always convenient to stop everything you’re doing to reflect, which is why I have a notepad near me at all times. And, sometimes, to help ensure I capture my entire thought, I’ll use my phone to do a quick voice memo and listen to it later in the car.

3. Ways to Experience More Alone-ness
You don’t have to be physically alone to experience more of the alone time I’ve been referring to. The only thing you need is a willingness to provide yourself with distraction-free zones. Whether you find yourself eating alone, waiting in an office, or just sitting outside, create a distraction-free zone by turning the TV off, putting the book down, resisting the urge to check email or Facebook on your phone.

I encourage you to give yourself the gift of connecting with your Self. My mother has long enjoyed the ritual of a cup of coffee while sitting outside first thing in the morning for what I used to think was an unnecessary length of time. She just sits there looking around, lost in thought, and I bet sometimes she’s able to escape from thoughts altogether and just be. That’s pretty sweet, too.

However you do it, I will say that the longer the period of time the better because you’ll naturally have thoughts flying around for awhile as you ease into this. I promise that in time you’ll discover the power that being alone offers.

For me, that power translates into an intangible freedom. It gives me the freedom of time… of space… of perspective. Without a doubt, I now covet my alone time and when I don’t get as much as I’d like, I find my life gets a bit chaotic and soon enough I’ll feel the call to escape into that delightful place.

I use the term delightful because it leaves me feeling whole and confident again, and THAT feels really good!

Here’s to you, your special alone time and feeling good!
image gif sara sig clear


 

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Sometimes ‘Alone’ Is a Good Thing by Sara Russell of Feel the Possibilities
Visit Sara at: www.feelthepossibilities.com
Send email to sara@feelthepossibilities.com