It is no secret that modern society is designed to favour the outgoing, energetic and relentlessly sociable extrovert. This is drilled into us from an early age – schools push us into socialising with hundreds of peers on the daily, with children who are the most socially adept, the most confident and the most visibly intelligent being praised by teachers and labelled by other students as cool and popular.
Later down the line, the workplace operates on similar principles. The more forthright we are, and the more connected we are with others, the easier it is to climb the business ladder. Then, after a long working week, we are encouraged to ‘let loose’ at the weekends, and prioritise making time for friends, family and partners.
Of course, spending time with other people is both enjoyable and essential. As humans, we are built to crave interaction and personal relationships, and it is great that the institutions in our lives provide us with opportunity for connection.
However, at the same time, it is easy to underestimate just how important it is to spend time alone. For instance, according to Micaela Rodriguez in her article Reframing Time Spent Alone: Reappraisal Buffers the Emotional Effects of Isolation, spending around 11% of our time alone can actually help to increase how much we enjoy our social experiences and reduce negative feelings in social situations.
This is true for both introverts and extroverts. In Psychology Today, Dr. Anna Akbari draws on the importance of ‘Carving out moments of solitude’ for ‘Everyone — social butterflies and shy, silent types alike’.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at how spending time alone can help you to become the best version of yourself.
Discover who you really are
When you are constantly surrounded by other people, fully submerged in the ebb and flow of the modern-day ‘grind culture’, it is easy to lose sight of your own goals, ambitions and beliefs. It is also easy to ‘merge’ with the people around you, adopting pieces of their identity as your own – to quote famous motivational speaker Jim Rohn:
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”
Time alone prevents us from losing our sense of self. By distancing ourselves from society every now and again, we also distance ourselves from the labels and judgements of others that may cause us to doubt who we really are. Instead, take a break every now and again and take part in solitary activities, such as journaling or meditation, and stay in touch with the things that make you unique, your motivations and your dreams.
Improve your confidence
Going out for dinner, going to the cinema, taking a trip abroad – these are all activities that we are typically forced to believe are only socially acceptable when they are done with other people.
If your friends aren’t a fan of sci-fi, it is all too easy to miss out on seeing that new alien film that you’ve been looking forward to for months. If you can’t line up your holiday periods with your friends or family, you may never end up taking that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Bali that you have always dreamed of.
Instead, learn to embrace doing things alone from time to time and your confidence will grow as a result. For instance, travelling alone can be an incredibly rewarding experience – make your own itinerary, see the things you want to see and expand your social skills by meeting new people on the road.
Pushing yourself to do the things that you want to do regardless of social consensus will help you to care less about the judgements of others, and allow you to live a more fulfilling life as a result.
Work through your problems
Life is stressful for all of us at some point, and when difficult situations arise out of the blue, it can be hard to find the best way to manage them. Whilst social experiences and burying yourself in your work can be very welcome distractions, it can sometimes make it more challenging to work through the core issue at hand.
Personally, I have been historically guilty of relying on other people to make my decisions for me. When times got hard, leaning on my friends and family and using their advice to validate my own judgement seemed like the best solution at the time.
Of course, whilst advice and distractions from others can be helpful, it is important that they don’t prevent you from making the choice that you know is right for you.
This is why spending a little bit of time alone when you are going through a difficult time is always valuable. Take a while to do some soul-searching, make some pros and cons lists and get to the core of what you want – without depending solely on external input.
Are you struggling to spend time alone?
Although spending time alone comes with obvious benefits, that doesn’t mean that it is easy for everyone. Some people struggle to find the time in between working and other commitments, whilst others might struggle with fears of experiencing loneliness or negative thoughts.
A great way to manage the fears and time restrictions that could accompany spending time alone is by making a plan that allows you to feel fulfilled, less apprehensive and even productive.
Being alone doesn’t have to mean staring blankly into space whilst unpicking your deepest anxieties. Instead, try making your alone time more active, by exercising, going for a walk or working on a creative project.
Although it is easier said than done, a shift in mindset and routine can also be very beneficial. For instance, we all need a little routine in our lives – it helps us to stay on track, stay motivated and make time for the things we love.
However, a deviation from day-to-day habits can also be very healthy – switching up your schedule and allowing for new opportunities can help you to become more flexible, as well as changing and improving your mode of thinking, allowing you to discover new things that you never would have thought to try otherwise.
With this in mind, therefore, adjusting your very busy schedule to allow for some time alone can be a great way to change your life for the better by avoiding a stuck-in-the-mud sort of mindset. Set some boundaries when it comes to the expectations you place on yourself, and on the expectations placed on you by others.
Communicate the fact that you need some space, and the people around you will likely be happy to accommodate – they will also feel more comfortable letting you know when they feel the same way.
Overall, it is important to remember that life is all about balance. As well as being a great way to reflect, spending time alone also allows you to grow and push yourself to try new things, making your future social interactions even more rewarding as a result.
Being alone doesn’t mean being lonely – instead, it means taking time out of your day to put your needs first for a little while, which is actually very healthy.
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