We live in a world of constant contact—a place that’s losing sight of the importance of being alone. Offices are abandoning cubicles in favor of shared desks and wide-open common spaces, and rather than sitting at their desks working independently, school children are placed in groups. It seems that a never-ending “ping” has become our culture’s omnipresent background noise, instantly informing us of every text, tweet, and notification. Even something as mundane as cooking dinner has become worthy of social sharing.
One result of all this social connection is that many of us rarely have any time alone. While we’re told that this connectivity is a good thing and that being around other people is necessary for a fulfilled life, you can certainly have too much of a good thing.
“All men’s misfortunes spring from their hatred of being alone.” – Jean de la Bruyere
A study of 600 computer programmers at 92 companies found that while productivity levels were relatively stable within each company, they varied greatly from one company to the next. The more productive companies had one thing in common: they ditched the ultra-hip open office in favor of private workspaces that granted freedom from interruptions. Of the top performers, 62% said they had adequate privacy at work, while only 19% of the worst performers shared that opinion. And, among the low performers, 76% said they were often unnecessarily interrupted.
Solitude isn’t just a professional plus; it’s also good for your mental and emotional well-being. To get the most out of life, you must learn to enjoy spending time alone. The benefits of solitude are too numerous to catalog, but here are some of the best.
You recuperate and recharge. All of us—even the hopeless extroverts among us—need time to recuperate and recharge. There’s nothing like spending time alone to make this happen. The peace, quiet, and mental solitude you experience when you’re by yourself are essential to recovering from the stresses of daily living.
You can do what you want. As fun as it is to spend time with other people, it inevitably leads to compromise. You’re constantly modifying your ideas to accommodate other people’s desires and opinions. Being alone frees you up to do exactly what you want when you want. You can throw on whatever you feel like wearing, eat what you feel like eating, and work on projects that are meaningful to you.
You learn to trust yourself. Freedom is more than doing what you want; it’s the ability to trust your gut and to think clearly, without any pressure or outside influence. Being alone helps you form a clear understanding of who you are, what you know, and what’s right for you. It teaches you to trust yourself. When around others, even when you don’t realize it, you monitor people’s reactions in order to gauge the appropriateness of your own feelings and actions. When you’re alone, it’s all on you. You develop your own ideas and opinions, without having them watered down by what anyone else thinks. Once you learn to enjoy being alone, you’ll discover what you’re truly capable of, without the constraints of other people’s thinking.
It increases your emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. TalentSmart has tested more than a million people and found that 90% of top performers are high in EQ. Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence, and you can’t increase your EQ without it. Since self-awareness requires understanding your emotions and how you react to various people and situations, this necessitates careful self-reflection, and self-reflection happens best when you’re alone.
It boosts your self-esteem. Enjoying your own company is a huge confidence booster. If you’re bored and restless when you’re by yourself, it’s easy to start thinking that you’re boring or that you need other people around to enjoy yourself. Learning to enjoy time alone boosts your self-esteem by confirming that you are enough.
You appreciate other people more. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Time alone lets you see people in a whole new light, and it helps you to develop a renewed sense of gratitude for who they are and what they do.
You get more done. It’s said that “more hands make light work,” and while that might be true when it comes to raking leaves, it’s a completely different story with cognitive tasks. Even the effectiveness of brainstorming is more myth than reality. Researchers from Texas A&M found that group brainstorming hinders productivity due to “cognitive fixation.” Cognitive fixation is the tendency for people working in groups to get stuck on other people’s ideas, reducing their ability to come up with anything new, and the bigger the group, the more fixated everyone becomes. Spending time alone not only eliminates distractions but also ensures that you don’t have trouble with “too many cooks.”
Bringing It All Together
Everyone benefits from solitude. Take the opportunity this week to spend some time alone.