Our world is more hyper-connected than ever. We have smartphones, tablets, iPods, laptops, and a few of us even have those soon-to-be relics called desktops. We’re so addicted that – according to Pew Research Center – 67% of cellphone owners find themselves checking their phone even when they don’t notice it ring or vibrate, and 21% of us report going online “almost constantly.” We’re so busy networking – online and off – that we leave little time for ourselves. But here’s the thing – alone time has some significant benefits.
Science shows that we overestimate how much we need people and underestimate the value of solitary experiences.
In essence, it comes down to a PR problem. Being alone has a bad rap. It is often erroneously associated with being lonely or anti-social – both of which are not beneficial to health. But being alone is distinct from these conditions, and research is mounting on its benefits to body and mind. For example, a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that those, “who forego hedonic activities alone are missing out on opportunities for rewarding experiences.”
So, what are the benefits of being alone? Here are five ways that being alone will enrich your life.
If you’re like most people, you are continually overwhelmed by an onslaught of distractions, and a lot of it comes in the form of other people. Meetings, phone calls, texts, social media, parties, and date nights. You’re rushing here and there, trying to keep the mental Rolodex of your contacts and tasks straight. You need a break.
Being alone allows you the opportunity to settle your nerves, decompress and regain clarity and focus. Whether it’s taking a hot bath, doing a 10-minute meditation or just enjoying a few moments by yourself, alone time can help you collect your thoughts and harness the energy you need for the rest of the day.
Susan Cain, the author of the book Quiet, told Scientific American, “solitude is a crucial (and underrated) ingredient for creativity.” While brainstorming is often touted as the solution to producing creative ideas, decades of research shows that it can backfire. People may feel constricted in groups, worried about what others will think of their ideas, or just not motivated to commit to a deep exploration.
On your own – whether it’s at home, in a cafe, on a city street, or in nature – you have space and the permission to open up your mind and discover new ideas and possibilities.
Back in 1913, an agricultural engineer named Maximilien Ringelmann found that individuals put in more effort when working alone on a task (rope pulling, in this early 1900’s instance) than when working together collectively in a group. Known as “social loafing,” this phenomenon has been replicated in numerous studies in different situations over time. Think about your last group project – can you remember one “loafer” you encountered? I thought so, and it probably didn’t help create the best product or the most positive experience for anyone.
Interestingly, even when someone thinks they’re contributing their maximal effort to a group, studies show that they aren’t. Much of this is due to a loss of motivation, unclear goals, or an inability to coordinate group efforts. Being alone is when you can harness your motivation and ultimately get more done.
In religious terms, solitude can serve as a time to be at one with God. And for the one-third to one-half of the population who are introverts, it’s a chance to reconnect with oneself. But psychological studies have found that the benefits of being alone extend beyond introverts and the spiritual. Disconnecting offers a powerful opportunity to regulate our lives and strengthen ties.
Spending time alone can help you reassess and gain perspective on relationships and supplies a much-needed break from socializing. This way, when you return to the social world, you can be more fully engaged with loved ones and less distracted by your own internal monologue. Plus, through activities you pursue solo, you might meet new and exciting people that you would never have encountered otherwise.
Any parent will tell you that one thing they miss dearly now that they have kids is freedom. Young college grads will commiserate that, although they “love” their roommates, they can’t wait for them to leave for a weekend. Even newlyweds sometimes celebrate when the other is away.
Let’s face it, the freedom to do what we want, when, and how we want it, becomes rarer as we get older. Taking time to detach, disconnect and spend time by yourself – doing whatever it is you want on your own terms – helps to improve mood, create balance, and enrich perspective. No boundaries, no judgment, no negotiating. It reminds you that you are in control of your life and that fulfillment ultimately comes from within.
Featured photo credit: Yanko Peyankov via images.unsplash.com
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