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You Have to Crave Real Alone Time to Be Smarter

You Have to Crave Real Alone Time to Be Smarter

Lots of research has pointed at the notion that people who socialize more tend to be much happier. But this doesn’t apply to everyone. One factor where socializing more doesn’t equal more happiness is intelligence. People who are highly intelligent become less happy the more they socialize because it’s thought smart people adapt more easily to the modern world. In other words, they understand that our primal need to keep close contact with a social group for food and shelter is no longer applicable in modern society.

In fact, the more intelligent someone is, the more they tend to focus on long term goals instead of short-term gratification. Socialising, therefore, doesn’t hold as much value as working towards their goals.

You’re Not Alone in Embracing Your Alone Time

If you’re reading this thinking how much you love your alone time and proud that you carve out time for yourself on a regular basis, you’re one of many. One survey found 85% of adults believe alone time is important to them [1].

While the increasingly popular concept of mindfulness encourages us to connect with ourselves, the importance of alone time is becoming a necessary part of our lives. But do you we really use this time to our advantage? Do we really spend this valuable alone time “alone”?

How We’re Spending Alone Time in the Wrong Way

Being physically alone in a room is one thing, but if you don’t utilise this time in a way that you’re free from social stimulation, you’re not getting the true benefits.

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With modern times comes digital distractions. Having time by yourself means you can enjoy doing the things that relax you but these days that can mean idly jumping on your phone or computer. Replying to texts and messages and browsing Facebook is providing the danger of becoming less relaxed and satisfied with the benefits that alone time can create in your life.

Our idea of alone time needs to be defined as distancing ourselves physically and digitally from the world. In fact, when we’re mindlessly browsing social media or watching television, our brain is actually shifting into a state where it starts to crave social interaction with others [2]. This obviously counteracts the very reasons why you need alone time in the first place.

Why FOMO is the Death of Your Alone Time

FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out is a phenomenon all social media users have experienced at one time or another.

It’s that needy, anxious feeling you get when you haven’t checked Facebook or Twitter – that fear that there’s stuff out there that you’re missing out on and leads you to check just one more time to see what’s new.

But what we’re essentially checking are things that don’t matter or add value to our lives. It may evoke that sense of security that we’re up to date on what’s going on, to be able to talk about the latest goings on with our peers but it’s creating a greater insecurity in the long run.

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Social media has the ability to have a huge negative effect on us. It creates a sense of competitiveness and comparison that affects the mentality we have of ourselves. It takes away those precious moments where we could be doing more productive tasks that actually go towards our personal growth and well-being.

How To Lessen Distractions

The key to this is lessening time spent on social media or watching TV rather than cutting it out altogether and there are ways to help you do this.

One is an online app called StayFocusd for Chrome users. Select the websites that you consider your biggest time wasters and set a time limit. Once this time has run out, Chrome will block you from using it giving you no choice but to focus on better things.

Another app is Forest where your seed will gradually grow into a tree. The idea here is if you move away from the app, your tree is in danger of withering away – encouraging you to stop the habit of using your usual distracting apps.

Practical Activities To Get More Out of Your Alone Time

The time you spend alone is a great opportunity to increase your well-being and promote positivity within yourself. Whether you have 15 minutes or several hours, there are certain activities that can help cultivate personal growth.

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Self-Reflection: ask yourself a lot of questions

Self-reflection is something we tend to overlook. By not going through the process of deliberately self-reflecting on our thoughts and actions, we risk missing the opportunity to find growth and likely end up stuck in the same patterns.

  • Review regularly how you spend your day, week or month
  • Ask yourself what could you do differently to create challenges or create more happiness
  • How can you change your current perspectives?
  • Ask yourself: am I living my best life? If not, what small or big changes could I consider making?

Questioning yourself can sometimes feel uncomfortable but it’s this resistance that is showing you there are answers you may need to face in order to create a better life or grow positively as a person.

Journalling: free your mind

There’s a lot of power in writing things down and can be extremely therapeutic for the mind. When something is troubling you, writing it down can help clear it out and relax your mind. To do this, first write down your worries and feelings and then step back and contemplate them. Ask yourself if they’re really valid and question why you’re having these feelings.

The beauty of this process is finding time to intentionally stop and listen to your inner thoughts and feelings, taking time out in order to stop overlooking them and allowing them to grow bigger. Always remember this rule: when it comes to unhappiness, the more you write it down, the less you’ll remember it.

Meditation: learn how not to think

While meditation is a wonderful tool for relaxing, it has many other benefits too. Research has found it has positive effects on our health including lowering blood pressure, increasing positive mental attitude, improving focus, memory and boosting creativity.

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And you don’t have to sit for hours on end to get these benefits. Just 5 minutes out of your day to sit quietly and focus on your breath will be enough to see an improvement and reap the rewards.

Watch Movies or Read Books That Change Your Perspective

Reading is a popular alone-time activity as is streaming your favourite movie. But consider reaching for a book or film that will change the way you view something.

Escapism is great every now and then, but in this busy world our time can be precious and using this time to change our mindsets and perspectives can be exponential for our growth and understanding.

The benefit of spending time alone is being able to make choices without others’ influences. As humans, we tend to allow our egos to be persuaded by outside opinions instead of changing beliefs ourselves. By being solitary, we can help avoid this and discover our own ideas and challenge existing perspectives. A good way of doing this is through reading different books and watching movies that challenge our ideas about the world.

Our alone time can be extremely beneficial to us if we use it in the right way. Make the time for yourself as quality-focused and growth-oriented as possible. After a while you’ll start to see and feel the positive effects.

Reference

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

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