I used to get depressed if I was alone for more than a few hours. I found solo time difficult, boring, and pointless. This was back in my 20s, when my view of myself was entirely constructed from the reflections of other people.
Imagine my aversion to traveling solo. It was only when I was confident I would easily meet others that I decided to actually go for it. My biggest fear had always been being alone.
8 Years of traveling alone later, I savor my alone time and seek it out purposefully. I know it’s strange to say, but I’m having a nice time during isolation! If you’re going crazy because you’re alone right now, you might think I’m insane for holding this perspective. Though I resisted it at first, over the past eight years of traveling solo, including camping, backpacking, and hitchhiking totally alone, I came to appreciate the gift of solitude.
When we describe someone as ‘all alone’, it’s usually a negative connotation. While humans are wired for connection, there are many incredible benefits to being alone. It can give us superpowers. This is what I’ve learned about how to make this time beneficial beyond your wildest dreams:
Really Listen to Your Inner Dialogue
When I was 26, I was having a bit of a breakdown and thought that a 10-day silent Vipassana retreat might fix me. Easy, right?
What I got was total silence, with no option of getting away from myself, for the first time ever. There were no distractions, not even reading or writing (or talking, as implied).
It wasn’t until then that I realized how goddamn repetitive my mind is. It was so stuck on the past or perseverating over the future, thinking about the same situations over and over. My inner dialogue was also critical and judgmental. My inner dialogue was also critical, and judgmental.
It’s the human condition. Our minds evolved over thousands of years to crave acceptance by the group and to anticipate danger. In prehistoric times, we needed both to survive.
Yet these two things cause so much suffering, and by finally becoming aware of my thoughts during that retreat, I was no longer run by them. You can see what I mean in this video:
Through much sharing in women’s circles, I have come to realize that we all have a critical inner voice. We all would do better to observe it, and make sure that the inner dialogue is positive. We have that ability, and the first step is awareness. Meditation helps a lot with this (sign up for a free week of meditations that I curated here).
Write It Down
I always thought of journaling as a ‘dear diary’, young girl kind of thing. But as I read more about entrepreneurial habits (that book is free right now BTW!), I realized that a quiet morning of reflection is the single most important thing I can do to have a clear sense of how I want my day to look. When I start my day purposefully, my whole life eventually becomes purposeful.
I keep my phone on airplane mode until I have journaled out my intentions so that I know it’s all coming from a clear space within me and not external output stealing my day away from me.
There are many different journal types out there, but to keep it simple, I just like to list three things I’m grateful for and two big goals for the day.
If something is brewing in me, I’ve learned that I can’t suppress it. It can manifest itself in destructive ways that often don’t even seem related at the time.
For me, writing, painting, and self-expression have been my ways of dealing with emotions ever since childhood. As an adult, I sometimes let myself forget that, but right now I don’t view making art as unproductive or wasted time.
Given how embarrassingly high my screen time gets, I definitely do have time to replace that with art. What about you?
Choose Your Inputs Wisely
At any given time, there’s an incredible amount of information competing for our attention. What actually deserves to get past the bouncer to your mind? After feelings of helplessness, anger, and depression, I now realize that I cannot look at the newsfeed on Facebook nor read any of the other news sources at all. Under normal circumstances, opting out is healthy, but right now, it’s almost essential in order to feel any peace or well-being.
I know some people may find this idea upsetting, feeling it’s their duty to read the news. But is it really? Isn’t news a slew of alarmist headlines all repeating more or less the same things? If you feel you must stay informed, I recommend only checking the New York Times main page, which is free right now, for any pressing facts and to save Facebook for after the presidential election. You’ll notice a difference within a couple of days, I’m sure of it.
That time can be filled with FaceTime with friends, watching relaxing videos that don’t remind you of what you can’t have (I have a list of 10 very satisfying ones here), and most importantly, with things that make you feel good. It’s not cheesy nor irresponsible to want to feel good. You’re allowed.
Double Down on Self-Care
What does that look like? Meditating, exercising and taking the time to find a workout that you really love (I’ve been getting super into dance tutorials on YouTube), making yourself a gorgeous dinner, or raw vegan chocolate tart, luxuriating in your nighttime routine, or whatever it means to you.
The key is to take your time and make it all about you. If indulgent self-care feels strange or wrong, ask yourself why. Don’t you deserve to enjoy the little things? Wouldn’t you want that for the people you love the most?
Work Through the Shadows
Stuff is going to come up. If you’re by yourself, or even with other people, these are different circumstances than we are used to, and there’s very little distraction or outside stimuli that is healthy to focus on.
So when your shadows come out, why not shed some light on them?
For me and all of the friends I’ve introduced to it, Emotional Freedom Technique is the most direct and gentle way to get to the root of the problem and clear it out. You tap on your body meridians while going deeper into the root of your problem, and saying, “I love and accept myself.”
Yes, it did feel cheesy to me the first time I did it, but now I know how powerful it is. Just once a week and you will see incredible results. You can try it for free here.
Become Really Good at Something
There’s probably some obscure thing that you are kind of obsessed with, you don’t know why, and never had a reason to try it until now.
Maybe it’s learning how to decorate a cake amazingly well, learning a new language, or in my case, wanting to learn how to hip-hop dance (I’m sharing the journey on Instagram Stories). All of these things are possible to do by yourself and from home.
There are so many YouTube tutorials and free options. I’m actually having tons of fun trying new things with all of this free alone time!
Keep in mind, to master anything you’ll need some real dedication and desire to learn, but I find obsessions like this pass the time in such a productive, fun, and healthy way.
Reframe the Loneliness as a Positive
Inconvenient but true: We have to be well acquainted with ourselves before we can have successful relationships with others. Knowing who you are and feeling comfortable on your own means you won’t try to fill lonely times with people and situations that are not actually beneficial to you, or to the other people for that matter. You start to realize there’s no time to waste with the wrong people and start pulling the right people into your life.
That’s powerful stuff, but it’s hard to truly know who you are, without anyone else’s input, unless you’re alone. Extended time alone can be difficult, you will face demons, but only by confronting them can we understand them and, most importantly, move on.
Who are you without anyone else’s opinion or reflection?
While I know solo time can involve moments of heaven and moments of hell, if you’re able to master it and truly take the advice in this post to heart, you can emerge with more strength and fortitude than you came into it with – maybe more than you’ve ever had in your life before. Through overcoming obstacles, we grow the most.
What are some of your favorite ways to spend time alone?