A blog about solitude as a positive state of mind.
Solitude – ‘a state of being alone where you provide yourself wonderful and sufficient company’ (What is solitude, Psychology today, 2003)
I love spending time alone whether it is walking, exploring, going on an adventure or just sitting in a quiet corner with a book. Don’t get me wrong – I am sociable, I enjoy meeting, talking and interacting with others. But I also enjoy my own company. I love my partner and value the time we spend together talking, discussing and watching stuff. I love my family and creating regular times for walking, talking and being together. I love my work as a Trainer, meeting, training and supporting the development of others. But a really important part of life is also having ‘me time.
So what is it about solitude that leads the creation of a positive state of mind?
At the end of 2019 I spent 5 days in my own company walking the 96 miles of the West Highland Way. It was a remote, challenging and thoroughly enjoyable experience. I was on my own for the whole 5 days but was never lonely.
Solitude is different to loneliness. That is a negative state of mind where you are craving the company of others. In the absence of others you are left with only yourself and if, for whatever reason, you are not happy with your own company then this is not going to be a positive experience.
Before you can experience the full benefits of solitude you need to make friends with yourself. Acknowledge who you are, accept your life choices and put negatives into the past (they are done with).
In this blog I will reflect on my experiences whilst out on my solo expedition and present 4 ways in which solitude can lead to positive mental health.
So let’s consider what the main aspects of solitude are.
Choose to make time for you. Choose periods of solitude. Your time is your own, how you spend it is up to you. Start from this premise and then you will take ownership and responsibility for your own time. Some of your time may be need to be allocated for work, for family, for friends but even in the busiest of lives you can choose to make time for yourself. If you need ideas for how to create ‘me’ time have a read of this article ‘Need more time alone? How to Beg, Borrow and Steal it’ from Susan Biali Haas’ MD’s Blog – Prescriptions for life (13/08/2011). My favourite line is – ‘Steal it when no one’s looking’. I organised my five days of solitude by simply blocking it out in my diary. I chose a time when my partner was away on a week long course. As a freelance trainer it was then up to me not to book any work into my diary. This is not as easy as it sounds – turning down work is also turning down money but I know that these periods of solitude can also lead to creativity and and increase in productivity so eventually I will see a benefit. I have also started to recognise periods of solitude that I can claim, such as when driving to places in my car. I spend a lot of time in my car covering 25 -30,000 miles a year – this is potentially and awful lot of me time! On shorter journeys I might consider the day ahead or reflect on the day’s training and how it has gone. In the mornings I take a flask of coffee knowing I have that to look forwards to when I hit the first traffic jam on the way into London! On longer journeys I might have an audio book downloaded ready to listen to. I also actually really enjoy the experience of just driving ( though not always the M25!) and having the quiet time to just think.
Time to reflect
Solitude allows you both time and space to explore and reflect upon the thoughts inside your head. It is a time for inner searching, solving problems leading to growth and enjoyment. On my recent walk most of my reflection time was taken up by the walk itself. I had to plan my day, follow the route, eat and drink. But – following Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs – once those basics were taken care of I was then free to let my mind wander (this also stopped me thinking about aches and sore bits). I reflected on my blogs, future adventures, relationships with others and came up with ideas, plans for growth and also acceptance of the everyday need to earn money and pay the bills.
Time to refresh, renew and restore
Solitude can provide space and opportunity to reflect and if done in a positive way will leave you feeling re-invigorated. Seek out and recognise these feelings. Consider what you have achieved during your period of solitude – if you don’t feel refreshed don’t stress, maybe you just need more time. Consider what is right for you, maybe more short periods or one long period with plenty of time to refresh. For some people just letting the mind run free works, whereas others need a framework to help focus the thoughts. I am a freethinker – I like to let my mind wander and see where it takes me. Previous periods of solitude have been short, maybe a day or two, so to have five days to myself was a real luxury. Looking back now I can really see the lasting benefit of this time. I recognise that the benefit comes from the journey, this may eventually lead to achieving a goal but often in life goals are moving targets and may change as we grow and develop. I feel refreshed in my own journey of adventuring, blogging and challenging myself.
Time to experience
During times of solitude the enjoyment can be enhanced by the experience. This can be as simple as a quality cup of coffee in a quirky, cosy coffee shop, curling up on a comfy sofa with a good book, writing a journal in the comfort of your own home or going on a walk early on a clear, crisp frosty morning to see the sunrise. In order to get the most out of solitude we need to acknowledge the way it is experienced. Be mindful about periods of solitude, notice the moment. Afterwards reflect on what that time meant for you and what it did for you. This is where using a journal may help. It doesn’t have to be formal or shared with anyone, just your own thoughts and musings written down. My own attempts at journalling have been clumsy. At first they were very formal lists – where I walked, distance covered, food eaten – not really very exciting or interesting to anyone else! Then I looked back at photographs taken during the walks, this helped my to reflect on my actual experience, to consider my thoughts during the walk and how I was feeling at the time of taking the photos. I have also been reading about solitude and this lead to the development of the 4 points in this blog as a way of getting the most out of solitude. I had the most amazing experience exploring the Highlands of Scotland. Walking into the light of the day each morning is one of the things I really remember or, as it heard it described by someone else, ‘that time of day when the colour returns to the world’.
Add Solitude to your life – 4 steps to get started
Solitude is a powerful tool in our quest for a positive mindset but too much or too little can dilute the experience and in some cases even become toxic. Out own thoughts need to be balanced and moderated by the thoughts and opinions of others. Even reflections during a period of solitude can be social in nature. Perhaps you might consider the effect of your actions on others, how could you interact better with people so that learning and development takes place. For me I have been thinking about my writing – can I improve my writing skills and produce content that will inform and help others? And also about my training – do my practical training sessions develop skills, provide formative experiences, further knowledge and progress understanding?
So let’s review the 4 steps you need to take to find and make use of solitude.
- 1. Choose you – consider how and when you can create small moments of solitude. Start small, take 5 minutes and then work out where you can create longer periods of time. Write these times into a diary or onto a calendar. Plan for them, look forwards to them.
- 2. Reflect – take a look at the thoughts going around your head. Maybe just focus on one thing. If something is getting to you is this something you can change? If not move on.
- 3. Refresh, renew, restore – Once you have considered your reflections how do you feel? Periods of solitude are part of a journey, it may not happen immediately but as the journey progresses you should expect to feel refreshed by your periods of solitude.
- 4. Experience – enhance your solitude by making the most of the experience. Choose not just the time but also the place. Find a place or an activity that works for you.
Solitude is experienced within the context of being a social human. Its not about being withdrawn, introvert or lonely. Solitude is about making time to know yourself, enjoy your own company and then interact with others refreshed, renewed and restored.