This article is written to discuss the benefits of solitude in your daily life, and the widespread concern of “solitude deprivation.”
What comes to your mind when you hear the word “solitude”? For many, there is a melancholia attached to the word, a sense of loneliness or deprivation. Solitude means no external input, being alone with your thoughts, and is often equated to loneliness. What if we told you that solitude itself is not deprivation, and that instead, we are experiencing a collective cultural deprivation of solitude?
Cal Newport, in his book Digital Minimalism, explores exactly this premise. Newport defines solitude as “a subjective state in which your mind is free from input from other minds.”1 That doesn’t sound so bad, right? When phrased this way, solitude is more about freedom than loneliness. It allows you the space to experience your own thoughts, wants, desires, creativity, and inspiration. Solitude is less about what is happening around you, who you are with, or where you are, and is focused entirely on your internal experience.
Newport suggests there are 3 key benefits of solitude:1
1. New Ideas
When your mind is free from the noise of others’ minds, it has the opportunity to work on its own and come up with new concepts or ideas in every aspect of your life! While it is important to listen to others, to engage in conversation, or to brainstorm together, it is equally important to take time away from that external input to allow your mind to solitude it needs to innovate.
2. An Understanding of the Self
Perhaps the best way to get to know someone is by spending time with them, maybe one-on-one, as this way you learn their needs, wants, and dreams. Applying that same logic to yourself means that spending time with yourself is fundamental to understanding yourself. When you truly recognize who you are, you can move forward in your life with purpose and a sense of grounding. Not to mention, by practicing solitude throughout your life, you will be able to recognize the ways you change and grow over time.
3. Closeness to Others
This sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it? How can spending time in solitude benefit your relationships with others? Experiencing solitude improves your relationships with others through the recognition of the value in the time you spend with others, and appreciation for those you experience the most connection with. Additionally, when you spend time in solitude, things like anxiety, stress, and exhaustion will lessen, which means that during time spent with others, you will be more engaged, energized, and ready for connection.
All By Myself, Don’t Want To Be
If these are the benefits of solitude, why do we not all spend quality time with ourselves every week, if not every day? Our culture tends to view solitude as loneliness, and we have become incredibly averse to this perceived isolation. In a study done by the University of Virginia, when given the choice between spending even brief periods of time alone in a room with nothing to do but think, ponder, or daydream and receive a mild electric shock, 1/4 of women and 2/3 of men chose the electric shock.2 While some of this can be chalked up to people’s innate desire for activity, the fact that a significant percentage of participants chose at least one electric shock they had earlier said they would pay to avoid is truly indicative of a cultural aversion to being alone with our thoughts.
On a widespread level, this avoidance of solitude has led to what Newport calls “solitude deprivation.” Solitude deprivation is “a state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds.”1
Consider the iPod revolution as both a symptom of a historical aversion to solitude and now an accelerator of solitude deprivation. The first iPod came out in 2001, and in the time since then, white headphones have become ubiquitous, wired or not. It has become common for an iPod or smartphone to provide a musical or podcast backdrop for our entire day! This means that the smartphone or iPod being used is continuously distracting us from our own minds. Even further, Newport points out the alienating “quick glance” in which we are checking texts, social media, emails, the news, or trying to reach our highest score on mobile games whenever we have a minute to spare means that even in these brief moments, our thoughts are not solely our own. These things together are pushing solitude further from our grasp.
We now know the benefits of solitude, and that many of us are experiencing solitude deprivation, but what does that really mean? What does solitude deprivation really do to us? First and foremost, deprivation causes the opposite of solitude’s benefits! When experiencing solitude deprivation, we are often lacking in creativity and innovation, we do not take the time to understand ourselves and our needs, and our relationships with others can suffer. Lacking solitude, as mentioned previously, can lead into heightened states of anxiety, exhaustion, and stress, each of which will impact productivity, relationships, self-care, physical and mental health, and more. Solitude deprivation can even lead to feelings of isolation, as we do not have the mental space to truly connect with those around us.
Reintroduce Yourself to Yourself
Consider this: when you go for a walk in a natural space (by the river, in a park, etc.) or even in a busy city centre and you walk without headphones and without your phone in your hand, you engage with the world around you on a much deeper level. Rather than focusing on the music, podcast, or audiobook that you would normally have playing, you are in the moment. Even if there are other people passing you by, and you smile at them or exchange quick “hellos,” you are experiencing genuine and healing solitude. Solitude is a mental state, not a physical one. In this moment, with these experiences around you, your mental space is your own to dream, contemplate, and innovate.
Taking time out of your personal or work hours to exist within your own mental bubble gives you the ability to create new ideas not only for your personal life, but your work life too! When you emphasize solitude in your life, your energy levels, ability to interact with those around you, and creative ideas will flourish. Your productivity in the workplace will increase, and you will be able to bring new ideas to the table, coming from a clearer mind.
What have you done for you this week? Have you spent quality time in solitude, recharging? Join us for Part 2 of this series, in which we will discuss some great ways to implement positive solitude in your life.
1 Newport, Cal. Digital Minimalism. 2019.
2 Samarria, Fariss. “Doing Something is Better than Doing Nothing for Most People, Study Shows.” University of Virginia. https://news.virginia.edu/content/doing-something-better-doing-nothing-most-people-study-shows