What if real solitude is the answer to all of our anxiety and depression problems?
What if it really was that simple?
You’re never alone. You’ve got a million voices in your pocket or hand right now. Yes, we’re blaming the phone again (boring!). The phone keeps us constantly engaged, whether we realize it or not. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t deliver the satisfaction we desire. No, it doesn’t leave us feeling refreshed, rejuvenated or even rested.
But it’s not just the phones. According to best selling author & professor Cal Newport:
The human brain requires regular periods of “solitude” in which it is alone with its own thoughts and observing the world around it.
When are you alone with your own thoughts? Not often. Most likely, you’re either never alone or alone with other peoples thoughts. Others people’s thoughts come from your kids, your coworkers, your Netflix and your Facebook.
Solitude is time you can recharge. It’s time your brain can rest and process. Most of us don’t have any practice of being alone with our own thoughts…even our sleep has been invaded by technology!
Not surprisingly, anxiety and depression rates are up in every age group. NO WONDER! We’re running around trying to meet all the demands and needs of others. Running on empty or false pleasures. Then we check out with some tv or some candy crush. I told my client yesterday: of course she was anxious. Looking at the circumstances she was under, you’d be abnormal not to be anxious. Her brain, and your brain, isn’t getting rest and it isn’t being heard.
Yes, your brain isn’t being heard. One of the reasons life coaching (what I do) and journaling are increasing in popularity is because it’s giving us time and space to use our own brains again and to get our thoughts out of our heads. It seems like there is no time or space for that anymore. Am I right?
But your brain is like a supercomputer! It can solve your problems. It comes up with really creative ideas. Deep inside your own brain are your complex emotions and desires that are desperate to be recognized. We’re just not giving it the time and space it needs.
And I know many folks share this problem. So what is the solution?
What if it really was that hard?
Several years ago I tried taking a bath without a book or without my phone. I was given the challenge of five minutes. Even though I get lots of time to myself, this was tough! I couldn’t believe how tough it was. My mind was addicted to input!
Incorporating time into your day where you can think and process your own thoughts while simultaneously shutting out other input is so important. I challenge you to give yourself space to process. Time to deal and cope and dream and solve. Free from every other influence.
Now, this is easier said than done for most of you. Your schedule is busy, your phone is always in your hand and your kids are always pulling on you. Do it anyway. Carve out at least five minutes to begin your solitude practice. Interestingly enough, solitude does not mean a hike into the mountains alone. Not necessary! Check out what Cal Newport has to say:
You can find solitude in a busy train car or a coffee shop, or wherever. I am slightly nervous about this re-definition (it seems to me that being truly alone has a ton of value), but I am also attracted to this idea that you don’t necessarily have to be alone to be with your thoughts, you just have to be free from input.
How can you do that? Here are five ways to get started this weekend:
- A 10 minute walk without your phone or headphones.
- Take a bath without anything to read or do.
- Stretch for five minutes first thing in the morning. No lights, no sounds. Just you: quiet, alone & stretching.
- Fill a page with your thoughts each day. Even if you can’t think of anything, just write “I can’t think of anything. This is dumb.” It’ll get easier. Do it alone, maybe in the car at the beginning of soccer practice or before you head into the office. You can do it alone with your first cup of coffee. This is called a brain dump or though download and it will be a total game changer.
- Find a place to watch the sunset or sunrise. It doesn’t have to be the beach (that would be bonus points). It can be your backyard or it can be a nearby park. Check the time of the sunset. Then get alone and take in the beauty!
With all of these practices, you will need to schedule it on your calendar and you’ll need to let those who are in your life know it’s what is happening. Set the expectation. And perhaps encourage them to do the same. I’m giving you permission to take time to be alone. Your brain requires it. It’s OKAY. It’s allowed. It’s necessary.
Comment below which practice you’re going to try or what you’re already doing!