Have you spent much time alone in your life? Have you ever lived by yourself? Have you traveled without company?
I grew up in a busy home with two siblings and a revolving door welcoming family and friends any time – the house was never quiet! When I moved away from my parents home at 18 the trend of chaos continued, and as I grew older I began to realize that I really preferred it this way: I despised being alone.
Back in 2011 when I launched my exploration into spirituality and mindfulness, I began to understand that my disdain for solitude was revealing that something important was missing in my life. I was avoiding myself, and instead of trying to figure out exactly what I was avoiding, I let distractions fill in the void.
The form of these distractions changed over the years: when I was a kid it was reading, in high school it was friends, and when I hit my twenties it was the new era of technology. Each of these distractions forced me to detach further and further from my own innate beliefs, thoughts, and opinions and move closer to becoming a stranger to myself.
And therein lies the root of the problem: When we allow distractions to dictate our lives, we lose touch with our intuition and forget who we really are, and what we truly believe at our core.
I know I’m not alone here. I know that distractions, specifically in the form of technology, have become an epidemic in our society. We need to be connected constantly. We don’t want a single moment to be alone with our thoughts for fear that we may have to hear them.
These thoughts may force us to face the fears that we would rather avoid, they may have us look at relationships that are doing more harm than good, and they may have us look inward and reevaluate the journey we are on. Distractions help us to avoid change and growth – which is exactly why we need to take back our time and become friendly with solitude. (tweet this)
There are many ways to do this: meditation, journalling, time in nature, yoga, or spending a dedicated period of time each week doing your favorite creative activity. Although meditation is at the top of the hierarchy here, it can be difficult to cultivate that habit – but don’t let it stop you from making that time for yourself. It could be that something you adored in childhood and have lost touch with may help spark the reconnection. You can find that one thing that works for you!
Not surprisingly, the benefits that come along with spending some time getting to know ourselves are plentiful. Here are three important ones that are critical to our success as leaders!
1. We become better listeners.
“Listening is not only about waiting, but it’s also learning how better to ask questions.” – Jacqueline Novogratz, The Blue Sweater
When we learn to control the volume of our external surroundings and in turn, control the volume internally, we can focus better on what others are saying. And being a good listener is crucial to good leadership. Issues can’t be resolved without the ears of a good listener.
2. We make decisions for the right reasons.
“The intuitive mind is where our genius resides.” – Angela Artemis
When we become filled up with information from others or from the media, we can lose touch with what we really believe is right or wrong, or what works and what doesn’t. Decision-making is a huge part of life – you already know this – and it can feel very intense at times when big changes are on the horizon. Arming yourself with time alone, not just when you need to make the decision, but regularly, can help to ease the process when the big decisions come your way.
3. We cultivate more empathy.
“Leaders have empathy for others and a keen ability to find the best in people … not the worst …by truly caring for others.” ~ Henry Gruland
Being alone allows for much more reflection, and reflection often takes us through stages as we work through a situation. Before you know it, you may find yourself developing empathy for others in situations what you may have previously ignored. Much like the way that decision-making becomes more self-sufficient, our process of judgment toward others also shifts in a positive way. Empathy is one of the trade-marks of a great leader.
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The Trouble with Distractions
I love this, Heidi. Learning to be alone doesn’t have to make us lonely but instead be a time of recharging and discovery. I’ve fought the battle to detach from our 24.7 world and have discovered that the more I do it, the more energized I become. I’m not a journaler but as you wrote in your article, I can spend time doing things that I enjoy and give me the space to think and be.
Great piece, Heidi!
Thank you Alli! I’m happy to hear you’re having good results with the alone time as well. I think we hear so much about meditation these days, it can seem like the only option – and, as you say, there are plenty of other things we can enjoy that have a similar effect!