When was the last time you were alone, truly alone?
Let’s do a little thought experiment. What is the longest time you’ve ever been alone and unplugged from your TV, phone, and the internet? Being busy is a high priority, we have this almost compulsion to be active and producing something, watching something, listening to something at all times. When is the last time you sat in the silence and were alone with your mind?
My guess is, if you’re anything like most people, you almost never have time alone with your thoughts. Your phone, that electronic leash, is likely tugging at your thoughts more than you realize. The numbers vary, but it looks like a majority of people check their phones 80-150 times per day.
A surprising stat from last year found that Millennials check their phone 150 times per day. What are they really trying to find out? What’s the motivation? We’ve known since at least 2012 that those text messages, social media posts, and emails all contribute to the release of dopamine in the human brain. (It’s the same neurotransmitter that rewards you for accomplishing a goal.) https://www.inc.com/john-brandon/science-says-this-is-the-reason-millennials-check-their-phones-150-times-per-day.html
Millenials and teenagers aren’t the only ones. Gen X’ers all the way up to octagenarians are using mobile devices as a primary means of communication. Working in home health, I’ve met countless older adults that appear to be addicted to Facebook.
I just finished reading “Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World” by Michael Harris. What I really appreciate about this book is how it’s written not by a monk, but by an obvious extrovert who loves to be connected and to socialize. It’s not a book on why you should live as a hermit, but on the benefits of taking time to be alone with your thoughts. I want to share a few of my favorite parts (quotes in blue text) below.
“In the same way that many people are forced to engineer healthy diets for themselves in a world overflowing with the salts and sugars and fats we’re designed to hoard, it’s possible that we’re such compulsive social groomers that we now much keep ourselves from gobbling the fast-food equivalent. Has social media made us socially obese – gorged on constant connection but never properly nourished?”
“A 2013 survey of nearly 7500 Americans smartphone users found that 80 percent were on their phones within fifteen minutes of waking up. The number rises to 89 percent among eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds…In fact, one out of four respondents could not recall a time in the day when their phone was not in arm’s reach.”
Loneliness is on the rise despite being more connected than ever.
One reason the Internet makes us lonely is we attempt to substitute real relationships with online relationships. Though we temporarily feel better when we engage others virtually, these connections tend to be superficial and ultimately dissatisfying. Online social contacts are “not an effective alternative for offline social interactions,” sums one study. https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolinebeaton/2017/02/09/why-millennials-are-lonely/
The Benefits of Solitude
“A retreat from the crowds has always been necessary for the formation of brace new ideas.” – Anthony Storr, Psychiatrist.
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” – Albert Einstein.
“Einstein believed that the daydreaming mind’s ability to link things is, in fact, our only path toward fresh ideas. There is a kind of assembly line, one could argue, with knowledge and conversation pouring in at the start and, later down the track, a stretch of silence and daydreaming. Both ends of the factory are necessary to produce the crucial product – the insight.”
The power of daydreaming and the wandering mind – it allows creativity to happen, those a-ha moments of problem-solving. (On a personal note, I daydream all the time. It’s where I get my best ideas.)
We don’t realize how little we think for ourselves when we’re constantly interacting with other people and the world. It’s not healthy to be continuously on the go, you need to give yourself time to process your thoughts and emotions. I’ve met far too many people that are in a neverending race from their fears and emotions, afraid to address crucial issues in their life. They run from one thing to the next, always looking for a way to escape. That’s a dangerous spot to be in and a quick way to find yourself addicted to something, or forming some unhealthy habits at the very least. Time alone is good for your mental health.
Do you incorporate alone time into your life? As an introvert, I need it in order to thrive. There’s a healthy balance, as with all things, in making time for reflection and daydreaming contrasted with staying active and engaged. What’s your take?