Life today moves at superhuman speeds. A new tool that promises to help us simplify life and increase productivity hits the market seemingly every month. Social media ensures that even if we live alone, we’re surrounded by people. From the moment we start scanning emails, until the last 15 minutes before bed when we’re scrolling through Instagram, our days are filled with ceaseless communication.
This constant connectivity can make it difficult to say no. Imagine that a friend invites you to a party. It’s been a long week, and you’ve been looking forward to your evening yoga practice, some new candles, and a good book. You know you’ll likely be bombarded with what you missed on social media, so in an effort to subvert the dreaded Fear-of-Missing-Out (or FOMO), you give up your private plans and decide to go.
But what are we really giving up when we give up our private plans? It’s not just about what we miss. Think of it this way: when you criticize yourself for saying no or staying in, you’re also saying that you are not worthy of putting yourself first. You may spend time fretting over whether or not you made the right choice, rather than reaping the delicious benefits of spending time alone. Until we cultivate a strong inner life, we’ll always feel like we’re missing out when we spend time with ourselves. Don’t stress! Me-time is magic.
Benefits of Being Alone
First of all, when we say yes to solitude, we give ourselves the space to strengthen our own voice. Without the constant chatter and opinions of those around us, our brain is better able to nurture its own unique thoughts and opinions. According to Psychology Today, spending time alone and without distractions allows us to clear the mind, focus, and think more clearly, which ultimately can lead to increased concentration and productivity. This is because in solitude we find the time to think deeply. When we’re jumping from one appointment to the next, or habitually scanning social media, our mind is flooded with new thoughts, to-do lists, and opportunities. This prevents us from engaging in deep thought, which in turn inhibits creativity and decreases productivity.
By spending time with our own thoughts, we are able to re-attune our minds and regain connection to the world around us. This makes us more alert to new ideas. If the creative flow is blocked, a state of inactivity unclogs the pathways of our mind, allowing new insights and inspirations to flow. This is the time when ideas flourish. Songwriters suddenly know how to end that last stanza, scientists connect the dots in order to understand the solution, and writers know how to navigate their next plot point. With the mind empty, we allow for space to subconsciously work out problems or generate creative thoughts.
Some of the best inventions and discoveries were spurred from moments of doing nothing. Physicist Isaac Newton generated the notion of gravity while sitting and watching an apple fall from a tree, and Rene Descartes developed the concept of coordinate geometry while laying in bed and watching a fly. It works for artists as well: Mozart described his musical ideas as coming to him when he was traveling alone or on post-supper stroll.
Date Night With Yourself
That’s not to say that whenever you spend time alone you need to be doing nothing, watching your thoughts. Food writer and environmental journalist Simran Sethi notes the benefits of dining alone: We become more mindful of the eating experience, and we learn how to be alone and not lonely—that is, we learn how to enjoy the energy of others while relishing in solitude. The courage it takes to walk into a restaurant and ask for a table for one builds self-confidence, and lays the foundations for a strong relationship with self.
A yoga practice, of course, also allows us to turn inward, and check in with the ongoings of both body and mind. Through breath and mindfulness, our sessions allow us to temporarily turn our minds away from the problems at hand, and rather focus on the present moment. Our projects and assignments will be waiting for us when we get back. And upon that return, we’ll be able to approach them with a fresh mind.
While it might seem as though we’re neglecting our loved ones, spending time alone can actually enhance your relationships with others. Rather than spending time with these folks out of obligation (leading to resentment), you will be more apt to socialize with presence and gratitude. That self-confidence you build in the quiet moments enjoying your own company make you more able and more present to enjoy the company of others.
As you begin to generate time for yourself, strive to act out of self-love. Don’t say yes simply because you feel as though you should, but because it’s the choice that feels best in the moment. Relish your alone time: You aren’t moving too slow. You aren’t missing out. You’re exactly where you need to be.