This week I’m working from the Welsh coast. Spending time in this rural country where sheep outnumber people three to one made me reflect on the role of solitude in self-development. We are used to learning in groups: at schools or workshops but let’s not underestimate how much we can develop while being alone.
Enjoying solitude is not a weakness, it has instead been associated with power, freedom and “an underrated ingredient for creativity” (Susan Cain). When you’re on your own you look into yourself, you examine yourself (Socrates). You can measure your achievements against goals. That’s something we generally don’t like to do as we often see our failures. This may make us feel anxiety, shame, embarrassment and therefore the need to see ourselves the way we truly are calls for courage and strength. According to psychologists, that’s the state we should aim to achieve rather than desperately clinging to crowds all the time. In the bustle of our lives, it’s easy to lose sight of those moments of solitude that can be so invaluable and rewarding.
Once you’ve reached the state when you need those moments without any distractions to intrude your solitude, one may have an issue with communicating this to the world. It may come across as arrogant or selfish to leave a crowd whenever you experience a sudden urge to be alone. Would you worry about breaking such social convention?
One of my clients, Jan, proudly declares that whenever he needs a moment of self-reflection or to think about one thing at a time he excuses those around him and goes to a place where he can be alone. At first this type of behaviour surprised or even offended his friends, family members or staff but now they understand that, being an extremely busy man, this helps him relax and ensure productivity. According to a neuroscientist Earl Miller, our brains simply aren’t built to multitask well, which means we end up diluting the quality and efficiency of what we’re doing in the process.