The 7 Benefits Of Quiet Solitude

Recent research studies and media reports have described what has been termed an “epidemic of loneliness” in our society. At the same time, studies have illustrated the value of spending time alone in solitude. The two are not the same.

SEE ALSO: How My Near-Death Experience As A Child Changed Me

How loneliness is different than aloneness in solitude

The dictionary defines loneliness as “sadness because one has no friends or company,” and “the quality of being unfrequented and remote; isolation.” Loneliness is a lack, a feeling that something is missing, a pain, a depression, a need, an incompleteness, an absence of meaningful connection with others. In contrast, aloneness means “separate, apart, or isolated from others,” and “to the exclusion of all others or all else,” and “unique; unequaled; unexcelled.” In contrast, aloneness implies a conscious choice by the individual for quiet solitude and doesn’t carry with it the negative emotional conditions associated with loneliness. Aloneness has also been referred to as “doing nothing,” and a time for personal reflection.

Why solitude is important

In our society today, it can seem completely normal to fill up every single space with doing something. It is practically unheard of to not be busy. “Busyness” is for many synonymous with worthiness, popularity, and success. And many people believe it’s not good to be alone. There must be something wrong with you or it’s a sign that you are unhappy.

Advice by management experts and the media to ambitious business people and entrepreneurs about how to be successful rarely list doing nothing. We seem to value our lives on the run with 4 hours of sleep, constantly checking our emails and phone messages emails, even while we are driving and walking down the street more than finding a quiet place with no stimulation or distractions. This requires a constant shifting of our attention which is not only enormously demanding on the brain in terms of energy, it can actually reduce productivity. And that brain overload we can develop a constant state of high alert, anxiety, and stress.

The benefits of quiet solitude

Now, more than ever, we need our solitude. Aloneness can give us the power to regulate and adjust our lives. It can refill our energy well. Psychological studies have pointed to the healing aspects of solitude yet many popular writers promote aloneness as “time out” a coping strategy. This is a very limited view. Aloneness is not intended to be an intermission until we get back to the important things in life. It has its own importance.

Studies show that solitude is crucial for the development of the self. As highlighted in a study entitled, Solitude: An Exploration of Benefits of Being Alone, solitude is associated with freedom, creativity, intimacy, and spirituality. Aloneness is a” deeper internal process,” notes Matthew Bowker, a psychoanalytic political theorist at Medaille College who has researched solitude. Productive solitude requires internal exploration, a kind of labor that can be uncomfortable, even excruciating. Yet today, in our hyper-connected society, Bowker believes that solitude is “more devalued than it has been in a long time.”

Manfred Ket De Vries, INSEAD Distinguished Professor of Leadership Development and Organizational Change, writing in INSEAD Knowledge argues, that working harder is not working smarter and in fact, setting aside regular periods of “doing nothing” may be “the best thing we can do to induce states of mind that nurture our imagination and improve our mental health.”



7 specific ways in which solitude is beneficial

1) Your brain and nervous system have a chance to decompress and recharge. A UCLA research study showed that regular times set aside to disengage, sit in silence, and mentally rest, improves the “folding” of the cortex and boosts our ability to process information. A study published through the National Library of Medicine found that exposure to prolonged silence can actually cause the brain to produce new cells.

2) Self-Awareness Increases. In silence, we can become more aware of our emotions and thoughts and engage in more detached reflection of them. The break from external stimuli can put us intune with our inner voices. This enhanced awareness can lead to greater self-control. Silence brings our awareness back to the present.

3) Memory improves. Combining solitude with a walk in nature causes brain growth in the hippocampus region, resulting in better memory. Taking a walk alone gives the brain uninterrupted focus and helps with memory consolidation.

4) Problem Solving Improves. Our brains need to rest and recharge in order to function as well as we want them to. So even if you’re not an introvert, alone time is still important for processing and reflecting. “Constantly being ‘on’ doesn’t give your brain a chance to rest and replenish itself,” Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D. wrote in Psychology Today. Unconscious thought excels at integrating and associating information, by subconsciously carrying out associative searches across our broad database of knowledge.

5) Creativity is Enhanced. The creative process includes a crucial stage called incubation, where all the ideas we’ve been exposed to get to meet, mingle, marinate — then produce a eureka or “A-ha” moment. The secret to incubation? Doing nothing. What’s typically seen as useless daydreaming is now being seen as an essential experience. Professor Jonathan Schooler from UC Santa Barbara says, “Daydreaming and boredom seem to be a source for incubation and creative discovery in the brain.” When we’re not focusing on anything in particular–instead letting the mind wander or dip into our deep storehouse of memories, ideas, and emotions–the brain’s default mode network is activated. Many of our most original insights arise from the activity of this network.

6) Relationships Improve. Solitude also enriches our connections with others by providing perspective, which enhances intimacy and fosters empathy. You think more critically about the role you play in others’ lives and the role they play in yours. And when you do spend time with someone else, you’re refreshed enough to really pay them due attention. After some calm, peaceful time on your own doing nothing, you can find things and people who irritate you reduce dramatically because you are now relaxed and more tolerant.

7) Mindfulness Practices can be Enhanced and Strengthened. Elements of mindfulness such as being present, focusing your attention, emotional regulation and acceptance can be strengthened in aloneness and solitude, where you are free from distractions and external stimuli. So too, can the balance between “doing,” which is predominant in our culture and “being,” which focuses on quiet reflection. In addition, strengthening our mindful practice of intentional responding rather than reacting by “autopilot” can be further enhanced. Our fight/flight mechanism causes us to flee not only from physical difficulties, but also emotional difficulties. Ignoring and burying negative emotions however, only causes them to manifest in stress, anxiety, anger, and insomnia.

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Ray Williams

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Ray Williams an Executive Coach, Speaker and Author, and President of Ray Williams Associates. He has written three books and…

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