By: Rebekah Iliff, author of Champagne for One: A Celebration of Solitude
In order to protect your own space and precious alone time, you have to first understand what you value.
Friendships? Work? Exercise? Family? Dating? Scrolling through social media? Writing down your values and understanding what they are for you, will empower you to say “no” to things that simply suck your time and finite energy.
Second, prioritize what types of relationships and activities you enjoy the most (besides the relationship with yourself). Anything that falls below your “Top 5”, gets little to no attention—and only if you’ve got enough in your emotional bank account to spare. For example, my Top 5 are: riding horses, going for long walks, reading, yoga, and spending time with close friends and family. But I also like to go shopping, discover new restaurants, see live music, and meet new people that have similar interests. So, for me, it’s a continual balancing act of finding enough solitude that fills me up, engaging in my Top 5 favorite things regularly, and speckling in the other things if and when I have time or energy.
Third, try to spend 20 to 30 minutes a day (or even 4 to 5 days a week) in reflection. Morning, afternoon, before bed, whatever. There are no rules. You don’t need to overthink it, just make it flow with your current schedule and things you already like to do. The key is doing it by yourself with no distractions. Here are a few ideas:
- Write in a journal (Here is one of the best brands for journals, IMHO)
- Meditate (Requires a small space, maybe a candle, some incense, and quiet)
- Listen to relaxing music (Soundbath tunes, Classical music, Yoga playlists)
- Go for a leisurely walk (In nature, around the block, with your dog… but alone)
- Drink coffee while staring out your bedroom window (One of my absolute favorite ways to start my morning)
- Reading a devotional or uplifting book (Try not to read on your phone, go old school)
Fourth, cultivate the ability to do things by yourself in public. This allows you to truly see things through your own eyes and provides a path for discovery that just doesn’t happen when you’re with another person or a group. Yes, you can go to the movie theatre or a concert alone; you can sidle up to a swanky hotel bar solo; and you can certainly shop for that favorite pair of spring sandals all on your own. While it may seem counterintuitive, and you may get sideways looks from strangers, you can find comfort knowing that YOU can stand yourself, and by extension stand your own ground.
On another note: If you’re seeking professional guidance because you can’t seem to handle being alone, or you’re feeling isolated and confused, a dear pal of mine, Dr. Lindsay Jernigan, recently launched an e-course series called Reboot. The first season is called “Resilience”, and it is specifically for individuals seeking support for anxiety, lack of motivation, depression, and other mental health issues that seem to be on the rise. For less than you’d spend on a facial, you can kick your mental health into gear.
Last but not least, in addition to my book, Champagne for One: A Celebration of Solitude, here are a few other books that get to the heart of why solitude and learning to love one’s own company is such a vital aspect of the human experience:
Art of Solitude by Stephen Batchelor
Strangely and interestingly, one of the great challenges of a life is to learn to be alone peacefully, at home in oneself. The pandemic has forced many of us, at best, to work out the difference between isolation and loneliness or to find “ease within the loneliness inside ourselves,” which is how Stephen Batchelor defines solitude. He draws on his life, from monasticism to marriage, with teachers from Montaigne to the Buddha to Rilke, to remind us why solitude has always been and will always be an element of well-being and even the richness of our relationships with others, and how to turn that into graceful practice.
Solitude: A Return To The Self, by Anthony Storr
Lucid and lyrical, Storr’s book cites numerous examples of brilliant scholars and artists—from Beethoven and Kant to Anne Sexton and Beatrix Potter—to demonstrate that solitude ranks alongside relationships in its impact on an individual’s well-being and productivity, as well as on society’s progress and health.
Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph by Jan Swafford
Excerpt about Beethoven’s need for solitude: “On the other side of the misery of his training, there was the ecstasy of music itself. When he escaped from his father’s regime and found better teachers and discovered his own ambitions, the teenage Beethoven still sought solitude, hours when he could be alone with music and pore over his own creations. Even though he was performing constantly in public, the rest of the world and everybody in it could not reach him in that solitude.