Spending time alone might seem useless and boring, especially with unlimited entertainment readily available on your smartphone, tablet, or TV.
But solitude can be highly beneficial to your mental health, creativity, and productivity, psychotherapist Amy Morin writes in her book “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.”
In the book, Morin says mentally strong people “don’t fear alone time,” since it offers restoration and a chance for reflection.
We spoke with Morin to find out how to take advantage of solitude to increase your productivity, empathy, and creativity. Here’s what she said.
1. Learn how to appreciate silence.
It’s as simple as turning off the outside noise, namely electronics. “Today’s digital world means we have the opportunity to be constantly surrounded by noise,” Morin said. “Our electronics help us stay constantly connected, and it often takes extra effort to find a few quiet minutes each day.”
Once you’re comfortable in a completely silent environment, you can begin using it to your advantage.
2. Take a few minutes every day to be alone with your thoughts.
“For many people, slowing down seems like a waste of time,” she said. “But our brains need a chance to process what’s going on around us.”
All it takes is finding 10 minutes each day to allow your brain to relax and process the day, Morin said. With time, you likely won’t feel that you’re being unproductive.
3. Schedule a date with yourself at least once a month.
Why not use your alone time to do something you love? “Time alone doesn’t have to be lonely,” she said. “It could be the key to getting to know yourself better.”
Make a reservation for one at your favourite restaurant, or go on a hike. “Just be sure to silence your phone and treat yourself with the same respect you’d give someone else,” she said.
4. Learn how to meditate to quiet your mind.
Meditation benefits your body and your mind, Morin said. Learning to meditate intensely can take time, but she offers a simple, three-step beginners guide in her book:
- Sit in a relaxed and comfortable position that allows you to keep your spine straight.
- Focus on taking deep, slow breaths, and “really feel your breath as you inhale and exhale.”
- Return consciousness to your breath because “your mind will wander and thoughts will enter your mind.”
5. Practice mindfulness skills to focus on one task at a time.
“The more you practice, the more you’ll become fully aware, and fully awake, throughout all your daily activities,” Morin writes. It takes practice to focus on activities as simple as eating or brushing your teeth.
But we need to take a step back and refocus our attention spans. “Eventually, you can learn to train your mind to stop replaying what you did yesterday or worrying about what you need to get done tomorrow,” she said.
6. Start a journal to sort out your emotions.
A daily journal can help you interpret your emotions and identify and manage your stress, Morin said. Basically, it’s a chance to vent on paper, rather than to a family member or friend.
Just a few sentences each day about what you did or how you’re feeling can help you stay on track, and it “often promotes healing, sparks creativity, and strengthens your resolve to reach your goals,” she said.
7. Reflect on your progress and goals daily.
“Long-term goals require you to have healthy habits that you practice on a daily basis,” Morin said. And “reflecting on your goals every day can help remind you of why you want to reach them.”
In addition to evaluating what is going well and what needs improvement, this can also be a great time to set new goals for the future.