We are social beings and we all miss hanging out with friends in person, going out to dinner, concerts sporting events, or dancing or to the beach, without having to worry about contracting the mysterious COVID-19.
Instead, we are spending a lot of time home and alone (unless you have kids at home, in which case, you probably wish you had more time alone and more help with homeschooling and managing it all).
“Welcoming time with a friend”
If you live alone, you’re not alone. The most recent U.S. Census found that 36 million people in the United States live alone, across all age groups, or 11% of the total U.S. population. That’s more than one in 10 people. Women live alone in much greater numbers than ever too. According to OurWorldInData.org, approximately 7.8% of women ages 30-45, 18.6% of women 46-60, 31.8% of women 51-75, and 46.6% of women 76+ live alone.
We can see being alone as being miserable and waste the time complaining and binge-ing.
Or, we can see being alone as the gift of quiet time, as an opportunity to enjoy and appreciate our own company, and to get to know ourselves better. Psychotherapist Dr. Stephanie Dowrick, in her best-selling book “Intimacy and Solitude,” calls it “welcoming time with your own self as you might welcome time with a friend.”
How we look at things is our choice (unless you have a clinical mental health issue that requires professional help).
Here are five ways you can “welcome” being alone:
1. Increase self-awareness. Self-awareness is one of the keys to happiness and success, no matter what your career or personal relationships. We hear people talk about how important “authenticity” is to success, to leadership, indeed, to any relationship, and the foundation of authenticity is knowing who you really are, deep inside, and being comfortable with yourself.
As Psychologist Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter wrote in Psychology Today, “Solitude can enhance the quality of your relationships with others. By spending time with yourself and gaining a better understanding of who you are and what you desire in life, you’re more likely to make better choices about who you want to be around.”
“One of the great pleasures of solitude is that it gives you a chance to take a rest from seeing yourself through other people’s eyes – or how you are imagining other people are seeing you – and to discover how you feel on the inside about your own self,” Dowrick wrote.
Being alone is an opportunity to tune in to ourselves, to hear how we sound, the words we choose, how we talk to ourselves, what we eat (or don’t), how we exercise (or don’t), how we clean and maintain our homes and possessions (or don’t), how we spend our time. I have my coaching clients keep a time log for a week, for example, recording literally everything (including sleep, eating, facetime-ing friends, everything) and it’s always enlightening.
2. Tackle important or delayed projects: During this time alone, you can be productive, getting projects done that you’ve talked about, such as working on a novel or nonfiction book, developing that online course, or fixing something in your home, even mending mildly torn clothing (don’t you hate holes in socks?). I wrote in Forbes about many ways we can use this pandemic forced-isolation time productively and how we can use this time to grow our careers. Those links are below are at the end of this article, as a resource.
3. Write: One of the most important ways to build your brand today and demonstrate what you know and your expertise to attract opportunities is to write for free on LinkedIn or Medium, for example. Post them also on social media and on your own website, if you have one.
You can also write to process your emotions that are coming up during this extended time alone, maybe losing people, maybe getting perspective on the importance of our health, maybe missing people you can’t see in person right now because of COVID-19, or how you feel about your job or work, or business, or kids, or spouse/partner or some guy your woman you’re dating. Whatever comes up. It’s so helpful that “journaliing” has become a verb commonly used in therapeutic circles.
4. Think Creatively: This time alone is an opportunity to listen to your own ideas, free-associate as you take a walk and talk ideas into the voice memos on your smartphone or jot them down as you go so you don’t lose them. Keep pad and pen by your bed and couch to make notes of ideas too, including even as you mindlessly watch a Netflix program. Let your imagination go free – and notate what comes up, about anything.
Studies show that solutions to vexing challenges often pop up when we are not thinking about them, or when something unrelated triggers a thought that you connect in your mind in an unusual way. You never know where it might lead. Psychologists call this “brainwriting” when you are brainstorming your own ideas, and you can do it with other people too.
5. Enable healing. Being alone, you can process your emotions and circumstances you face, think through a problem, ask yourself what you would tell a friend or colleague in that situation or with that feeling, for example. It’s a time to gain perspective and remember things you had maybe forgotten that are creeping up again, showing themselves to be unresolved (working with a coach or therapist is good to maximize that too). Dr. Shoba Sreenivasan and Dr. Linda E. Weinberger call it “emotional nourishment” in Psychology Today.
“Spend your life in your own way”
I have a great quote one of my long-time best friends gave me in a birthday card gave me that I keep on display in my home that I adore and resonates with me as I think about the gifts of enjoying spending time alone: “There is only one success – to be able to spend life in your own way.” That’s by the 20th century writer Christopher Morley.
To have our own idea of success, we need to know what “our own way” is, and by embracing being alone we can find out, separate from anyone else, and separate from the noise.
It’s all in how you look at it, and that’s your choice.