I like this short quote or “poetic aphorism” about solitude versus loneliness by poet and professor, Eric Nelson.
It is solitude if you like it. Loneliness if you don’t. Eric Nelson
It makes me think about the times when I have been “alone” in my life and whether I liked being alone or not at those times. I can think of many times that I felt joy, relief, peacefulness, and regeneration when I was alone. Yet, I can also think of other times that I felt sad, isolated, and despondent – even depressed.
Thankfully, these days when I am alone, it’s usually by choice. And I like it! Yet, the reason I like it is that I get a good balance of both “alone” time and “social” time.
When I was young, I worked for a short time as a bank teller. Many older single people loved to come to the branch to have actual contact with other human beings. Tellers at my current bank say that the same thing is true today.
Lonely people could care less about electronic deposits! Yet people who see making a trip to the bank as a poor use of time love depositing checks electronically! For this example, perhaps Nelson’s aphorism could be changed to, “It’s convenience if you like it. Loneliness if you don’t!”
What’s the right amount of “solitude” and “connectedness” to build into your life? The short answer is that there is no “right amount.” It’s different for each person.
Guidelines to Achieve “Solitude Balance”
Know Your Personality Type
If you don’t know your personality type, we suggest that you take a personality assessment to find out if you are an Introvert or an Extrovert. Introverts prefer more solitude than Extroverts.Our favorite personality assessments are the Myers Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) and the WorkPlace Big Five (WPBF).
If you are an Introvert on the MBTI, your primary source of energy is your inner world of ideas and images. If you are an Extrovert, your primary source of energy is your external world of people and things.
The WPBF measures personality traits that determine your workplace competencies. On the WPBF, you will score as an Introvert, Ambivert, or Extrovert. These terms refer to the degree to which you tolerate sensory stimulation from people/situations.
Know your personality type! Then use that knowledge to try to live and work in an environment in which you feel energetic and stimulated!
Even if you are an Introvert, too much isolation is not a good thing. People who are retired, live alone, work from home, or have solitary types of jobs are more likely to feel lonely than those who come in contact with other people throughout the day.
When solitude begins to feel “lonely,” it’s time to connect. Go for a coffee run. Call a family member. Join a friend for lunch. Volunteer weekly. Proactively build connectivity events into your schedule.
Nix Feelings of Shame and Low Self-Esteem
Writer and speaker Brene’ Brown conducted research that shows that people often “choose” to be isolated because of shame and low self-esteem. For example, people sometimes drink when they are lonely and inadvertently become alcoholics. As the disease progresses, they isolate because they are ashamed of how much they drink.
Brene’ Brown believes that humans are naturally “wired” to be connected and that self-imposed isolation is rarely experienced as “solitude.” If you have feelings of shame or low self-esteem and they are resulting in loneliness and too much solitude, see a therapist, join a support group – replace self-destructive feelings.
Know What Motivates You
I am a competitive runner, and I tend to run on my own. It motivates me! It gives me a break from office work, energizes me, gives me time to sort my thoughts, and clears my head. It’s my reward for working hard – it’s a break! I know other runners who always need one or more running partners to motivate them to get out there and run.
Know what motivates you to do what you need to do. Perhaps you need solitude – or perhaps you need connections – to do something that’s important to you. Build structure into your daily and weekly schedule. Build in a time and place to exercise by yourself. Or build in a time and place to connect with your exercise partner.
Spend Some Time Alone
Even Extroverts need to spend some time alone. An excellent way to develop some time alone is to develop a daily mindfulness practice (including meditation).
Research has documented the proven benefits of even 10 minutes of daily meditation practice in decreasing anxiety, increasing focus, enhancing sleep, and enhancing relationships. If your attention tends to wonder or you need guidance on how to meditate, it’s helpful to start with a meditation app – like Headspace (free trial); Stop, Breathe, & Think (free); or one of the many other apps you can download.
Questions for Reflection
- Do you know your personality type? How does your lifestyle energize your Introvert or Extrovert preferences?
- Do you enjoy being alone? Do you find yourself wishing that you had MORE or LESS time to yourself?
- If you work from home, or in a relatively isolated environment, do you need to get more “connected” to others?
- Would you be more disciplined and productive if you did more or less things with other people?
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