(A re-post from my round-the-US road trip in 2012) I was with a friend of mine yesterday, who recently had a baby and we got to talking about the practice of letting a baby cry it out (after making sure she’s been fed and changed, of course). The main idea was that it allows the child to learn how to search for their own answers, instead of relying on others to solve every problem that arises.
After our conversation, I realized that she was instilling in her little one the exact principle I’d been thinking about on my road trip: alone time is GOOD. And there’s no better place to realize that, than on a 17,700-mile road trip by yourself. And I can tell you, some (if not the majority) of my biggest ah-ha moments have come during times when I’ve been solo, and have found answers within myself.
I love being by myself and alone with my thoughts. Heck, I don’t just enjoy it--I need it periodically in order to be my full, happy self. It can be time spent journaling, going on a run by myself, dancing around my kitchen alone, driving by myself (which also usually includes a solo-dance-party, too), or just enjoying a stolen moment in my day when I find myself by...myself.
Being alone is the gift you give yourself in order to find out more about who you are, explore your thoughts, and to ask questions of yourself; and ultimately--it should move you towards loving yourself more, instead of wishing you were someone else.
Try it: put the phone aside and just be with you. Is it scary? Is it boring? Is it quiet? Maybe, then, it’s time to spend a bit more time cultivating your relationship with you.
One of my favorite ways to utilize my alone-time is to journal. The simple act of taking all the thoughts swirling around in my noggin, and getting them down on paper allows me to better assess all that’s going on, release anxiety over that which I have no control, and then strategize an action plan to change that which I can change, if need be.
Other times, I just need to get everything down on paper to free up my “mental real estate” and let me charge forward in my day without extra baggage weighing me down. I call this process “spill time” in my journal. There’s something incredibly cathartic in the process of handwriting my sorrows, my fears, my anger, my gratitude, whathaveyou, and leaving them on the page. If you haven’t tried it, do.
If journaling isn’t your thing (us compulsive journalers are a rare breed), perhaps driving alone in your car with no music, or taking a run/walk in the park with no music, or even just sitting on a porch for a few minutes. There are so many ways to snag some alone time. But the point is, to actually snag it.
I had a great soccer coach in high school and since I graduated, we'll grab a breakfast together to catch up and chat. He is one of the wisest men I know, and I can remember one specific coffee shop conversation we had when he told me this (I’m paraphrasing here):
...without having time alone with yourself, it’s like being a boat without a rudder--you’ll go anywhere the main stream is taking you. But having time alone allows you to get to know yourself and know your likes and dislikes, which start to act as filters, or a rudder, in this case. There’s something to be said about getting to that point when you know who you are and can humbly say, ‘yeah, I think I’m pretty cool.’ And people are attracted to those people who feel good about themselves.
Thanks, Coach Leavoy.
This process of diving into your thoughts and doing some “mental excavation” also gets you to a more honest place, where things aren’t perfect, and sometimes (read: all the time) I’ll find that I don’t have it all under control. And that’s ok. The point is, when I take the time to be brutally honest with myself, it also lets me turn around and be more honest with those around me (which is never a bad thing). Even if it means having a hard conversation with someone else as a result of this mental digging--either way, it’s a beneficial process that forces us to learn more about ourselves and grow past our comfort zone and expand who we are. And to be sure, some of this “digging” may uncover parts of yourself that you’re not fond of (I certainly know that’s the case for me, anyway), but it also leads to the parts you can really enjoy about yourself.
Driving for the past month and a half has invariably shown me that I can have a darn good time being on my own: I listen to audio books, I “journal” by recording voice memos of the things I’m thinking about, I dance super silly and have even made myself cry from laughing so hard. How else could I endure a 9,500 mile road trip if I didn’t like hanging with myself?
But without that time alone though, how do you know who you truly are, apart from the influences of the media, your job, your family, your friends, or even apart from your intimate relationship?
If you think you don’t have time to spare, here are a few ways you can grab some alone time and begin hanging out with yourself a bit more:
- Take 30 minutes to go on a walk or a run by yourself without music. Don’t go through your to-do lists mentally. Give yourself the gift of letting go of any agenda and just listen to yourself think.
- Drive to work without turning on the music. Listen to your thoughts. Give gratitude.
- When you are by yourself, pretend you’re on a talk show and interview yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to ask yourself a question you don’t think you know the answer to.
- Allow yourself to spend a little time being vulnerable. or weak. or sad. or angry. or any other emotion that you don’t usually let yourself feel.
- Have an impromptu car-dance-party. You know you want to [cue: Call Me Maybe].
- Let yourself be silly. Talk to yourself in an accent or your second language. Answer the phone that way (my brother can tell you I do this all the time).
Now, I want to hear from you. Tell me in the comments below one of your favorite ways to grab some alone time and one of the new insights you gained from having some time solo.
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