Why solitude is the ironic weapon needed to fight against loneliness.
Aloneness can protect you against loneliness.
Since loneliness is defined by the absence of connection and not people, the state of being alone—or aloneness—doesn't have to result in loneliness.
Much like aloneness, isolation is the physical state of being separated or apart from other people. Isolation decreases the opportunities to interact with other people, thus increasing the risk of loneliness. However, people can be isolated without experiencing loneliness. For example, remote workers who are isolated from other team members can experience little to no loneliness while involved in a project that interests them.
Isolation can be good or bad; it depends on the state.
The negative state of isolation is loneliness. The positive state of isolation is solitude. Solitude is a state of being alone without the emotions of loneliness. When we experience loneliness, we want to escape it as it is an unpleasant emotion. On the other hand, solitude is peaceful aloneness created by a state of voluntary isolation.
Solitude can take many forms such as self-reflection, meditation, mindfulness exercises, or a quiet break from the demands of life. Solitude offers the opportunity to connect inwardly with oneself. Emotional well-being, clarity, creativity, and perspective are some of the benefits of intentional and healthy solitude.
Solitude is restorative while loneliness is depleting.
Loneliness carries the unfortunate stigma of shame. Conversely, solitude is held in high esteem. However, solitude seems to be more and more elusive in today’s distraction-prone world. But when solitude is fought for and done right, it helps to strengthen the connection with ourselves that in turn equips us to connect more deeply with others. Ironically, solitude is insurance against loneliness.
The line between loneliness and solitude is fine. But toe it well and suffocate loneliness.
Look for Opportunities to Embrace Aloneness
Solitude is found by isolating one’s mind from the inputs of other minds in order to freely process or ponder. Essentially, you can experience solitude amid a crowded coffee shop if your thinking is self-directed instead of reacting to the outside environment.
Personally, I have made some of my biggest creative strides and breakthroughs while in solitude. When my head and heart feel tangled up in something, breaking away from my routine for a day or two can provide the clarity and confidence I need to make sound decisions.
I am aware of the health concerns, meaninglessness, and limitations loneliness can bring, while at the same time, I appreciate the clarity, creativity, and emotional balance solitude brings. The line between loneliness and solitude is fine, but if you toe the line well, you can reap deep work. Exceptional work requires space to focus. You have important work to do, so seek solitude.
In my experience, the difference between loneliness and solitude is a plan. Having a detailed plan to unpack and dissect an idea, project, or decision while in solitude keeps loneliness at bay.
Solitude can happen in a few moments or a few months. It can also take many forms, such as self-reflection, journaling, meditation, mindfulness exercises, brainstorming, or business strategy sessions. It can even be as simple as taking a few quiet, social-media-free minutes to just be with your wandering thoughts.
Whenever I encountered a mental roadblock while writing my latest book that addresses loneliness, Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All In, I would seek solitude. I'd get in my car and drive around Atlanta, without music, podcasts, or the radio on. Occasionally, I’d force myself to talk out loud—yes, to myself—so that my mind stayed focused on the problem at hand. Without fail, while immersed in solitude, my brain would conjure up the solution. The human brain craves problems to solve. Feed your brain a problem, and then allow it to do what it does best by giving it some space via solitude.
Here is what some of the greatest human minds thought about solitude:
- Pablo Picasso: “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”
- Jane Hirshfield, award-winning poet: “Solitude, whether endured or embraced, is a necessary gateway to original thought.”
- Albert Einstein: “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”
- Thomas Edison: “The best thinking has been done in solitude.”
- Paulo Coelho, Brazilian lyricist and author of The Alchemist: “If you are never alone, you cannot know yourself.”
Solitude provides the necessary margin for people to recalibrate, think clearly, prioritize, plan, and recharge. Loneliness will empty a person; solitude, on the other hand, can fill a person up.
You may have to get over your fear of being alone with your thoughts or abandon the feeling that seeking solitude is selfish. There isn’t anything selfish about rising above the noise, tending to your mental health, and gaining a grander vision of your future.
The greater the noise, the greater need for solitude. The demands of life today are deafening. That’s why solitude doesn’t come easy. There is always something more urgent and loud that will steal your attention. You must fight for it. And the fight against loneliness is a worthy one.
Want help creating a more connected workforce? Check out Ryan's latest Wall Street Journal Bestselling book: Connectable. Or click here to invite Ryan to speak at your next meeting or event.