Most of us will go to extreme lengths to avoid being alone with our thoughts. In fact, a recently-published study found that given a choice between sitting doing nothing and giving themselves electric shocks, two-thirds of men and a quarter of women chose the latter.
I’m reminded of Louis C.K.’s brilliant, tragi-comic bit about smartphones: “That’s why we text and drive… people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.”
Last week, I travelled with my family to a remote, rugged piece of Canada’s west coast, and I promised myself before we left that I would give myself the gift of some time with myself. I was looking forward to it – the wide open spaces of the coastal landscape are the perfect place to open one’s mind and breath. But following through on that commitment to myself was so much harder than I expected. I put it off until after I’d finished some work I’d brought with me. I put it off until I’d cleared just a few more emails out of my inbox. I put it off until literally everyone was out of the house, on the last day of our vacation, and I knew that this was my last opportunity to be alone with myself before returning home.
So I finally, finally closed my laptop, books, and bedroom door, took a few breaths looking out at the Pacific Ocean crashing against the rocks below, and closed my eyes. I spent a couple of hours meditating, doing visualizations, and writing.
And this simple thing was the greatest gift I have given myself in recent memory.
What stood in my way? The lies I tell myself: the lie that delivering on the promises I’ve made to other people are what gives my life meaning and value; the lie that staying busy is the same as being productive; and greatest of all, the lie that being alone with myself will make me feel disconnected.
If it’s true that 95% of adults can find time for a leisure activity but 83% spend no time whatsoever just thinking, we could stand to ask ourselves a few questions. Here’s your weekly curiosity experiment:
- What are you afraid of when you find yourself avoiding being alone?
- What actually happens when you spend time alone with yourself?
- How might you give yourself the gift of time to simply think?