Regularly enjoying some alone time is just as important for our overall health as hitting the gym or cooking up a healthy dinner.
I was a junior in college when I went to see Dear John by myself. It was the first time I’d been to a theater alone, if only because the movie trailer suggested I would ugly-cry like all get-out. The fewer people who see me in that state, the better.
As willing as I was to fly solo, I “just knew” it would be a terrible time. I “knew” that not having a friend to talk to during the previews or feel awkwardly comforted by when I lost control of my tear ducts was going to make for an experience I’d deny ever happening later. So imagine my surprise when I not only enjoyed myself, but I did it all over again the next month. And I didn’t stop there.
My newfound appreciation (dare I say preference) for alone time made its way to restaurants and concert venues. Sure, I would bring a book or a barely-checked Twitter feed to focus my attention away from sad-eyed strangers wondering if I had friends or was being stood up—but those fell away when I realized I didn’t care (much) about what people might be thinking.
Now, instead of feeling embarrassed by the idea of showing up someplace alone, I feel empowered. It’s just me, my thoughts, no small talk, and some pasta. It’s perfect.
And I’ll let you in on a little secret: Alone time—even when it involves missing out on social events or activities—is also, apparently, good for us all.
The Need to Know
Time alone is technically known as solitude, or the time you spend getting to know yourself . It can be tough to embrace a desire for solitude as a normal, healthy thing, given that society tends to favor extroverts (or people who thrive on socializing and activities), and some science shows being outgoing is a greater indicator for happiness. Then there’s social media, which is all about the power of social interaction. Take all these factors together, and it’s no wonder solitude gets the short end of the stick.
Yet there can be so much joy in these solo hours—or what blogger Anil Dash first dubbed JOMO (joy of missing out) in a popular blog post nearly two years ago. Put another way, JOMO is the opposite ofFOMO (fear of missing out). It’s relishing alone time, letting go of needing to be “in the know,” and unplugging from emails, text, social networks, and events in an effort to embrace solitude and cultivate one’s relationship to one’s own self.
If solitude hasn’t ranked towards the top of your to-do list lately, intentionally spending time alone might sound, well, boring. Butnot all boredom is created equal. Daydreaming, for example, promotes creativity, while a lull in external stimulation canencourage us to go after our goals. Meanwhile, research shows that alone time can also boost cognitive power and overall wellbeing, with some of the best ideas and work coming from a quiet, inner place.
Perhaps most importantly, solitude allows us to engage in what psychologist Anders Ericsson calls Deliberate Practice. It’s easier to turn our focus inwards, and resolve (or refine) personal problems and behaviors, when there are no distractions. And the insight gained from this practice is what Ericsson says is the key to exceptional achievement and success .
The takeaway? Taking breaks from constant connectivity to enjoy some alone time is just as important for our overall health as hitting the gym or cooking up a healthy dinner.
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