How Seeking Isolation Can Contribute to Personal Development
Sometimes, a little time alone is really all you need.
There seems to be a negative stigma around those who prefer to be alone — but only from those who don’t feel the same way. The assumption is that a person wants to be alone because they are rude, weird, disinterested in socialization, anxious, or any of word from the plethora of adjectives and adverbs used.
Despite Forbes’ article where “scientifically-backed reasons” were given as to why people should spend more time alone, the majority of the population still sees it as taboo. I, however, would like to introduce you to the reasons why you should stop running in the opposite direction of solitude.
You’ll Get More Done
Plain and simple. Famous computer scientist, Donald Knuth, is noted as being one of the first members of the professional world to adopt the idea of isolation. After making the decision to get rid of email in 1990, he expressed the quality of work he was able to produce after limiting the ways he could be contacted to snail mail alone.
If you were to take a look at the website of science fiction writer, Neal Stephenson, you would likely notice a lack of both an e-mail and mailing address. In his earlier essays, he provides insight as to why he made this decision as far back as 2000. As you sift through the archives of 2003, you will find a summary of his policy regarding communication:
Persons who wish to interfere with my concentration are politely requested not to do so, and warned that I don’t answer e-mail…lest [my communication policy’s] key message get lost in the verbiage, I will put it here succinctly. All of my time and attention are spoken for — several times over. Please do not ask for them.
The likelihood of another person arguing this preference is minimal. After all, our time belongs to us, yet we allow others to convince us otherwise. If the correspondence between yourself and another individual don’t translate into moments of deep work, it’s necessary to reconsider the use of your time.
The Work You Produce While Alone Will be Better
We essentially have two options — we either produce decent work at a normal rate, or mediocre work at a slow pace. The controllable factor in the experiment is the distraction you allow to penetrate your focus during this time of work. If you isolate yourself from the majority of daily distractions (i.e. emails, notifications from apps, text messages, etc.), then you are likely to produce work that exudes intent and provides satisfaction.
“The productivity equation is a non-linear one, in other words. This accounts for why I am a bad correspondent and why I very rarely accept speaking engagements. If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly.” ~Neal Stephenson
Being Alone Can Help You to Build a Routine
Charles Darwin adopted a fairly strict structure for a portion of his working life. During this time, he would wake at seven and take a short walk, before eating breakfast alone and retreating to his study from eight until nine-thirty. He would dedicate the following hour to reviewing correspondence from the day before.
Then, from ten-thirty until noon, he would toss around ideas while walking on a pre-determined route throughout his property. He would continue to walk until he felt his thinking was satisfactory and thus, would conclude his workday.
This doesn’t have to be the exact routine you adopt, but having structure from the moment of waking has proven to help allow for a clear mind and reduces the chance of decision fatigue setting in to early during the day. The more you can automate your day, the better.
Sometimes, Isolation Sparks Inspiration
Many of us chase after the things we think will inspire us; however, if we were to remove ourselves from every one else and place ourselves in a new environment to spark new ideas and new thoughts, we might be surprised at what we come up with.
J.K. Rowling’s experience in writing The Deathly Hallows is a testament to this theory. In 2007, she (under immense pressure) made the decision to check into a suite in the five-star Balmoral Hotel, located in the heart of downtown Edinburgh. Her relatable experience of finding unbreakable concentration nearly impossible to achieve between her kids, the dog barking, the mailman, and the window cleaners, lead her to the doorstep of a hotel that would cost her nearly a grand per night.
Of course, we aren’t all working with that kind of payroll, but the idea to hone in on is she chose to do something dramatic in order to shift her mindset. Between a change in scenery, the financial investment now on the line, and the views from her window, she was able to produce one of the best selling novels we know today. This can be achieved with any change in environment.
Some of the Most Successful Ideas Come From Times of Isolation
Consider Microsoft CEO, Bill Gates, and all of his accomplishments. Now peel back the layers of each journey and he will share that during his time as CEO, he would partake in what he called “Think Weeks.” These were weeks where he would remove himself from work and family obligations in order to retreat to a cabin with stacks of papers and books. The goal of these sessions was to think deeply, without distraction, about the real issues relevant to his company. It was during one of these weeks that he came to the conclusion that the internet would be a force in the industry.
Although Gates could have potentially found focus in his office located at Microsoft’s headquarters, it was more about the intent and diligence around these weeks that made each session deliberate and fruitful. But Gates isn’t the only one who enjoys routine isolation and, in fact, mandates it. MIT physicist, Alan Lightman, spends his summers on a “tiny island” in Maine where he can think deeply and recharge. Interestingly enough, Lightman spends an entire two and a half months submerged in silence and moments to recover from the pace of normal life.
You Can Make Use of Isolation Immediately
You don’t have to have a “writing cabin” on-site like Dan Pink or Michael Pollan, but you can utilize the time you have alone already. Many of us either have a commute to work, a daily shower, a pet to take outside during the day, or a combination of the three.
These randomly selected activities are actually moments of opportunity to isolate yourself from what surrounds you the remainder of the day. The reason why we don’t usually see these as opportunities is because of the distractions we allow to tag along. We scroll through news feeds while taking the dog out, listen to the radio while driving to and from work, and I’ll leave whatever shower events take place up to you, but you get the gist. If we were to instead welcome the silence each could bring, our minds will be more likely to engage in deep thought and in turn, begin to crave it.
Being Isolated Will Give You More Self-Confidence
A lot of what makes navigating relationships with people today difficult is the inability they find in being alone with themselves. If we cannot be content with our presence alone, we will seek the validation of our existence from other people instead.
When you make alone time a non-negotiable in your daily life, you instill the ability to keep your thoughts free-flowing as you would have them, rather than building off of the thoughts of nearby company.
This is only a scratch on the surface of possibility when you dive into the world of healthy and productive isolation.
“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence, or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets…it is, paradoxically necessary to getting any work done.” — Tim Kreider