I used to be so afraid and embarrassed to be alone in public. I would hide or pretend I was doing something else.
But I wasn’t alone in my fear.
Whether eating or waiting for friends, many people are afraid to be by themselves, getting visibly uncomfortable and nervous or burying themselves in their phones.
But after years of solo travel (including my current indefinite trip of over a year), I’ve learned how to be completely comfortable and confident doing anything alone, despite many saying they’d be terrified in my shoes.
I’ll share my tactics to help you feel confident and comfortable by yourself — no matter how shy or nervous you are — and I’ll begin with the biggest lesson.
If You Can’t Be Alone, That’s A Problem
The fear of being alone is a chain: Simply put, it means people need others for their happiness, which forces them to cling and do things they normally wouldn’t do.
This fear has wide-ranging effects. For example, a study found that the fear of being single is a strong predictor for “settling for less” in relationships. In this case, the fear of being alone influences people to make poor decisions and pick any person rather than the correct person.
The same goes for life goals: I know many people who want to travel, but because they’re afraid to do things alone, they wait for (and beg) their friends or family to join. But if they can’t find a partner, they just wait indefinitely—they actually stop themselves from doing something simply because of their fear.
But being “alone” is different than being “lonely:” One is a situation while the other is an opinion concerning the situation.
How Being Comfortable Alone Can Change Your Life
Sure, I need people—pilots, firefighters, doctors, etc.
But I don’t need people to be happy.
I don’t need to be around people to feel comfortable solo. I don’t need to be around people to avoid the pain of sitting alone in a crowded restaurant.
And that gives me freedom.
Doing things by yourself demonstrates real confidence and courage: You do what you want and you don’t let anything stop you. For example, if my friends weren’t able to join me to do something, I wouldn’t get disappointed and cancel my plans — I can just go alone and have a great time. (Or I can make friends there.)
Being comfortable and confident by yourself also allows you to enjoy others in a detached way. Rather than looking to people as a source of your happiness—or as a way to avoid the discomfort and anxiety of being alone—you actually bring your own happiness, which can lead to more-fulfilling friendships and relationships.
This way, you can consciously choose the people you enjoy rather than clinging to those who selected you, and you can even let go of people, friends, partners, etc. without fear.
Also, by eliminating the anxiety of being alone, you can do more activities by yourself, which can unlock new opportunities that were impossible without it.
“Without a partner, I have complete independence, which inspires me to meet people and find experiences that I normally wouldn’t have sought.”
—Rolf Potts, “Vagabonding”
How To Actually Become Comfortable and Confident Being Alone
1. Reduce Mental Stimulation.
A big reason we’re not comfortable being alone is that we’re not comfortable being alone with ourselves—even at home alone, we’re constantly on our phones, watching TV, listening to music, using our computers, and more.
In fact, in a series of 11 studies, researchers at the University of Virginia and Harvard University actually found people would rather electrically shock themselves than be alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes. (Shocking, no?)
Instead, take time to unplug, disconnect, and get comfortable with yourself. Put away the phone, put away the entertainment, and put away the books.
Return home to yourself. It’ll be hard at first, but you can practice at your house, in your car, or on the subway and get accustomed to it.
2. Learn The Art Of Conversation.
Great conversation skills make going solo much more fun. There’s also a sense of confidence that comes from being able to start fun conversations with strangers. (More often than not, my solo travels rarely ended solo.)
I don’t necessarily mean “pick-up artist” stuff; I mean just talking to a kind stranger and becoming friends, whether they’re men or women, older or younger, single or in a group, locals or tourists, etc.
You don't even have to practice with total strangers: Chat with people who are paid to talk to you like waiters and waitresses, retail employees, baristas, bartenders, and more. (Even better, once you become friends with them, you're no longer alone if you go back.)
While there are countless tips, my best advice is to take a natural curiosity and interest in other people. Learn about their lives. Learn about their hobbies. Become genuinely fascinated with their story.
3. Start By Doing Activities You Love Alone.
To build confidence and momentum, do things you already love, but just go solo.
For example, go to a concert by yourself — no one cares if you’re alone and everyone’s too busy enjoying the music anyway. (Also, since there’s a common interest, conversations will flow easily.)
Go to a museum to see an exhibit you like. Take a cooking class to learn the cuisine you love. Eat at your favorite restaurant and sit at the counter with other solo diners. Join a walking tour when you’re traveling.
By doing something you enjoy, you’ll feel less anxious and have more fun.
4. Avoid Peak Times.
As you start going to public places by yourself, avoid times like Friday and Saturday nights when places are packed and more people are in couples or massive groups. Instead, choose quieter times and venues so you don’t feel so out of place.
5. Accept The Anxiety.
The harder you fight something internally, the worse it gets. Instead, watch it and accept it.
If you’re sitting in a busy lobby by yourself and feeling anxious, take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Feel that tension within you. What’s it doing? What’s it saying?
Embrace it. Analyze it like someone sitting on the sidelines. Ask yourself: Why is it that someone else in your exact situation might be completely comfortable while you’re not?
Soon, the feeling starts to fade.
“Men are disturbed not by the things that happen, but by their opinion of the things that happen.”
It all comes down to how you perceive the situation. As you watch your emotions, you’ll realize there’s a difference between the “thought” and the “thinker.” Now, you won’t be controlled by your emotions as much and you can feel more comfortable.
6. Remember: People Actually Admire That Courage.
Once, in a restaurant in Montréal, I talked to two older couples sitting at the next table. As we shared our travels and favorite spots in the city, one of the gentlemen asked me: “Are you traveling by yourself?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“That’s great! I envy that you’re able to do that!”
A lot of people actually think it’s brave to do things by yourself. (After all, it a common fear.) But what about you? When you see someone eating by themself at a restaurant, do you feel bad for them? Do you think they’re a loner or a loser?
If so, that’s a massive part of the problem. It actually makes it harder for you to be alone because you'll worry that others will think badly of you since you do the same exact thing.
Start admiring others for that courage. When I see someone happily eating by themself in a nice restaurant, I think it’s awesome. That is one confident person!
7. Be More Present.
Let's say you're in a public place by yourself feeling uncomfortable.
Well, what's going on around you at that very moment? Did you notice the art hanging on the walls? Did you see the little baby playing with their parents? Did you see how beautiful the weather is?
Sometimes it helps to get out of your own head. Don’t miss life; it’s right in front of you. The best part is you only need yourself to experience it.
8. Ignore The Critics.
It’s insanely rare for anyone to tease you for being alone. What’s more common, however, is they’ll feel sorry for you or worry that you feel lonely.
That’s the funny part, actually.
Sure, I like being with friends, but I also like being alone. It gives me a chance to relax, ponder big questions, and develop myself. Enormous leaps of self-improvement are available once a person takes time—in solitude—to dig within, truthfully see themself, and develop solid solutions.
Good luck on your journey.
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