One of our favorite maxims is, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” While we find this to be largely true, there are times when being alone can help you go far. But the irony is, you actually have to slow down.
As leaders, it’s important that we get clear on the difference between isolation and solitude. Yes, we are built for community, and there are a lot of upsides to being in deep, authentic relationship with others. In fact, having a spirit of togetherness is one of CTLF’s core values. But there are times when being alone produces results and breakthroughs that cannot be achieved in the company of others.
Throughout history, great political, social, and religious leaders have regularly withdrawn from the hustle and bustle of their normal routines seeking clarity and rejuvenation that only comes from time spent alone. Beginning with George Washington and continuing to this day, “…all U.S. presidents have sought refuge from politics and the constraints of the White House by escaping to seaside homes, cabins in the woods, and other havens.”
Perhaps now more than ever, with our world embroiled in social and political conflict, international tensions, and social media fanning the flames, we could all benefit from some alone time away from the constant bombardment of stimuli. What breakthroughs might happen if we were deliberate and made periodic times of solitude a priority in our schedules? What value do we place on deep introspection, self-examination, pondering our values and behaviors, addressing our blind spots, or just plain dreaming? What epiphanies, what inspired thinking, is lurking just below the surface, waiting for the noise to subside long enough to be heard?
This article from Inc. Magazine highlights valuable benefits of periodic solitude:
- Self-awareness Time spent alone helps you know yourself better; what you are really like, what you really want without influence from others. It forces healthy introspection and invites metathinking (thinking about your thinking).
- Improved relationships When we spend time apart from others, we create room to grow together. We get a break from constantly experiencing inputs and stimuli and we no longer need others to fill vacuums in conversations or activity. Plus, we are able to bring new experiences and thinking that haven’t already been shared.
- Boosted creativity This 2017 study actually determined there is a correlation between people who deliberately withdraw from society and the tendency to exhibit increased creativity. When we are at less perceived risk of judgement from others, we are less self-conscious and free to explore ideas without criticism.
- Boosted productivity When we are free from distraction, we are able to achieve a state of flow faster and stay in it longer. As thought leaders, we’re all for exploring new ideas, but open floor plans are probably a bad idea—at least when it comes to productivity.
- Improved sense of well-being People who set aside alone time tend to be happier. That can look very different for each of us; quiet time, exercise (which also helps with achieving flow), long walks, bike rides, meditating, and all kinds of other solo activities. What matters is that we are deliberate about it.
- Higher-level thinking It’s hard to dream or think purposefully about your plans and your life when you’re with others. Meditation, prayer, or reading time is difficult, even impossible, when you are around others.
Point to Ponder
It’s not good to be alone all the time. But it IS good to deliberately set aside alone time on a regular basis to work on the most valuable asset you have—YOU.