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Jim’s Gems: The Value of Solitude

March 19, 2014
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I was rereading Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by the late Richard Carlson. Carlson was a best-selling author but also a gifted speaker on topics of self-help.  He encouraged his audience to lead more fulfilling lives.  One way to do this is to lower stress levels.

Carlson has a chapter in this his book titled “Quiet the Mind.” Upon reading this small segment I was hit by its simplicity. He discussed various forms of mediation but I was reminded of something a mentor passed onto me many years ago:

To avoid burnout and replenish energy, set aside time for renewal. A few minutes each day spent in quiet thought can be very relaxing. This means setting aside time for solitude. This is not easy but it is valuable.  Blaise Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Maybe this is a little extreme, but it has an important message.

In today’s hectic world, finding quiet time can be challenging.  I read somewhere that the average office worker enjoys no more than three minutes at a time at their desk without interruption! The next generation may be worse as the average teenager sends and receives about 100 text messages a day. What’s the future going to be at this pace?

When was the last time you really spent quality time with yourself? (Hopefully, it has been the last couple of nights as you made your lists of shortcomings and strengths.)

If prisoners are put in solitary confinement, one of two things typically happens. They either go a little crazy, or they use the time to grow.  Because humans are social beings, most of them go a little crazy because we're just not used to being alone for long periods. Too much solitude feels like punishment, but just 10-15 minutes per day spent in quiet, pensive thought is essential if we are really going to grow.

Others surround us at work, at home and just about everywhere else, but it is solitude we need for really deep thinking. I am convinced that one reason carpooling hasn't worked very well is because solitary driving time is precious to so many of us.

Carlson and other therapists believe that one reason people make so much headway in therapy is because it provides built-in time and structure to focus attention inward. And a little solitude time is not being selfish; it can be a time of great renewal.

So, if you want to really move ahead, take time to be alone. I know several people who actually schedule time on their calendars to make sure it happens. Use this time to think about where you are, where you want to go, to problem solve, reflect and re-connect with your goals, desires and challenges.

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