To live a full life, you need something that’s rarely mentioned: you need solitude. Here is a definition of solitude from the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.
Time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds.
When you look at great people in history, you can see that they have this characteristic in their lives. It takes different forms, but they have time alone with their own thoughts. For Albert Einstein, it was playing music. For Theodore Roosevelt, it was journaling. For Steve Jobs, it was taking long walks.
Let’s see why you need solitude and how to have it.
Why You Need Solitude
There are at least three reasons why you need solitude.
1. It allows you to see the big picture.
We could be so busy with the details of our lives that we can no longer see the big picture. Are we going in the right direction? Or have we gone off track?
Solitude gives you the distance you need to see the big picture. It helps you see the forest and not just the trees.
2. It helps you synthesize creative ideas.
More often than not, creative ideas come from novel combinations of existing ideas. To get the existing ideas, you need to get input from others (for instance, by reading books). But to synthesize them into a novel combination, you need solitude.
3. It helps you be proactive, not reactive.
With solitude, you won’t just react to whatever is happening to you. Instead, you will think through your situation and act proactively to control it.
How to Have Solitude
Unfortunately, solitude is scarce these days. Smartphones, in particular, give you constant distractions in the form of social media, news, and others. Cal Newport uses the term solitude deprivation for this phenomenon:
A state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds.
Solitude deprivation hinders you from experiencing the benefits above. It hinders you from seeing the big picture, getting creative ideas, and becoming proactive.
So how can we fight this phenomenon? Here are some tips.
1. Turn off notifications on your phone.
Notifications on your phone give you the urge to look at them. As a result, you would get distracted constantly.
Turning off notifications switches the control back to you. Now you are the one who determines when to look at your phone. I have done this for years and I can attest to its effectiveness.
2. Be selective with social media.
I’m not against social media but you need to be selective with it. You should be active only on the ones that serve your purpose. You can leave the rest or just become a passive member there.
3. Allocate time for reflection.
You should allocate regular time for reflecting on your life. During this time, you can think about your purpose, roles, and values. A question you could ask yourself is: “Am I excited about my life and where I’m going? If not, why?”
4. Keep a journal.
Keeping a journal encourages you to have time to think because you are in the lookout for ideas. It also encourages you to synthesize existing ideas to get creative ones.
The tips above can help you build solitude into your life. You will then be on your way to reaching your full potential.
Related Book Summary: Digital Minimalism