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While we’ve been living through a pandemic the past few years, many of us have felt more alone than ever before. But that doesn’t mean we have to be lonely.
Humans are social animals, that’s what we’ve been taught. We live in a society where it’s pretty much unavoidable to interact with other people.
Which is why some of us feel uncomfortable with just the thought of being alone. Images of kids eating alone at lunch tables or dateless wedding guests make us feel lonely.
We fear not having a solid group of friends, a tight-knit family, or a partner. According to researchers at the University of Toronto, people who are afraid of being single are more willing to settle for less in their relationships.
This fear urges us to rush into relationships, become dependent on them, and tells us to stay even when they aren’t good for us.
Author, podcast host, and former monk Jay Shetty says that we must use our time alone to “understand ourselves, our pleasures, and our values. When we learn to love ourselves, we develop compassion, empathy, and patience.”
Knowing ourselves better allows us to follow our own lead instead of always depending on others’ decisions.
Here’s how Shetty advises us to use our time in solitude to understand ourselves, free from outside distractions.
Start an alone audit
The first step to becoming comfortable by yourself is to simply assess how much time you really spend alone. You can track this time over the course of a week.
Aside from watching TV or scrolling on your phone, how do you usually spend your time when you don’t have companions around? How often do you read, go on walks, meditate, or pursue other interests?
Write down these activities next to how much time you spent doing them. Then ask yourself, how did you feel in those moments?
Were there times you felt uncomfortable while you were alone? Were there activities that you did enjoy more by yourself?
“The point of this exercise is to help you take stock of how you spend your solo time before we develop your practice of being alone,” says Shetty.
Expand your alone practice
Next, instead of just observing your habits, actively choose one new activity every week to do alone. Make it something you usually wouldn’t do, like go to the movies or eat at a restaurant.
You can try this out for a month while reflecting on your new experiences. What were the pros and cons of being by yourself? What would it take for you to feel more comfortable?
Actively spending time alone lets us form our own ideas and opinions first, without being influenced by others. If it’s a physical activity, it could free us from comparing our goals with others.
As we figure out how we like to spend our time alone, we get more comfortable with it, with ourselves. “You’re getting to know your preferences without leaning on someone else’s priorities and goals. You’re learning how to have a conversation with yourself.”
Banner image via Pexels by Ksenia Chernaya.