Harris is the author of Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World, now out from St. Martin’s Press.
How often do you find yourself completely, totally alone? We’re now averaging 10 hours of screen time per day, which leaves us in a state of constant connection. That never-ending flurry of activity allows little time for us to reap the benefits of slowing down and focusing on ourselves. Engineering moments of solitude has become more important than ever. It’s not enough to grab those opportunities on the rare occasions when they come along — we need to actively pursue them. Here are 3 simple ways to incorporate more solitude into your life.
Save your morning
Many Americans sleep with their phones. You probably already know that phone use at night hinders your ability to get good sleep, but it messes with your mornings, too. Pushing back your first phone check even one hour can be massively beneficial. That’s because those first, fuzzy morning minutes between sleep and full-on social engagement are when new ideas (even Eureka! moments) often appear — but only if we don’t crowd them out with Instagram feeds. (P.S. “My phone is my alarm!” isn’t an excuse: You can spend $20 on an old-fashioned radio clock.)
Proust called reading “that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude.” In person and online, we’re always arguing our points of view and trying to stand out, but traditional reading — with a static, paper book — encourages the elimination of the ego. Psychologists and brain researchers have found that a good story can help us “become” the protagonist — we exercise our empathy and rehearse the lives of others. In the process, that desire to chat, share and stay connected quiets down.
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Write a love letter
The average length of messages sent on online dating site OKCupid has dropped from 400 characters to 100 characters over the past decade, according to co-founder Christian Rudder. Mobile tech encourages us to groom each other constantly — and with shorter bursts of affection. It’s easy enough to break that pattern: Grab a pen and a notepad, and head to the café. Writing to someone you love from a place of real separation, where you aren’t constantly checking for quick emotive texts or Snapchats, opens you up to whole new ways of appreciating your significant other. Letter writing is also a good entry-level hit of solitude for those who struggle to embrace it, since, as Vivian Gornick put it, “to write a letter is to be alone with [your] thoughts in the conjured presence of another person.”
Michael Harris is the author of Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World, now out from St. Martin’s Press.