When is the last time you experienced solitude? When were you last alone to think and do and be as you please, without interruption?
There are significant, leadership-enhancing benefits to solitude. This week’s tip is an exploration of those benefits as well as some ways for you to incorporate solitude into your leadership journey.
- Solitude is a place where your leadership voice becomes clear. When you are overwhelmed with a cacophony of input it’s challenging to know your position on an issue or to make the best decision. Solitude enables a leader to regain perspective and get in touch with himself or herself. Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude shares story after story of the impact solitude had on a variety of leaders as they wrestled with challenging circumstances.
- Solitude helps you make smart changes. It’s tough to pause and ponder important questions when you’re constantly on the go, distracted by technology or with people all the time. Taking time for yourself gives you an opportunity to eliminate distractions for long enough to reflect on your work, your relationships and the course of your life so that you can assess whether changes are necessary. Our company has implemented 90-day planning cycles which incorporate time for personal reflection and renewal. It’s radically improved our strategy execution and how we make smart changes.
- Solitude can be enhanced with a journal. Writing things down enables you to interpret your responses and better identify and manage your stress. It’s like emptying your brain onto paper, instead of venting to a family member or friend. You don’t need to write a long, laborious journal entry. Imagine capturing a few sentences each day about what you did or how you’re feeling. Ove time this can help you stay on track, and it can lead to healing, to new insights, to sparks of creativity, as well as strengthening your resolve to reach your goals. We often use a journal as a processing tool to think through something more thoroughly.
- There is an off switch! It’s essential to periodically pause the social snacking. How often do you indulge in social junk food like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? In her book Alone Together, Sherry Turkle writes, “How do you get from connection to isolation? You end up isolated if you don’t cultivate the capacity for solitude, the ability to be separate, to gather yourself. Solitude is where you find yourself so that you can reach out to other people and form real attachments.”
- Create Sacred Space – unplug from all external distractions, and close the door if you are at risk of interruption. One CEO we work with uses a long commute as his sacred space for solitude. You may appreciate a walk in the park, sitting in front of a fireplace or watching the tide roll in and out by the ocean. Wherever that space is for you, go there and make the time for solitude. Be alone with yourself and use that time to process the deeper questions that you don’t have time for in the daily drone of life.
- Just Do It – schedule the time; get up early, use your lunch time or get to work before everyone else. Leaders are busy people. If you don’t set aside the time, it will never happen.
- Solitude delivers cognitive benefits of increased creativity, concentration, and capacity. When you disengage from external demands, you free up the mental space to focus on longer-term projects, bigger-picture thinking and VUCA problems. Stepping away from daily routines and relentless connectivity allows a leader to connect ideas, challenges, problems, and insights in new ways. By simply thinking about one thing at a time, new options, opportunities, and unexpected solutions emerge.
There is a difference between loneliness and solitude. Both experiences involve being alone. Loneliness is a negative state marked by a sense of isolation. Solitude is a positive state where the choice is to turn inward and connect with yourself. Unfortunately, this seems to be a significant challenge for many people. In numerous studies, people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative. Survey results showed that participants preferred mundane external activities or even administering electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts!
You have an opportunity to shift your mindset about being alone, to see it as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. When you honor your need for solitude, you will experience immeasurable improvement in your ability to lead.
As Stephen Covey said, “Personal leadership is not a singular experience. It is, rather, the ongoing process of keeping your vision and values before you and aligning your life to be congruent with those most important things.” Solitude is how leaders maintain congruency.