Issue #7: How to *actually* enjoy alone time
What I've learnt in three years of writing/podcasting about alonement, plus resources, tips & further reading.
Alone time has become a trend. This isn’t me doing a Gretchen Wieners from Mean Girls and trying to make fetch (alonement) happen – it really is a thing. From the #dateyourself posts trending across social media (58.2 million views on TikTok, at time of writing) to the post-pandemic solo travel boom, there’s a strain of empowered, positive solitude that’s been emerging for years – starting, perhaps with the publication of Eat, Pray, Love in 2006 – and there’s no sign of it going away.
This was, of course, expedited by the giant social experiment no one asked for that happened during the pandemic, hoicking up solitude to the top of the cultural agenda like never before. In the run-up to 2020, I was recording a podcast on alone time (it was November 2019 when I turned up to the office of my first guest, philosopher Alain de Botton, with two budget mics from Amazon). Months later, I became the most accidentally on-trend I will ever be in my entire life.
Am I glad alonement got trendy? To be honest, it’s a double-edged sword, as it is when anything that’s fundamentally good for you (see also: yoga, meditation) becomes a trend. On the one hand, it spreads the message. In 2019, I found it so hard to communicate about positive alone time that I invented a word for it. Now, we have a broader cultural shorthand. Yet, when something that’s good for you ‘trends’, it inevitably becomes a ‘Should’. It gets prettified on Instagram, like those impossibly-chic journalling flat-lays; or taken to competitive extremes on LinkedIn (‘I went on a 10-day silent retreat and this is what I learnt’); or jumped on by our capitalist overlords (solo retreat to Bali, anyone?) It gets a little bit shame-y, a little bit exclusive, a little bit expensive-sounding. And I don’t know how helpful that can be.
So let me wrench alonement back into the realm of the uncool. Because the more I discuss, read, think and write about alone time, the more it becomes clear that you can’t truly embrace its power without acknowledging that, sometimes, it sucks.
The obstacles that get in your way of enjoying alone time (according to readers)
Having the urge to check my phone
The need to be productive
Judgement from others
Watching Netflix/scrolling instead of doing what I really want to do
Not knowing what to do
In that vein, here’s my best advice on how to actually value alone time, based on both my own experience and the conversations I’ve had over the past three years.
How to get better at alone time
1. Find some way to be with the Bogeyman
One of the most common reasons for avoiding alone time is a fear of sitting with your thoughts. Which makes a lot of sense. For instance, most of us have a catty inner critic: that voice in our head that berates us when we’re home alone on a Thursday night, convincing us our closest friends are out at a fabulous, invite-only Christmas party drinking winter negronis with Dua Lipa. And yet, if you’re constantly drowning out your thoughts with distractions and other people, there’s a lot you miss out on: the joys of alonement, for a start.
So how do you face those thoughts? Some people find it helpful to treat their inner voice as an externalised force: Mo Gawdat famously refers to his as ‘Becky’, while I quite like author Michael Harris’ description of ‘The Bogeyman of the naked self’, probably just because ‘bogeyman’ is a funny word. The keener you are to avoid the Bogeyman, the more you’ll avoid time alone. But if you develop a healthier relationship with your thoughts – becoming aware of negative thought patterns, learning to tune in to the useful ones instead – then time alone becomes infinitely more appealing. Wrestling with the Bogeyman – and it is a lifelong journey – is the entrance fee for alonement. You could try therapy, you could try meditation, you could try journaling, you could try a Hot Girl Walk (explained below in The Coulds) – whatever works for you.
2. Work out how much alone time you need
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