This isn’t a hermit-advocacy notice, nor is it a cure-all for a creativity slump. Simply a note to suggest that incorporating moments of solitude into your everyday routine may be just the thing you need to shake up your creative process.
Endless comparisons and collaborations with other creators may have stunted your original thinking. Whether online media or a group work activity, your creative mind cannot breathe between the constant revisions and redirection spurred on by other people’s criticisms.
Let’s look as some of the reasons, how and why, you should bring a little more mindful solitude into your life.
Are you a daydreamer? An inventor? A Writer?Whatever your craft, time spent musing over it alone will bring about hidden pathways and secret doors you have been wandering past obliviously.
Better off Alone
For one, you feel less self-conscious when you’re alone; you have no one to perform to, no one to impress, or let down, or pander to.
It allows to you concentrate on the task in hand rather than what image of yourself you are projecting out into the world.
This frees up your creative impulses – you can present ideas, ponder over them for a while, then think them through to completion, all without the judgment of others.
That isn’t to say other people’s opinions aren’t helpful. However, the collaborative process is far more beneficial when you can bring your fully formed ideas to the table and be proud, rather than nervous, about what you’re preaching.
Susan Cain, author of the book ‘Quiet’ agrees that “Solitude is a crucial and underrated ingredient for creativity”.
It lets your ideas marinate, for as long as it is needed. Five minutes here, an hour commute there. The flexibility for, and abundance of, alone time is immense.
Where it is possible to intentionally turn down the stimuli, the outside voices, and distractions, a whole world full of self-awareness and reflection is available. Reflecting on your life throughout a creative pursuit can be a way of self-transformation. Introducing openness and authenticity into what you create, giving a higher value of meaning.
On Your Terms
Research by Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi concluded that exceptional creators are more likely to be introverted.
But don’t get too big-headed. It is partially due to an introvert’s natural tendency to prefer the peace of their own company than the collaboration of group conversations.
It is important to note, however, that this doesn’t mean all introverts like to be alone.
Less stimulated? Perhaps. An introvert’s primary source of energy comes from introspective processes, preferring less stimulation than our extrovert counterparts. A scenario that might drive extroverts completely loopy with restlessness may be serene to introverts.
But solitude has an adjustment period. As Jean-Paul Sartre says: “If you are lonely when you’re alone, you are in bad company”.
When planning time alone it is important to remember your intentions to feel in control and avoid appearing antisocial. Set a time, and time limit, remembering that humans are social creatures.
Make Solitude Sacred
There’s some fun in it too. An element of choice and self-indulgence.
It is down to you whether you spend this alone time doing something you like or even not doing anything at all. (see: classic forms of meditation)
Make it sacred, and make it a habit.
Solitude should be mindful to be effective, it should be intentional to be enjoyable, and it should be consistently practised to be rewarding.
Now that isn’t to say you have to make like a Buddhist monk; all ‘ohms’, crossed legs and zen.
Keep it simple. Take a long walk around a new part of town, explore a museum, watch a sunset, take a mini-break! You get the picture, do whatever you like, but do it alone.
The novelty of experiencing something unfamiliar in solitude may spur on a kind of eureka moment. With the mental space to process the present moment, just you and what you’re experiencing is an underappreciated tool for creativity.
There’s a reason for the cliche that you always think of your best ideas in the shower. The unconscious routine, mindlessly washing your body and hair, that you do day-in-day-out, lets your mind wander unrestrained.
In this state, your mind is free to uncover solutions and inspirations that you were straining too hard to find in other, more stimulated, scenarios.
Solitude As An Art Form
Nikola Tesla, the ingenious creator and engineer, said “The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives when it is free of outside influences. Be alone–that is the secret of invention. That is where ideas are born”.
He brings up a very interesting topic of conversation when he talks about the importance of ‘uninterrupted solitude’. The theory of Flow.
The Flow State, otherwise known as ‘being in the zone’ is a mental state where a person is deeply immersed within an activity for a lengthy amount of time whilst maintaining high energy and enjoyment for the challenge.
This usually leads to high work satisfaction and deep learning, and can usually only be achieved after removing outside distractions, i.e. working in solitude.
This isn’t surprising. Think back to learning an instrument as a child, or studying for an exam, or revising your multiplication tables. You know how to practice effectively and efficiently. The key to developing your abilities involves a degree of solitude.
But mastering your craft takes discipline.
You may feed the longing for somebody’s input, twitching towards your phone to quickly text a colleague for their opinion, it is in this moment where you need to find the confidence to search for the answer alone.
There may be a barrage of emotions and memories once you finally make time alone with yourself, it’s about sifting through those and finding your solution from within.
Let the solitude feed your creativity, ultimately, revealing a product that is far more creative and personal than you could’ve ever dreamt up in a board meeting.
One At a Time
Are you a daydreamer? An inventor? A writer?
Whatever your craft, time spent musing over it alone will bring about hidden pathways and secret doors you have been wandering past obliviously. What’s down these pathways and mysterious doors is for you to discover.
A session of deep thought may churn up countless throwaway ideas and feel like a waste of time, but, have faith in the process.
Commit to the Problem vs Yourself.
You may stumble across the perfect solution to a long term problem, find yourself lost in the flow state, unable to break focus, immersed deep into a project that used to make your headache just by thinking about it.
The brain isn’t built to multi-task well. Simply thinking about one thing at a time is a luxury in a society fighting for every second of your attention.
Take It One Step Further…
…Silence – the most natural of human states, is uncomfortable for many people, exemplifies our place in the age of distraction.
A 2014 study asked people to choose between sitting for six to 15 minutes in a room alone, with no other stimulation, or administering themselves an electric zap. A frankly shocking portion, (67% of men and 25% of women), opted for the jolt rather than a brief period of solitude.
Are humans this appalled by boredom? It’s natural now to whip out a smartphone to escape yourself, instead of a fleeting moment of quiet time.
And it is no surprise that this is detrimental to introverts. Where the norm is the quick dopamine rush of an iPhone game to avoid doing nothing, introverts may feel disconnected from themselves due to limiting their self-reflection time.
Nowadays everything is go, go, GO! to the point that people often feel guilty for taking time out of their day to do nothing. This is partly due to people’s negative association with solitude – equating it to lonesomeness, unproductivity and antisocial behaviour.
It needs serious re-brand. The Ingenuity of Boredom.
Researchers have confirmed time and time again that creative insight arrives, not when the brain is in a focused and strained state, but when it is at ease.
Is society depriving itself of deep introspection with constant connection? Can introverts simply save their creativity by listening to their biological need for solitude?
For every worthwhile action, there is often a sacrifice to be made in the present for its benefits to be seen down the road. A workout at the gym, or even the unexceptional 8 hours we give to sleep so we can wake up refreshed. It’s important to take a long term view.
Turn down the volume of the outside world and tune into your inner thoughts.