Spending time alone feels easy for some of us, but for others it is a skill that doesn’t come naturally. Oftentimes this trait correlates with where an individual’s personality falls on the introversion/extroversion scale. However, whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you may find that being intentional about how you spend your alone time enhances and enriches your experience of yourself.
When I was working in New York City, I had a client named Asher* who found that, after moving to the city, he was more alone that he had ever been. Although he lived with his girlfriend, had several close friends already living in the city, and was always in close proximity to the other 8.5 million New Yorkers, he spent most of his time alone. He primarily worked from home, his girlfriend worked late, and hanging out with friends a few times a week just didn’t seem like enough. Asher found that he felt bored, drained, and sad when he wasn’t regularly interacting with people. He attributed this to his identification as an extrovert. We discovered through therapy that, while this personality trait did likely play a role, it wasn’t the full story.
When I asked Asher how he spent the free time he had by himself, he had a hard time answering the question. He was able to list watching tv and surfing the internet as two of his daily activities, but he didn’t have an awareness about how he spent the remainder of his time. This lack of awareness, which I’m sure we can all relate to (have you ever been asked, “how was your weekend?” only to find that you can’t remember what you did?) came from a lack of intentionality. Asher wasn’t doing anything with intention. He was going through the motions. When we realized this, he agreed that learning to be more mindful about how he spent his free time would likely benefit him.
To expand his self care options, Asher made a list of activities that he could do by himself in order to have fun. The list included watching tv and going on the internet, but was expanded to also include things like cooking a meal, meditating, sketching, reading, going to a museum, biking through central park, playing the keyboard, and more. Some of the things on this list, Asher had actually already been doing, but hadn’t been focused on the activity while doing it. He found that when he was lonely or sad, picking up his list, choosing an activity, and deciding to fully engage in it helped him feel better.
Do you ever catch yourself going through the motions? What kinds of things help you to remain intentional and mindful about how you're spending your alone time? I would love to hear from you in the comments!
*I have changed Asher's name and identifying information to protect the privacy of my clients.