Are You Afraid to Be Alone with Your Thoughts?

UPDATED: September 2, 2014
PUBLISHED: September 2, 2014

Before my family and I left for our European vacation a few weeks ago, I did what was needed to make sure I had a phone that would work overseas. I wanted to stay in touch with and be available for my office, but despite my best efforts, the phone failed me in Europe.

I was frustrated at first, but my “broken” phone was actually a blessing in disguise—my unplugged life turned out to be one of the greatest things about the trip. I had a chance to enjoy where I was, what I was doing, who I was doing it with and, at times, just being alone and thinking without interruption.

In our hectic world, we don’t have time to be alone anymore. A New York Times article reported on this universal problem for the modern world—people feel overextended, have full schedules and are overcommitted. Whenever we have a quiet moment for reflective thought, we often avoid it by escaping to our mobile devices. I’m sure many of us are guilty of this (I know I am).

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by your own schedule? When asked how we are doing, it is very typical for people to respond with “busy.” We live in a culture where our free time is just as hectic as our work lives and, when we aren’t at work, our lives are packed with activities, leaving little to no breathing room to just think.

The truth is that this busy lifestyle is mostly due to our own behavior and choices, rather than outside considerations. Recently, Science published a study that examined the lengths people will go to in an effort to avoid their own introspection. The results stated that people generally find it unpleasant to be alone in a room with their thoughts.

Timothy Wilson, a University of Virginia psychology professor and author of the study, was quoted in the New York Times article as saying, “We have noted how wedded to our devices we all seem to be and that people seem to find any excuse they can to keep busy.” It is clear that our busy, connected world is a great escape and excuse from confronting our own realities.

Tips from the Great Ones

Charlie Ward, retired NBA player and former quarterback of the Florida State Seminoles, was one of the most fantastic college players of all time. I can remember talking with Coach Bobby Bowden about his star player, and he shared with me that a great piece of Ward’s success had come from his ability to be introspective.

Bowden told me that Charlie was “the kind of guy who could spend six hours in a room by himself and never be alone.” Ward had the ability to be comfortable in conversation with himself. This was a special glimpse into what made Ward so effective both on and off the field. It was one of the characteristics that contributed to him becoming a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, a first-round draft pick in the NBA and, now, as a successful high school football coach.

Some of the greatest winners of our time are also the most introspective. They understand the value of mental preparation and quiet self-reflection even during the most challenging moments of their lives. 

One of the most memorable scenes of the last few NBA Finals is LeBron James lying on the floor in the locker room before a game reading a book. He turned away from his social media presence during that period to instead be more at peace.

Our busy society is averse to this kind of thinking. We have conditioned ourselves to the busyness of life; however, long-term avoidance of our emotions has been linked to a range of troubles and physical illnesses.

We are only harming ourselves by ignoring ourselves. Think about that. Introspection is an overlooked practice that can bring clarity, peace of mind and even help solve problems. If you had to spend a little time by yourself, would you be alone? Or, like Charlie Ward, would you be comfortable facing your own thoughts and emotions?

Introspection may also be a way for you to create a positive vision for yourself, which could lead to uncommon success. In a world that has many distractions, do yourself a favor and spend some time disconnected. The peace of mind that you receive might make all the difference in how you view your life.

Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”—Guillaume Apollinaire