You’ve been told to slow down. Take time to relax and care for yourself. But you don’t. You’ve got too much to do and too many people depending on you. Besides, society prizes the over-worked, self-sacrificing type. Those long days and short nights, starting early and finishing late, or doing things for others can be worn like a badge of honour. We’re too important to take care of ourselves.
Each of us can run down a list of the things we need to do and the people who need something from us. The reality is, you’re no good to yourself, or anyone for that matter, if you can’t take time to care for yourself, stay healthy and remain energized.
It might sound selfish at first, and maybe it is. But think of it like the airplane oxygen masks; you’re told to put on yours first before helping someone else. Because if the oxygen does actually get sucked out of the plane, you may go unconscious before you have the chance to help anyone else. Then you’re no help to anyone.
You need to take time for yourself. And ideally every day. Even as little as 20 to 30 minutes can help clear your thoughts and refresh you. This time is for you, and no one else. It’s not for you to catch up on chores, go see that friend you’ve been trying to see for the past few months or use your phone to check Instagram. You need the time to be with your thoughts, not with someone else’s.
Setting aside time to be alone isn’t the same as being lonely. This time allows you to relax your mind of thoughts of people around you and not be concerned about what others are thinking. In a way, it can be liberating.
Your brain, while not a muscle, needs time to relax like a muscle. In doing so, it comes back recharged and ready to go. How productive are you when you haven’t slept well? Or at the end of an eight hour work day? Thoughts don’t come as easy when you have a million things going through your head, or you’re spent and can’t think at all. And most people find that spending time alone is the best way to rest.
While humans are social people, continually socializing and being around people can be tiring. There’s a trend for work environments to move to open-concept offices. While this is believed to enhance communication, it actually leads to decreased workplace satisfaction and productivity due to increased noise and reduced privacy.
I try to spend the first few moments of the morning on my own. A time when I can gather my thoughts before the busyness of the day starts. Later in the day, I’ll go outside for a walk. Some of my best ideas come during this time. Yes, I spend other time during the day alone, exercising, reading and/or watching TV. But those times I’m focused on what I’m doing. No different than when I’m sitting at my computer working, or talking to someone. The key is to spend the time in a way that you don’t have to think about anything.
Time alone is also one of the key elements to successful business leaders. Bill Gates goes as far as to spend a week alone in the forest twice each year he calls his think week. Many CEOs program this time into their calendars, or at least a regular practice that everyone around them knows about. It’s part of their work because they know ideas and thoughts don’t come to mind when you’re busy doing something. Spending purposeful time alone enhances creativity.
But not everyone is quick to grab onto the idea of spending time alone. Some people would rather receive electrical shocks than being alone with their thoughts. For whatever reason, being alone scares them. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it. Time alone can help you get to know yourself better. You become better able to listen to your own thoughts and concentrate. In the end, this can help in your relationships.
To make it work, you need to set this time aside and make it a priority. If you wait until you have the time, it may never happen. Mentally commit to a time or even book it into your calendar. This way it becomes something for you to look forward to. It may require giving something up, although I would argue the return on investment of that time will more than be worth it.
If it’s new to you, it will also be new to the people around you. You may no longer be accessible to those around you during that time. In that case, you should have a plan to communicate to them. Or you can fit it in at a time when no one else will really notice. Seeking support from those around you and letting them know this is important to you can be a big help. Remember, in order to take care of the people around you, you need to take care of yourself.
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