The Power of Solitude for the Busy Professional

But your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths.  —Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

P erpetually distracted. That’s us. We live in a state of nearly constant noise. Within this world we’ve created, focus and clarity can be very elusive. As I write this post, I glance up to the top of my browser and see 20+ tabs open. By themselves, these tabs are wonderfully efficient, allowing me to jump between websites I frequently use and monitor them quickly without repeatedly logging-in. On the other hand, they are little beacons, constantly calling to me to click and see what might be happening within that little window. Just typing these words makes it excruciatingly hard not to click on the familiar Facebook icon to check the latest update. You know of what I speak.

This is is our day. Work, conversation, and  movement sandwiched between the Tweets, Pins, Snapchats, Instagrams, Feeds, Scores, Updates, and numerous other distractions. The noise. I’m no Luddite with regard to the wonderful benefits accorded by so many of these technologies; they are powerful and effective. Our ability to communicate and collaborate has become boundless – a condition that empowers us while simultaneously entrapping us. A productively sinister addiction.

Our ability to communicate and collaborate has become boundless – a condition that empowers us while simultaneously entrapping us.

I don’t believe the answer is to retreat from these tools. However, I do believe they require us to be intentional with how they are managed and how they require us to manage ourselves. The insidious nature of these distractions is that we really don’t notice them. With the advent of the smartphone, alerts are perpetual, mobile, always present, and imperceptibly disruptive to us while being noticeably interruptive to those around us. For relationships, they are both connectors and creators of distance; a dichotomy of which we need to be very, very aware. We all see this, even as we reach for our phones to read the latest update.

Another, more subtle, casualty of this new age is often our creative flow. A curious effect of all of these sources of raw data is that they tend to crowd out new ideas and creative thought. Not being a neuro-scientist, I’m not going to try and analyze why or how this happens. I’m more concerned with how we manage it.

One answer to the disruptions is retreating to silence and solitude. This doesn’t have to be a pilgrimage to a far-off land; your retreat may be a room away in your house. I’ve recently started playing with this notion and have been delighted to learn that I am able to deliberately disconnect while opening channels to new ideas – my own creative flow. Over the last few weeks, I’ve spent 15 minutes each morning letting my mind wander…with intention. My process has been simple: a cup of coffee, no electronics, a quiet room, and the reading of a brief inspiration. Within five minutes, my mind has shifted gears and ideas are flowing. Before ten minutes has passed, I have to grab the notebook and write some things down before I lose them.

One answer to the disruptions is retreating to silence and solitude.

There is such power in being alone in silence. Some may find it disconcerting. Spiritual traditions of all flavors encourage us to find that place. For those of us trying to make our way in noisy corporate worlds, a few minutes of solitude and silence are priceless for both our sanity and our effectiveness. For me, I cannot get to that place in my office – I have to be completely separated from my work environment and I have found that early morning works best for me. There is a place for each of us if we’re willing to go there.

How do you find solitude to make room for new ideas? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Pick your place. We have a room in our house set up as a music room with a sitting area, a big window and comfy chairs. What will work for you? Perhaps a beach, a trail, a mountaintop, the shower, your bed, a coffee shop (with headphones and calming music), a conference room with nothing in it, your church, maybe even a car (please be careful!). Silence and solitude.
  2. Pick your time. As my day progresses, it is much harder for me to get in the correct frame of mind to embrace silence and solitude – morning is my time. We all have a time of the day when we are better able to sit still and clear our heads – block some time for yourself.
  3. Leave everything else behind. No phone. No computer. No TV. No magazines. No kids. Just you and your thoughts (and perhaps a cup of coffee!). I keep a notebook and pen nearby because I like to capture my thoughts as they stream. Leaving everything behind is both literal and figurative; go to your place and wander freely.
  4. Read a brief inspiration. Reading a brief inspiration does two things: it helps clear your mind by shifting your focus and it helps kick your creative energies into gear. Some options might be: scripture, poetry, a brief essay (maybe a Phillip Berry blog post!), or something you’ve written in your journal that is calming as it helps clear your head. If you want to contemplate in a particular direction, use something more specific. I find that regardless of what I read, my mind heads in its own direction if I allow it.
  5. Give your mind a few minutes to contemplate the inspiration. Pick a word or phrase and direct your attention to it. Roll it around in your head. From there, your mind will begin chugging along and you’ll find the silence being filled with thoughts and ideas.
  6. Turn off your judgment filter. A quick way to impair your creative flow is to assess your thoughts. Don’t! This is a judgment-free zone; you need to allow yourself to wander freely and not worry about quantifying, comparing, criticizing, or in any way judging your thoughts. Let them be. You’ll have the rest of your day to judge and be judged.
  7. Write things down. At some point during this process, you need to write your ideas/thoughts down. Once again, no judgment. Your thoughts may seem random. Your ideas may not be clear. That’s OK. Do your best to capture what you see in your mind. I tend to write notes in outline form so I often have one or two main points with several sub-bullets underneath. Writing the ideas down helps clarify them while making sure you don’t lose them once you pick your phone back up.

After a few days, you’ll have several pages of thoughts. A week later, you’ll be amazed. Not because all of your thoughts are brilliant or world-changing; but because you’ll get a clearer sense of what’s inspiring or troubling you. This process may reveal currents running underneath your day or it may provide solutions to concrete problems. It may do nothing but unplug you for a few minutes so you can turn the noise off. Whatever the concrete result, it will be good exercise for your mind and a soothing salve for your soul.


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