Alone time

At the end of last week I responded to a tweet from Kat Vellos that asked:

How long can you go without alone time before you lose your mind?

I opened a new tweet to respond and found I needed a good few goes to articulate my thoughts… and even then, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d captured the nuance of it in a single tweet. So what better way to explore my thinking that in this week’s newsletter.

The question was directed at introverts and, while I don’t think about myself as an introvert, I felt compelled to answer. This got me thinking about what we understand by the term introvert. The Cambridge Dictionary definition of an introvert is “someone who is shy, quiet, and prefers to spend time alone rather than often being with other people”. When I read this I get confused. I’m quiet, yes, but not shy. I like to spend time alone, but I thrive on connection. I just I know I need to factor in recovery time after spending too long around other people. I like how Pete Mosley explains why labels like this are inadequate in his article I’m a quiet person. Am I an introvert — or what, exactly?

The truth is we all pop up in many different places on our own unique existential scatter graph of introversion, confidence, flow, joy, energy – so many variables…

We’re all unique and complicated and assigning ourselves (and others) simplistic labels like this can at best be unhelpful and at worst be damaging.

I think that’s also why my answer to the question that sparked this thinking isn’t straightforward. Again, it depends on so many variables.

First, there’s the context of the situation. It depends on the size of the group, the activity and the consistency of the interaction. If I’m spending time with my partner or close friends then I can go longer without being completely alone. However, if someone is staying with us that requires significant down-time afterwards, as does spending time in large groups or new environments.

Next, there’s a question of frequency and duration. The longer I go without a period of quality alone time, the longer I need to recover.

And finally, for me, there’s a distinction between alone time and down time. Being “on” drains my energy, and so I need to spend my alone time recharging. If I’m doing anything, it will be stuff that doesn’t require me to think.

I wonder if this feels particularly relevant now, after so long not being able to spend time with people. There’s a clamour from all corners to meet up and while there’s a definite desire for that to happen, there’s a balance to be struck.

I’m interested in your perspective on this…

  • What mix of time spent alone and with others do you thrive on?
  • Is that reflected in how you spend your time right now?
  • What do you, or could you, do to make sure you a) have the right balance, and b) factor in recovery time if needed?

Get more ideas like this

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Gathered Thoughts.

Every week I share an original article and a handful of links on themes of personal development, productivity and living well.

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about emma

I am a coach and facilitator helping people to pause, reflect and make conscious choices about what comes next. In my writing I explore themes of personal development, reflective practice and what it means to live well.