Most of us are scared of being alone, for one reason or another, regardless of how short the duration. Maybe we’re scared to be alone with our thoughts because it’s not always sunshine and roses in there, or we’re scared to discover who we really are. Maybe we’ve never really been alone, so we’re scared of what to do when we’re alone, how to fill our time. All valid reasons.
But instead of learning to be comfortable alone, perhaps reflecting, or growing as a human being, we often turn to our phones or laptops, allowing our lives to be shaped through the influence of others via social media and texting. Even people who ARE comfortable being alone may do this. Why? Possibly because we put more faith and trust in other people to guide our lives than we do in ourselves. Or are we just being lazy in this new world of instant gratification?
We might give in to our Facebook and Instagram timelines, looking at friends’ and celebrities’ lives (“Wow, their lives are all so much better than mine! What gives?”). Some of us may even look for signs of those who seem to have it worse, closely examining their pictures for signs of “struggle” — wanting to prove that our lives are better than theirs. (“Wow, their couch is outdated!” or “They still have that Keurig model?”) This is all complete and total B.S. Most of us aren’t truly living our lives. We’re trying to build personas, what we think our lives ought to look like, based on what we observe from others online.
Instead, try something new. Step away from your phone, iPad, laptop, etc. Sit comfortably and make sure it’s quiet. No TV, no music, nothing. Sit and breathe and take it all in. And when you’re ready, close your eyes and continue to just be in the moment, finding a rhythm to your breathing, focusing only on that. Your mind will start to wander and your fingers will get itchy. They’ll want to reach for the phone, to see what’s happening. To fill time. To make you “feel” connected. To see what you’re missing during all of this quiet time.
Let me answer this for you now — you’re “missing out” on cat videos. Or people complaining about other people or things in their lives, or things that they think are missing from their lives. Or a friend has posted a new pic of her family, and it looks so perfect. You’ll get a twinge of jealousy, wondering why you don’t have that perfect life, where you went wrong, and is it too late for you to get what she has? And guess what — she doesn’t even have it herself. It’s a façade. A fabrication. No one’s life is perfect. Everyone has pain and struggles. She’s just not posting those. Instead, she’s choosing to only share the good, or maybe just that one picture where everything seems perfect, but it’s still not perfect. It’s not done maliciously, it’s just done to make herself feel better. A little reassurance. Especially once the “they’re so cute!”, “you’re so lucky!”, “what a beautiful family!”, “you look gorgeous!” comments start rolling in.
So don’t reach for that phone. Hold your hands tight together if you must, but don’t give in. Don’t succumb to ego, sitting on your shoulder, asking you what’s it gonna hurt, just a quick peek at Facebook?
How I Disconnected
Do what I did the weekend before last and have done every day since. Put down the phone. Close the social media tabs in your laptop’s browser. Take it first one minute at a time (because those first 1-2-5-15-30-60 minutes will be hard, trust me). Then an hour at a time, a day, a week, and so on.
I’m lucky because I got my willpower (some call it stubbornness — whatever works) from my grandpa. He was once diagnosed with cancer and his doctor told him he needed to quit smoking, so he did that very second. He never had another one again. (And it made me enjoy our hugs a lot more, that’s for sure.)
I did the same thing with social media. I give myself a few minutes a day on Facebook and Instagram and that’s it, and only when I’m at home alone. I’ve shared a few noteworthy articles and videos on this very topic on Facebook, but usually just through the sharing functionality built into those articles and videos themselves. I even turned off all social media notifications. It’s been so freeing!
At first it was tough — normally in the morning I’d roll over, grab my phone, and check Facebook and Instagram immediately. For the first couple of days, feeling like I still needed to scratch that digital itch, I’d open my Google app and read a few news articles. Then I was able to wean myself off my phone completely by grabbing a book from my nightstand and reading for a bit — just to give myself that little information fix that I was craving. Or maybe instead I’d turn on the TV in my bedroom to check the weather (I’m a bit of a weather nut), then shut it off, turn on some music, and get out of bed. But no more phone! It’s actually pretty easy after the first few days.
I’ve never really had a big issue with being alone. For one thing, I love the quiet. I grew up on a farm and loved getting up early, sometimes stepping outside to listen to the sounds of the world waking up. And there were no sirens, no horns honking, no neighbors nearby (just one about half a mile or so away), nothing. It’s heaven out there.
Of course, as I got older it became more and more difficult to sit and enjoy the quiet without thoughts of various life struggles popping up in my head. I try to acknowledge the thoughts and then let them go, sometimes imagining each one in its own balloon, being released into the air. As a Christian I’ll also pray, surrendering to God and handing my burdens over to Him. Whatever works for you. It’s not an easy process, especially if you’re an overthinker (I’m a recovering one myself), but it does help.
Reconnect To Yourself
Being comfortable with being alone doesn’t have to consist solely of breathing and balloon visualizations. It can be something like curling up in a comfy chair with a book and a cup of tea, or doing a puzzle (I love Dell’s Math Puzzles & Logic Problems magazines — I grew up on them), working on a jigsaw puzzle, reading a magazine, taking your dog for a walk, etc. When I’m stressed and need a break, I love working on a jigsaw puzzle and throwing on a movie or a couple of episodes of a TV show, especially when it’s a favorite show that I’ve watched several times (for me it’s shows like Buffy, Wynonna Earp (a new favorite), and Alias, and comedies like Scrubs and Parks & Rec). Comfort food-type shows. Maybe a dash of Battlestar Galactica thrown in for good measure.
I find that I still do a lot of thinking — good things, plans for the future, my life, etc. — when I’m doing any of the above things because it puts me in a place of safety and comfort. And besides — I know Buffy, Wynonna, Sidney Bristow, or Starbuck will have my back, should the less-than-fun thoughts start to creep in, or the Cylons (I know they’re not real — yet).
Abnormal Is The New Normal
It’s not nearly as “normal” for people to do this these days, for people to be alone with themselves and their thoughts. Turning to social media and texting is almost automatic — the first thing often turned to when they fill the need to kill time, or to prevent boredom. I haven’t been bored in years.
And the funny/sad/insane/[insert word here] thing is that people often aren’t even alone when they decide to reach for their phones. They’re with other people: family, friends, even during meetings while on the job. It still seems incredibly rude to me, but now it’s so commonplace that it’s actually almost the norm and accepted (although still frowned upon by some — ahem).
As a result, we’re losing our capacity to communicate face to face, to have a real conversation. Rather than take time to talk and listen, instead we go for instant gratification. We’re losing our humanity.
The Danger Of Not Reconnecting
I read a blog post the other day (yes, I saw it posted on Facebook — but it was two days before I disconnected) displaying around 50 different pictures of malls in 1989, during their heyday. You couldn’t miss the obvious — the amazing hairstyles and fashion, stores like “Tape World” going strong (ah, those were the days…) but I noticed two other things right away as well.
First, groups of friends were actually talking to each other. Talking, laughing, having fun. With each other. In person. Face to face. With eye contact. These days if you see groups of friends out together (regardless of whether they’re kids, teenagers, or adults), odds are pretty good that they’re heads down looking at their phones, connecting to people somewhere else (usually just acquaintances if not complete strangers), rather than enjoying the company of the people they’re with. They’re completely out of the moment and not present at all, and might as well be at home doing the exact same thing. It’s incredibly sad.
And second, most people were thin and appeared healthy. They walked around the mall for hours, having fun, getting exercise without even intending to. Being active was a part of life. It was part of being social and in the moment.
Awhile back I watched the movie Wall-E, and for a 2008 movie it was eerily prescient. Echoing what’s happening now, and what may come if we’re not careful: sedentary people in motorized wheelchairs, connected to technology 24/7, everything being done automatically for them (like the absolute worst version of The Jetsons), and very little (if any) communication with other people.
This is nearing at a faster and faster pace, as technology and its interconnectedness are increasing exponentially. We’re allowing our reliance on technology to become greater and greater as well, without pausing to consider the consequences, which are dire.
It’s Not Too Late To Reconnect
We must curb this before it’s too late. We need to increase our self-awareness and start making conscious decisions each and every time — do we pick up our phone and check Facebook, do we talk to the people around us, genuinely taking an interest in them, or do we simply pick up a book, if we’re alone? THAT is how we start to recapture our humanity. One conscious, thoughtful decision at a time — choosing the person (or our ourselves if we’re alone) over the phone. Choosing interaction over inaction.
Neale Donald Walsch once said that “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” and it’s a quote that I’ve embraced over the last few years. One day I noticed that my comfort zone included immediately grabbing my phone to check Facebook or Instagram when I had a spare minute that I felt needed to be filled, or as a treat for finishing something I’d been working on. To step out of my comfort zone I started making a conscious effort to not automatically reach for my phone but instead just be. Be present, be in the moment. Right here, wherever you are. Be there. Not online, but here.
While waiting in line at the bank or grocery store, for example — instead of looking down at Facebook, look around. Be observant. Be in the moment. Strike up a conversation with someone in line. And when you get to the clerk, make eye contact. Say hi. Be friendly. Ask how their day is going. Be genuinely interested and smile. You’d be surprised how big a little gesture like that can be to someone. It can turn a whole day around.
The key is to be in the moment. Wherever you are, be there. Don’t take selfies to capture the moment, then spend five minutes finding the right Instagram filter to use, and then another five minutes crafting the best caption and hashtags. Instead, just be there. Look around. Soak it all in. If you’re out at dinner enjoy your food one bite at a time. Savor your drink one sip at a time. Don’t take a picture of your meal for others to see. Enjoy your meal for yourself.
Enjoy the company that you’re with. Be genuinely interested in them. Ask questions and listen with the intent to understand, not reply. Have an actual conversation and be excited, knowing that you will learn something new during every conversation. Everyone is an expert on something, and everyone is different, bringing their own life experiences and wisdom to the table.
The people in front of you every day are fascinating creatures, usually craving connection and real, true conversation, so be the person who gives them that gift today. You’ll find that your actions will create a ripple effect, helping to change the world for the better, one person at a time.
Just remember this — you’ve never heard of a dying man (or woman) saying that they regretted not spending more time on Facebook (or Instagram).
It’s the moments that they wish they’d had more of: more time spent with friends and family, more time talking around the dinner table, more time in the living room napping/watching football with the family after Thanksgiving dinner (always a popular one in my house growing up — and I wouldn’t trade the sound of those snores for anything). More memories. More connections. That’s where true happiness lies.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, so please leave a comment below. Do you agree, disagree? What can you do today to encourage reconnecting in your own life and the lives of those around you?