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Shawn Parr: Why We All Need Some Alone Time

How to conquer our anxiety about being alone in this hyper-connected age.

I take my iPhone with me everywhere. It never leaves my side—and as a self-prescribed I.D.I.O.T, it’s always on. For some reason, I’m convinced that I should look at it every five minutes. It’s my adult pacifier that I can’t live without, and as a result I have a false sense of connectedness. I’m never alone because I’m always connected, always surfing, texting and talking—and while I love Jony Ive’s design brilliance, I despise the dependence and control this device has on me.

Fast forward to last Tuesday night when my flight landed at JFK, I reached for my iPhone and discovered the battery was dead. My anxiety level went through the roof. How was I going to check my email, voicemail and texts? How was I going to contact the driver who was circling the airport waiting to pick me up? First World problems can be easily solved, I jumped in the cab line and headed into the city disconnected from the world at large. Behold, I survived the 45-minute ride to the hotel without my phone and my social network. I checked-in at 11:00 pm, starving, and I grabbed a table for one at the hotel restaurant. I rarely eat alone and I make it a rule to never eat alone in New York. This was a sudden act of social bravery. As I sat at a candlelit table and stared out at all of the connected, happy, conversational couples and groups filling the air with chatter, I suddenly felt very alone and socially awkward. People don’t eat alone in New York, so what does this say about me? I’m alone, I’m not interesting enough and I’m certainly not talking on my dead phone so I can’t look loved, important or connected.

Overcoming the feelings of being alone and uncomfortable, I decided (or convinced myself) that I actually liked being at dinner alone and phoneless with no one to talk to or entertain, except myself. I ate dinner slowly, appreciating the tastes and textures more than usual, and I casually observed the crowd. I studied my surroundings and picked up on the moods and attitudes in the room. I became a cultural voyeur, a fly on the wall, and realized what a privilege it is to be alone for small periods of time to relax and reflect. I realized that I like myself just enough to take “me” out for dinner and have a conversation in my head, watch the world go by, and enjoy recharging my brain.

As I sat at the candlelit table, time seemed to slow down just a little. I felt a sense of calm that I don’t normally feel when I’m eating with others; and I realized I could benefit from being alone and without technology a little more often. I also realized that being a cultural and operational voyeur is an experience that every executive could benefit from. Being in the field and seeing what real people experience is a must. The importance of alone time in a social setting can help to increase ones power of observation, critical thinking and the ability to pay attention to the smallest of details.

Here are a few important benefits of a little alone time:

1. Time to be with just you

We depend on others for connection, inspiration, energy, and love most of the time. Spending time alone with your own thoughts is revitalizing. It’s amazing the conversations you’ll start to have with yourself and the ideas that materialize as a result.

2. Time to be silent 

The only time I’m silent is when I’m asleep or surfing. Silence is golden, especially when you’re surrounded by a lot of talkers and constant ambient noise. Being silent can give you a sense of calm and satisfaction.

3. Time to be disconnected 

Disconnecting from your phone means you pay attention to, and appreciate the details of your surroundings, of the products you use and the service you receive.

4. Time to be uncomfortable 

How often do you put yourself in an uncomfortable position? It’s a simple way to be comfortable within your discomfort.

5. Time to reflect

It’s a great way to spend some time reflecting on where you are in life and what’s most important to you.

6. Time to observe

There’s nothing like observing everything going on around you – and making note of what you see.

7. Time to appreciate

You can be alone in a coffee shop, a restaurant, or on a mountaintop—but regardless of where you are, carve out regular alone time to reflect and appreciate what you have.

Shawn Parr is the CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego. Clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, Ideo, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie’s Homegrown, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, CleanWell, The Honest Kitchen, and World Vision. Follow the conversation at @BULLDOGDRUMMOND.

[Image: Flickr user alpal17]

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