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The Value of Alone Time

Why is rest so hard to take? We’ve made routines around “go-go go!” Our to-do lists are never-ending. Many of us insist on overworking for fear of letting our teams down. We feel like we don’t have the luxury of time to slow down and simply be with ourselves. But taking time to reset, recharge, and be alone in silence is an underutilized tool for effective leaders: to recharge fully now is to invest in becoming our best.

So, in a commitment to fully recharge, I take 10 minutes to sit quietly alone in silence before the day begins. I do this to be present to my own body and thoughts before applying myself to the tasks and challenges I need to solve each day. I find that priming my days with dedicated time to sit with myself in silence is vital to my success, leaving me more self-aware, focused, and ready to face the day.

In our mindful silence blog post, we shared with you how intentional time alone is important for managing stress and transitioning between roles in daily and work life.  We recapped Luciano Bernardi’s 2006 study of the physiological effects of music, a study  that found the effects that different tones had on the brain.  the scientists surprisingly found measurable effects in blood pressure, carbon dioxide, and circulation in the brain during the time between tones.

Researchers found silent time between tones proved far more rejuvenating than “relaxing” music . The rejuvenation effect catalyzed by silence seemed to be heightened by the contrast to the preceding tones before and after the pause, suggesting that we benefit most from intentional silence when are the most busy.  

The importance of silent time is rooted in our physiology. Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Instead, we’re designed to pulse between spending and recovering energy. Refueling happens when we play – or immerse ourselves in an activity that brings us joy- in between bursts of productivity.

Most of feel the opposite impulse to keep working when we are stressed: to push through. But, as athletes understand well, the more energy we exert, the more recovery time we need.  Active rest days boost our immunity and put us at a lower risk for injury. We can use silence and solitude as a way to intentionally rest, putting our bodies in a cultivated rejuvenation state where we can fully recharge to be our best.

Unfortunately, thanks to technological advance, the expectation of “always on” productivity has grown to become unrealistic for our human bodies. We as a culture have become addicted to productivity: biochemically, dopamine is released when we get any notification, whether it be a like or an email asking us us to get more work done. In fact, researchers estimate that smartphone users check their devices every 6.5 minutes – 150 times per day!

Instead of dwelling in the uncertainty of the future, we can choose to bring our attention back to what’s happening in the here and now, notice the subtle changes in between the moments of intense work, and schedule time to do nothing – a time to give your mind permission to roam creatively, to dwell in possibility. Silence and solitude, when embraced as tools to refuel, are likely to bring us joy and a sense of fulfillment- aka play.

Play is when you are completely consumed in an activity you truly enjoy.

“Aha!” moments don’t come when you are focused fully on the problem at hand. Instead, solutions often arrive when you do something else. Most of us can relate to having a revelation – a Eureka moment-  in the shower. These breakthrough moments tend to happen when we are in silence, solitude, and engaged in a mental state of imaginative play. Psychologists call this the incubation effect – when you’ve put in work beforehand and then give yourself time to let your mind engage in a joyful activity, then your unconscious creative mind is often able to overcome mental blocks.  

At a time when we seem to always be in a hurry, it’s a good reminder that taking a play break is a simple yet effective tool to boost creative problem-solving.

Here’s a list of research-backed benefits that the power of playful silence can bring:

  1. Improves attention span by 20%
  2. Allows for observation of our thoughts, which motivates us to take action.
  3. Builds imagination and positive emotions
  4. Improves the the “folding” of the cortex, which boosts our ability to process and recall information

We at Ziksana encourage you to find some time to incubate, to go to a space and find time where your mind to enter a state of play to fuel productivity to keep you at your best.

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