balancing human connection with solitude

Too much of anything is bad. And this applies to both human connection and solitude as well. 

Too much connectivity or too much time alone can be detrimental for your health, happiness and productivity. That’s why it’s good to maintain a constructive balance between them as we navigate our day-to-day life. 

Solitude, which Cal Newport defines as time spent free from inputs from other minds (picked from another book called Lead Yourself First), is something that we all need on a consistent basis. It’s indispensable for our growth and knowing our priorities, and gives our brain a much-needed recharge. But the current smartphone culture is pushing us towards what Newport calls “solitude deprivation.” We are constantly sucking all solitude from our lives by glancing at our smartphone screens at every possible encounter with boredom. This is far from healthy; it significantly increases anxiety, robs us of the opportunity to process things and experiences and negatively impacts our self-development. 

On the flip side, as Ben Franklin reflected in his journal, solitude is important, but excess solitude makes one miserable. So how do we balance spending time connecting with other humans with having some alone time just to think and develop our insight?

First, we can schedule pockets of time to experience solitude on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, whether it be through meditating, journaling, reviewing, or going to a quiet place and just thinking. We all know the success maxim that what gets scheduled gets done. When we plan and schedule ahead, it helps us prioritize these windows of solitude in this chaotic and convoluted world. 

Next, we can make deliberate attempts to distance ourselves from our devices by setting healthy boundaries for ourselves. Setting dedicated hours to use your laptop computer, letting go or minimizing your access to digital devices before you wind down and go to sleep, and setting limits to how much video content you consume every day and every week can be good starting points. 

Lastly, we must overcome our overdependence on our smartphones. Smartphone addiction is real, and it’s good if we create periods of vacuum where we don’t have instant access to them. Newport advises to spend at least some time without your phone most days just to get in touch with solitude on a regular basis and attenuate your incessant craving to engage and connect. It can be simple and easy things like leaving your phone at home when you go for a walk in the neighborhood or leaving it in the car when you visit a park.

Both human connection and solitude are incredibly important, and the right balance can work wonders for us and bring some life-changing benefits both in our personal and professional lives.