Have you ever felt like the pace of life is simply too much? Like you need some time out, just to catch up with yourself?
During this time of coronavirus and lockdown, it might be that one of the gifts you find is that time to get caught up. If so, I celebrate with you your sense of accomplishment and achievement.
Or, alternatively, it might be that this time has revealed that those tasks that had been hanging over you weren’t so important after all, when put into the context of global disruption and significant numbers of deaths.
Either way, I hope you have found a way to simplify, tidy up, and otherwise reduce your psychic overload, which has become an increasingly widespread and problematic aspect of human life over the course of the last few decades.
What follows is an excerpt from my new book, The Gifts of Solitude, which came out last Monday. As you will know if you’ve read my last few posts, I was inspired to write this book by the coronavirus crisis, and hearing that many people were struggling with feelings of fear, isolation, and loneliness. I spent up to five months completely alone when I was rowing solo across oceans, so I feel I am well qualified to offer some coping strategies – and above and beyond that, I also offer pointers to the beautiful gifts that come when we learn to be at ease in our own company.
The first half of the book is about surviving solitude, and is aimed at those who might feel they are drowning. The second half of the book is for those who already have their heads above water, and want to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as an accelerant to greater sense of purpose, emotional maturity and self-reliance.
The Amazon link (valid across all Amazon sites) is http://mybook.to/TheGiftsofSolitude. Please purchase, enjoy, and share the love! I would be most grateful if you can help to spread the word. If you’re on social media, here are some shareable posts to make this easy for you. Simply click on the link and share to your own channel.
I have also created a video about this, which includes some bonus material. Also available as audio only.
Right, on with the blog post…
For most of human history, life was relatively simple. We would interact mostly with the people from our family and our village. According to the British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, each of us can comfortably maintain around one hundred and fifty stable social relationships, a social circle in which we know who each person is, and how they relate to the other people in our group.
Yet now how many people do you try to keep tabs on, when you include family, friends, colleagues, and all the people you “know” through media and social media?
At the same time as having all these people in our orbits, we are also being bombarded with nonstop information. Scientists reckoned that in 2011 we were taking in (or at least, are subjected to) five times as much information as in 1986 – the equivalent of 174 newspapers per day. I don’t know about you, but it makes my head hurt just to think about it.
Bigger Input, Smaller Brain
In fact, on some level, it is making our heads hurt. It’s our neurons that are having to do all the heavy lifting to process all this information, and they get tired. Literally. They are living cells with their own little metabolic system, requiring glucose and oxygen (cue reminder of the first suggestion in this book: breathe!), so they don’t have infinite capacity – they can only do so much, depending on how much blood sugar and oxygen is available. Too often, the important and subtle gets crowded out by the trivial and in-your-face.
With our attention being a finite resource, in everyday life we often feel like we’re playing catch-up. We don’t even have the capacity to step back and get strategic about where we want to put our attention, because we’re too busy fire-fighting our way through the trivia.
Sadly, our brains haven’t evolved to keep up with the onslaught of information. Actually, I hate to break it to you, but there is evidence that the human brain has shrunk around ten per cent over the last five thousand years, probably because we require a smaller range of sensory perceptions now that we’re no longer hunter-gatherers, who lived or died by their senses. So our attentional deficit situation certainly isn’t getting any better.
So if you’ve ever wished you could step off the world for a while to get caught up with yourself, a time of solitude, enforced or otherwise, is a wonderful opportunity to slow down and get some perspective, to recalibrate, and decide what is really important to you.
Where Does the Time Go?
When you think back over the last year or so of your life, do you ever wonder where the time went? Possibly you don’t – you’re prioritising the things that are important to you, and investing your limited time and attention exactly where you want to.
Or maybe you’re human, like the rest of us.
I want to emphasise, I am absolutely not saying that we should all try to be super-productive, all of the time. I can’t stand productivity gurus reminding me that there are 10,080 minutes in a week, as if to waste a single one of them is a crime against humanity. Doing very little is a valuable activity in itself. Effectiveness is more important than efficiency, and effectiveness needs room to breathe.
I also believe – passionately – that we all need time to meander. Life can be about setting a goal and heading straight for it, like an arrow towards a target, but in my experience, that’s not all that much fun. Often we need to try out things that might seem random, but if our heart calls us to do them, there is probably treasure waiting for us there.
What I am saying is that it’s good to get to choose. If we’re always reacting to what’s being thrown at us from all directions – demands on our time, intellect, attention – we never get onto the front foot and decide how we want to spend our time, time that we can’t get back.
A pandemic is a good reminder that we may not have all the time in the world. Time is precious, our one non-renewable resource, and we never know how much we have. How do you want to use yours?
When you look back over the last year, how do you feel about how you spent your time? Did you spend it on the things that really matter to you? Are there some things that you could just as easily have skipped?
I have a list of questions called “Before I Say Yes”. The theory is that I have to answer in the affirmative to at least three of the following before I agree to do something, including the last one. I don’t always follow the theory, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good one.
- Is it necessary?
- Will it bring greater good to my life or the planet?
- Will it fail to happen without my participation?
- Do I really want to do it?
- Do I have the time?
If you knew you had just one year to live, what would your top priorities be? How do they compare with the way you’re spending your time now? What really matters to you? How can you make sure that you don’t have any regrets when you find that your time is just about gone?
I hope you are doing well in these strange times. Wishing you good health, happiness, and the gifts of solitude.