Full transcript of Niqolas Ruud’s TEDx Talk on The Art of Alone: Intentional Solitude at TEDxWallaWallaUniversity conference.
Albert Einstein once said:
“I take time to go for long walks on the beach so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualize what is going on inside of my imagination.”
When was the last time you did that? When was the last time you just plopped down in the middle of the day and sat there alone, with only your thoughts? Was it this morning? Maybe last night? A day or two ago? Last week? Maybe even a month ago?
You know, I bet you, it’s been a while, and here’s why: because I think, as a society, we are afraid of being alone, we’re afraid of separating ourselves from others, we’re afraid of solitude.
In 2014, Science Magazine published a study in which participants were placed in a room for 15 minutes of time by themselves, and told to just sit there with their thoughts and this electric shocker.
Now, the results that came out of this study – simply fascinating. The majority of participants, the majority of people placed in this room, it was found they shocked themselves with that little electric shocker at least once, at least once during their little 15-minute time span in that room.
As a society, we are afraid of being alone, and not only are we afraid of being alone individually. But we’re also afraid of those around us who we see as being alone; we’re afraid of others who appear to be by themselves.
You know, we see them as dangerous, unproductive, antisocial, or maybe even unwanted, and I think that’s a skewed view. So why is it?
Why is it that we look down on these people who are alone?
And why are we ourselves afraid of being alone? Is it because we don’t understand, we don’t understand alone? Is it because we confuse isolation with separation?
You know, I believe that being alone can benefit not only us as individuals, but also the communities we’re a part of. It’s a choice. It’s a choice. It’s not necessarily a physical practice. It can be simply a state of mind.
It’s a choice to benefit not only us as individuals, but also the people that we interact with on a daily basis. Some of the benefits include stress reduction.
I mean, we all obviously want to be less stressed out, and intentional solitude is something that can do that for us. Chris Bailey is a productivity expert. He talks about putting our minds into this daydreaming or this wondering mode in which problem-solving and calming of our nerves and things like that are very, very prevalent.
You know, if that helps reduce stress, what would happen if we were all less stressed out? We’d have increased, like, happiness. It would foster a more peaceful environment. We’d be more genuinely joyful and kind to one another.
Stress reduction isn’t the only benefit of intentional solitude. Another great one is increased creativity. Brilliant man and inventor Nikola Tesla once said:
“The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion, free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.“
You see, solitude fosters innovation. Keith Sawyer is a psychologist at Washington University in Saint Louis. He says that decades, decades of research have shown that people, when they collaborate in a group setting, and when they come together, are far less productive than when the same number of people go off individually, come up with ideas, and later, come together to collaborate and pull those ideas.
You see, even in the workplace, solitude fosters innovation and that can change the way we see collaboration.
Intentional solitude can be a turning point in our communities. And I know this, friends, I know this because intentional solitude has been a turning point in my life.
Now, I used to be a very negative, angry, and stressed out individual, but that all began to change when I started taking time to intentionally be by myself, to intentionally be alone.
Now, I’ve always been a fairly extroverted person, so it wasn’t like the top of next-to-do list to “go off, be by yourself.” It didn’t actually even cross my mind until I got a car.
I got a car and I wanted to go do outdoorsy stuff. I was like, “That’s cool, that sounds fun.” And I didn’t really have any friends that wanted to do it with me.
So, I’d go off, I’d take my car, and I might take my kayak to a remote lake or river and go for a quick paddle, or I’d go on a short hike, or maybe a quick overnight backpacking trip.
And, once my confidence began to grow, I started doing bigger things. I’d solo easy walls and climb mountains. You know, just a couple weeks ago, I was down in California during spring break and I soloed the Mountaineers Route on Mount Whitney; just a good time. Just heck of a good time; lots of fun.
You know, and it’s not just these big things, you know, climbing a mountain or something like that. It’s sitting down in the middle of a busy school day, and just kind of plopping down on my carpet, and just sitting there with my eyes shut or open, or just, you know, rolling or whatever, for four, five, six minutes. It may seem like 15, 20, 25, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
You know, I feel calmer. I feel like I’m freed from the expectations of others. I’ve experienced less stress from things like school and work. You know, so, you see, you don’t have to go climb some big mountain to experience these benefits.
What would happen if you spent 15 minutes before bed every night or if you woke up five, ten minutes earlier in the morning and just sat there by yourself?
What if you went on a short walk, maybe once, twice a week, or if you set aside an entire day in each calendar month to be by yourself intentionally? What in your life and the lives of those around you would change?
Now, imagine with me for a second a world full of people practicing this art, this art of alone. Would it be a dangerous, unproductive, antisocial place or would it be safe, innovative, and even inclusive?