Let me take you back to 1999. I’m in my first year at University, many miles from home and I don’t know a soul.
I want to make friends. Furthermore, I’m hopeful I might meet my first serious girlfriend. However, something inside me is changing.
I’m starting to grow resentful of my peer group and questioning the university experience.
The last question sticks in my mind. It bothers me and, as a result, I make a terrible decision.
Fuck’em, I thought to myself. If you’re not going to make an effort with me then I won’t make an effort with you.
As I said, bad move. Soon, I was spending more and more time by myself. Conversations were limited to a “hi,” nod or grunt. I’d attend my lectures, go to the gym, watch tv in the common room, occasionally go the cinema (by myself) and that was how I spent my time at University. It wasn’t that I never spoke to anyone. However, in the entire 3 years I was at university, I could count on two hands the number of meaningful conversations I had with other people, much less a laugh or a good time.
Looking back, I can see the extremely negative impact this had on my state of mind. However, later in life, I also discovered a hidden blessing in my isolation.
This experience, and many more after I’d left university, gave me an insight into loneliness. I know how negatively it can affect your mind. However, I also know there is both a way out, and a way to reduce the sadness of being alone.
It’s this knowledge that I now want to share with you. I want you to know there’s hope and, even if it feels like not a single soul cares, happiness is possible.
Before we explore the potential for change, I must issue a warning. Spending too much time alone, no matter how much you enjoy your own company, is not healthy.
Sure, everybody needs time in solitude and moments of reflection. However, when they start to become your life, rather than a respite, you could be heading for danger.
The damage loneliness causes will catch you unawares. My own experience caused me to retreat deeper into my own world.
Without realising it, I became a prisoner to my thoughts. All I could focus on was a series of psychosomatic ailments that I believed were real. I couldn’t sleep, regularly experienced IBS, chronic shoulder pain and had a bloodshot left eye. Thoughts about not getting enough sleep, how bloated I felt, acute awareness of any twinges in my shoulder and phantom sensations in my eye, dominated my consciousness.
As a result, I wasn’t living. Instead, I existed in my head. I may have walked around and attended lectures but my mind was detached from the reality around me.
How did I get myself in this state?
Essentially, I had nobody to calibrate my thoughts and experiences. Nobody was there to say, “Snap out of it, Joe. You’re young, healthy and there are so many ways you could be enjoying your life.” Instead, because I spent so much time on my own, the focus on my ‘problems’ intensified and, as a result, they became more real.
This is the problem with extended periods of isolation. Without realising it, your focus becomes too heavily directed towards yourself. As a result, it becomes easy to overthink, doubt and allow yourself to get bothered by the trivial.
As harmful as these consequences can be, they say nothing of the negative impact loneliness can have on your attempts to socialise. Social skills are real. Spend a lot of time around other people and you know what to say, can avoid awkward moments and feel connected. Spend a lot of time on your own, and social interactions can be punctuated with awkward silences, miscommunication and an inability to relax when in the company of others.
Just what you don’t want!
You need to meet new people to break free from your loneliness. However, you feel totally unprepared when the opportunity to make new friends occurs.
It’s a catch 22 situation. Fortunately, there is hope.
Spending a lot of time on your own isn’t all bad. There are benefits to your isolation.
First, you can focus your mind in a way that just isn’t possible when surrounded with too many distractions.
If there’s something you want to achieve, or a goal you’re working towards, continued and intense focus upon this objective is required. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve achieved a mini breakthrough in my life after periods of clear focus. These almost always occurred after either feeling low due to spending too much time on my own, or failing at something that was important to me.
Somehow the low mood cleared my mind and prevented racing thoughts. As a result, I was able to focus intensely on what I wanted to achieve (because of the seriousness of my situation, I didn’t want to listen to podcasts, music or be distracted by ongoing debates in my mind). It was as if I’d lost all appetite for mental ‘junk’, and was so keen to improve my situation that disciplining my thoughts was no longer a hassle.
The renowned 19th century inventor Nikola Tesla seemed to agree. He clearly valued time alone, and the opportunity to focus his thoughts, when his said, “Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.”
The second upside to loneliness is that enables you to focus on what matters.
As much as you may want to feel integrated with a group, or experience loving relationships with other people, there is a downside to too much human contact. Not only does it impact the ability to focus your mind, you could find yourself living a life which isn’t your own.
You get swayed by current fashions and trends, you stop listening to your inner voice and, as a result, can end up directionless.
This won’t happen when you experience prolonged periods of loneliness and isolation. You’ve got time to focus on what matters to you. There are no pointless social obligations, friendships of convenience and other people’s expectations, competing for your time. Instead, you can plan your schedule around what you want to do.
Of course, you don’t want to spend your entire life in isolation. However, if, for whatever reason, you find yourself spending a lot of time on your own, you can use it to improve your financial situation, knowledge and physical health to such a degree that, when you do emerge from your social hibernation, you are a far stronger person.
Ironically, this kind of self-reliance makes you more attractive to other people. Suddenly, you’re mysterious and interesting rather than simply being a loner. Your experiences and knowledge mean you have something to offer in one to one and group conversations.
Despite the benefits of being alone, you are probably, still, looking for a way out. This is understandable. Life is so much richer in the company of people you love and find interesting. Therefore, you want to know how to raise your energy so that when you meet people, you’re able to be positive and engaging. Here’s the method I used (and still do).
Whenever I feel lonely, I remember the words of Yoda. In the second Star Wars film, Episode Five: The Empire Strikes Back, he tells Luke Skywalker,
“For my ally is The Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the force around you. Here, between you, me. The tree. The rock. Everywhere.”
You feel lonely because you feel trapped; imprisoned by four walls or a society that doesn’t care or that you don’t understand. However, you are not trapped.
As Yoda says, you are a ‘luminous being.’ It isn’t reality (the material) that’s trapping you, it’s your energy. Therefore, every time you feel alone or isolated, focus on feeling good.
Amazing changes will happen when you do this with consistency. You’ll be surprised at how you can transform from lonely, to inspired, in little more than 30 minutes. A situation that once seemed inescapable and never ending, now becomes an opportunity. Nothing can stop you.
I hope this blog post has given you something to think about. No matter how lonely and isolated you feel, and no matter how many years you’ve felt this way, you are presented with a very simple and clear choice.
Either succumb to your situation and allow it to overwhelm you or, master the art of raising your energy and watch your life change. In the words of Andy Dufresne, in Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living or get busy dying.”
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