How to enjoy being alone

Tonight I’m off on holiday, leaving my lovely Cambridge for the west coast, but before I go I’m spending a large portion of this weekend completely alone, something that would have left me feeling rubbish a few years ago. Now I’m savouring it. So how did I move from hating being alone, to loving it?

I learnt to like myself.

I see lots of coaching and cognitive hypnotherapy clients for whom being alone is a big problem. They feel lost, left out as if they are missing something, rejected… they get stuck in poor relationships both professionally and personally. I could go on and on. Many create a world where noise is constant and will even use music or TV to get to sleep. Why?

So they don’t have to listen to that voice in their heads that criticises them and makes negatives comments.  

For a start, give yourself a break this is not your fault. We are hardwired to fear rejection. Our brain is still immature given how far society has progressed. Our brain still believes we are back in our caves or tribes. Not being accepted when you live as a collective meant you would be asked to leave your tribe and that would almost definitely mean you died, eaten by a wild animal or starved to death. Although we are now surrounded by food and people, our brain still registers any rejection (even situations where you aren’t being left out but it can ‘read’ it as such) as a life or death equation and will kick off your flight, fight, freeze response giving you those panicky feelings. It will rush to prevent you being rejected by guessing what caused it and that must be because you are a terrible person surely!? Hence your critical voice comes in to try to ‘protect’ you by making you think you are the problem and if you can change you to be acceptable to others, then hey presto, you’re back in the tribe!

If only it were that simple.

Because what makes us pleasant to be around and truly acceptable to others is that we love and accept ourselves to the point where we mainly don’t care whether we are acceptable to others. At that point others like us because they see we are stable and happy people. Vicious circle!  This isn’t to say if you have problem behaviours that others won’t be friends with you, but some of those behaviours do make that hard. We all know those people who we really like but have to limit our time with because they are so wrapped up in themselves they are exhausting to be with. I know before coaching and I used to be a bit like that, forceful with my opinions and always right because if I wasn’t right I was wrong and being wrong meant that I was stupid….. and so it went on. Luckily, I had some therapy and shifted that.

We have to learn to love and accept ourselves.

How?

Gently start by spending little bits of time alone. Make a coffee with the radio off, read a book, go for a short walk, take a bath. Pick a portion of time that is just outside your comfort zone. If your comfort zone is 5 minutes, do it for 6 or 7 minutes and build up. Gradually you’ll see that you aren’t going to die and that you might even enjoy time alone. The more you do this the faster you retrain your brain to understand you aren’t going to die and those panicky feeling won’t be triggered and you’ll remain calm and dare I say it, you might even begin to enjoy it.  I remember being quite shocked that I was perfectly okay and I now love it when the house is empty and I can sing to my hearts delight, or just enjoy the perfect silence. Mindfulness is a great way to start this as it can help focus you on yourself. Just think baby steps. A coaching client of mine did this over the last few months and sent me a lovely message saying he had missed my text as he had been enjoying a whole evening alone for the first time ever. He normally spent zero time alone and filled his diary from morning to night. He changed that in just a matter of weeks. It was lovely evidence of how far he had come.

What about that inner voice? If it’s still loud then it’s trying to tell you something. Probably that it’s unhappy and needs some help. See a therapist, clear it out of the way. Why be held back a minute longer?

I now equally enjoy alone time as much as I enjoy socialising. I can read my mood  and decide what I need, it’s empowering! I’ll even go to the cinema alone. It’s my belief we all need quiet alone time to just be, not to think but to potter about just being us, pleasing ourselves and letting our brain rest. If you can learn to do this your entire life changes, health and sleep improve. In the words of Whitney Houston, ‘learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all’.

If you want to work on this or any other issues click here to see how to make a start.