The end of alone? Probably not

According to the “The End of Solitude

The cultures of celebrity and connectivity betray a common impulse; they are both ways of becoming known. This is what the contemporary self wants. It wants to be recognized, wants to be connected: It wants to be visible. This is the quality that validates us, this is how we become real to ourselves — by being seen by others.

According to “The End of Alone

At our desk, on the road, or on a remote beach, the world is a tap away. It’s so cool. And yet it’s not. What we lose with our constant connectedness.

But is all this really new?  For example, 40+ years ago David J. Schwartz argued the importance of “managed solitude” in his famous book The Magic of Thinking Big.

Many outstanding business executives are surrounded all day by assistants, secretaries, telephones, and reports. But follow them around for 168 hours a week and 720 hours a month, and you discover they spent a surprising amount of time in uninterrupted thought.

The point is this: the successful person in any field takes time out to confer with himself or herself. Leaders use solitude to put the pieces of a problem together, to work out solutions, to plan, and, in one phrase, to do their superthinking.

Many people fail to tap their creative leadership power because they confer with everybody and everything else but themselves. You know this kind of person well. He’s the fellow who goes to great lengths not to be alone. He goes to extremes to surround himself with people. He can’t stand being alone in his office, so he goes prowling to see other people. Seldom does he spend evenings alone. He feels a compelling need to talk with others every waking moment. He devours a huge diet of small talk and gossip.

When this person is forced by circumstances to be physically alone, he finds ways to keep from being mentally alone. At times like these he resorts to television, newspapers, radio, telephone, anything that will take over his thinking process for him. In effect he says, “Here, Mr. TV, Mr. Newspaper, occupy my mind for me. I’m afraid to occupy it with my own thoughts.”

Mr. I-can’t-stand-to-be-alone shuns independent thought. He keeps his own mind blacked out. He is, psychologically, scared of his own thoughts. As time goes by, Mr. I-can’t-stand- to-be-alone grows increasingly shallow. He makes many ill-considered moves. He fails to develop firmness of purpose, personal stability He is, unfortunately, ignorant of the superpower lying unused just behind his forehead.

Don’t be a Mr. I-can’t-stand-to-be-alone. Successful leaders tap their superpower through being alone. You can, too.

Let’s see how.

As part of a professional development program I asked thirteen trainees to closet themselves for one hour each day for two weeks. The trainees were asked to shut themselves off from all distractions and think constructively about anything that came to mind.

At the end of two weeks each trainee, without exception, reported the experience proved amazingly practical and worthwhile. One fellow stated that before the managed solitude experiment he was on the verge of a sharp break with another company executive, but through clear thinking he found the source of the problem and the way to correct it. Others reported that they solved problems relating to such varied things as changing jobs, marriage difficulties, buying a home, and selecting a college for a teenage child.

Each trainee enthusiastically reported that he had gained a much better understanding of himself—his strengths and weaknesses—than he had ever had before.
 
The trainees also discovered something else that is tremendously significant. They discovered that decisions and observations made alone in managed solitude have an uncanny way of being 100 percent right! The trainees discovered that when the fog is lifted, the right choice becomes crystal clear.

Managed solitude pays off.

One day recently an associate of mine reversed her stand completely on a troublesome issue. I was curious to know why she had switched her thinking, since the problem was very basic. Her answer went like this. “Well, I haven’t been at all clear in my mind as to what we should do. So I got up at 3:30 this morning, fixed a cup of coffee, and just sat on the sofa and thought until 7 A.M. I see the whole matter a lot clearer now. So the only thing for me to do is reverse my stand.”

And her new stand proved completely correct.

Resolve now to set aside some time each day (at least thirty minutes) to be completely by yourself.

Perhaps early in the morning before anyone else is stirring about would be best for you. Or perhaps late in the evening would be a better time. The important thing is to select a time when your mind is fresh and when you can be free from distractions.

You can use this time to do two types of thinking: directed and undirected. To do directed thinking, review the major problem facing you. In solitude your mind will study the problem objectively and lead you to the right answer.

To do undirected thinking, just let your mind select what it wishes to think about. In moments like these your subconscious mind taps your memory bank, which in turn feeds your conscious mind. Undirected thinking is very helpful in doing self- evaluation. It helps you get down to the very basic matters like “How can I do better? What should be my next move?”

Remember, the main job of the leader is thinking. And the best preparation for leadership is thinking. Spend some time in managed solitude every day and think yourself to success.

A time-tested method for thinking in solitude is a constitutional. According to Adam Khan

On a walk, you get a fresh perspective; you can find solutions to problems; you look at things more clearly. You become calmer, saner and healthier. It’s easier to think because, 1) you have the time to think, 2) there’s nothing else you need to attend to, and 3) your brain is getting more oxygen.

For the same reasons, as Aristotle showed, walks are also an effective method for discussions.

More blog entries about Effectiveness.

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5 Comments

  1. According to William Deresiewicz

    I started by noting that solitude and leadership would seem to be contradictory things. But it seems to me that solitude is the very essence of leadership. The position of the leader is ultimately an intensely solitary, even intensely lonely one. However many people you may consult, you are the one who has to make the hard decisions. And at such moments, all you really have is yourself.

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  2. Ann Swidler writes in this review of the book Elsewhere, U.S.A by Dalton Conley

    The critics of modernity, going back at least to the 19th century, have told us that modern society is hurtling forward, its social ties unraveling behind it, its citizens left unhinged and bewildered. In recent decades, disintegration has remained a persistent image in popular social criticism, from Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock and Philip Slater’s The Pursuit of Loneliness (both published in 1970) to more current entrants such as Judith Warner’s 2005 book Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. And now comes the sociologist Dalton Conley tapping into the same trope and, like many before him, presenting the crisis of contemporary society as bearing most sharply, indeed almost exclusively, on the privileged.

    The trouble with this long tradition, and particularly with Conley’s rendition of it, is that the evidence doesn’t support the view that modernity has disoriented all groups in society, much less that it has peculiarly shaken up the privileged. Despite the pervasive image of a postmodern self, fragmented and fractured, the educated have found new ways to knit their lives together. It is the less educated, squeezed on every front, whose lives have become more insecure and unstable in both work and family life.

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  3. “Is there any thing whereof it may be said, ‘See, this is new’?”

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