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The Value of Solitude

by | Process

Truth be told, I enjoy travel. Not because of the new sights and sounds, mind you. Those are fine too, but the main reason I enjoy travel – especially by air – is the silence and space.

I can put on my isolation headphones and think, write and process in a way that I can’t when I’m in my normal, hyper-connected mode. The same is true of hotels. I’m writing this from my room in Baltimore, where I’ve produced more quality work in the past day or so than I often do in a week. Why?  I think it’s because my options are limited. I have lots of isolation and quiet.

Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it. – Thomas Merton

With so many options available to us for distraction, it can be easy to forget the importance of making room for thought. Brilliant ideas can be quite expensive, in that they require a lot of space to marinate. It often feels remarkably inefficient to dedicate large amounts of time to processing and thinking, but is very effective if we’re willing to carve out the space in our life for it.

I loved this piece by Pico Iyer in the New York Times on the importance of finding space for thought. Of methods, he writes:

Other friends try to go on long walks every Sunday, or to “forget” their cellphones at home. A series of tests in recent years has shown, Mr. Carr points out, that after spending time in quiet rural settings, subjects “exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory and generally improved cognition. Their brains become both calmer and sharper.” More than that, empathy, as well as deep thought, depends (as neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio have found) on neural processes that are “inherently slow.” The very ones our high-speed lives have little time for.

Some of my best ideas have come from long walks, hours spent in isolation in a hotel room, or an extended trip to the library to experience the stimulation of tons of data combined with extended silence.

So…question for you. Do you have a method for finding quiet and solitude in your life? What works best?


Photo credit: Montreal 1976

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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  1. Dwayne Riner

    We have a good system here at work (a church). Each person has a nameplate on their door with one side as “Red Time” and the other “Green Time.” When you show green, you’re available to be interrupted, but if you’re on red you are free to be alone. Everyone respects each other’s sign and when I switch on red and close the door I can truly be alone with my thoughts and creative writing. It’s an opportunity to find solitude without having to leave the office.

  2. Wade

    My most creative time is the that right before I go to sleep.  Because I have nothing pressing.  My mind is open to any and all possibilities.  I get a similar reaction in the shower.  The only problem with having creative time before I sleep, is that it keeps me awake.

  3. Brooke Snow

    two things help me find that incredible solitude:  1.  I have one hour every morning before anyone else in the house gets up and there is no phone or computer.  I journal, pray, and free write my thoughts. 2.  I try to exercise unplugged. Going on long walks or bike rides with nothing but my thoughts is an incredible resource for those thoughts to come and to marinate.  Thanks for the post! Love the reminders of solitude as we all need them!

  4. Karen Bayly

    I have no problem finding solitude at home – I live alone so solitude is easy to find. The day job is another thing entirely – the corporate world has absolutely no respect for private space or solitude and I’m expected to work with people talking around me and over me. I have to go out for walk to get an opportunity to clear my head – and then I get asked where I’ve been!

  5. Jenne Rayburn

    I could not agree more about the value of solitude and its important role in the creative process, and I feel fortunate that I grew up in a relatively rural place were I regularly had the opportunity to be alone, and alone with my thoughts.  Now I live in the suburbs and struggle to create a space were my boys can experience that too, and see it as positive, joyful and productive.

  6. Anonymous

    I have my own small paradise to hide myself and where I can find peace I need to keep balance and get creative ideas. Paradise?:) It is too much said; it is just a very small piece of wood area in the middle of a city, where I go for walks with my two dogs. The clue for finding a solitude there is that I go there in hours that other people tend to do other things rather than walks with their pets. And then I am the only one and nature around to breathe deeply, to sense energy around me and feel incredible unity with natural world. It is then, when great ideas come to my mind.
    Your post Todd is a wonderful reminder for us, creatives, which I am deeply grateful for:)


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