Alone time? I don't know her

Maddie Thornham explains the value of putting up with yourself and even enjoying your own company

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There is the saying: ‘be your own best friend’, which raises a lot of puzzled and frowning faces from people who find it counterintuitive to look for a good friend inside oneself, when friends are what we associate with those outside our own company. What does the saying really mean then?

There isn’t a laid out rulebook to guide us towards how much time we should be spending alone in order to create a positive bond with ourselves, or a guide to tell us the amount of time we should be spending in other people’s company. Ultimately, the two are subjective depending on every individual, though to look outside ourselves for friendship may seem a more recognisable endeavour; we are told by social media, for example, to “live our best lives” and a big part of that includes spending time with others.

(Of course I am no expert in this field, or an Agony Aunt or therapist, but if such an emphasis is put on building great relationships with other people, then there should be equal emphasis placed on building a great relationship with our own company. The two are a balancing act, also spending too much time alone or when we ought not to be alone are moments to be in touch with as well.)

To actively choose to schedule in alone time is a power move. But it can be difficult and can feel like work relaxing into it. Wanting to be in our company can sometimes feel like a joy and other times the last thing we want to do, so training ourselves to enjoy our own company requires teaching and re-teaching when it is hard, or when the things we like to do on our own change.

The main question to ask yourself is: do I feel happy in my own company? If the answer is no, then the work should begin. It is all too easy to depend on external factors, like plans with friends or going clubbing or keeping constantly busy to feel happy, but when these things fall through, like everyone bailing on a night out you were really looking forward to, your own company should not feel like a dreaded alternative or sudden emptiness.

It is precisely in the moments that we don’t want to be alone, when we want to escape our own company, or distract ourselves from it, that we should turn inwards rather than out, to not try to force external factors to fall into place and instead focus on being at peace with ourselves.

Having alone time is about having fun with yourself doing the things you enjoy to build yourself up. Some people like to go to café dates to work, overcoming the feeling of awkwardness as they have convinced themselves that everyone thinks they’ve been stood up, when really nobody cares, and the realisation of this truth leads to a sense of achievement. “Maybe I’ll do it again next week?” A calming walk after not leaving the house all day may also serve as a good refresher.

Alone time is also, more seriously, a time to check-in with yourself and be honest about personal emotions. We all seem capable of checking in with friends regularly, but aren’t as quick to offer the same attentiveness and support to ourselves. It is remarkable how much five minutes of sitting and actively acknowledging the existence of a negative emotion or irritating situation that happened that day can help create clarity for how to deal with these feelings next. It is a time to take the pedal off the energy required for socialising to recharge.

Learning more about yourself and what makes you tick and what does not is a valuable practise to keep up to feel more self-aware and will feed into contentment when next around people. So don’t just put up with yourself, make the time to value yourself, build yourself and appreciate the beauty of your own company.

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