"Do not be afraid of spending quality time by yourself. Find meaning or don’t find meaning but 'steal' some time and give it freely and exclusively to your own self. Opt for privacy and solitude. That doesn’t make you antisocial or cause you to reject the rest of the world. But you need to breathe. And you need to be.” ― Albert Camus, Notebooks 1951-1959
I just got back from a short trip to Arizona and, like almost every trip I take, I went alone. I do most things alone - I prefer it. So many people ask me how and why I travel alone, tell me that it is brave/adventurous, or ask what I am running away from. I just like being alone. That's the secret that's not a secret at all.
Due to my proclivity for alone time, I'm always interested in studies about solitude. I recently read about a study in the British Journal of Psychology that found that while social interactions increase happiness generally, they have the opposite affect on people with higher intelligence. Not that I fancy myself a genius or anything but the logic makes sense to me. Intelligent people are driven to a specific purpose - or have a lot of interests and hobbies that can make social interactions more difficult. Whether they are more intelligent naturally or as a result of their curiosity and drive doesn't really matter.
More than "genius" or "high IQ" I think that (and have lots and lots of evidence that) creative people are more likely to thrive in solitude. Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, and Howard Hughes are just a few of the many noted creative people throughout history who preferred to be alone. I know that I need a ton of alone time - not neccesarilly to recharge in the introvert sense - but to cultivate creativity. I mean, I can't research and write this blog about creativity and solitude if I wasn't, in fact, alone. :)
So, as Nikola Tesla famously said, "Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born." It's nothing to be afraid of.
On my trip to Arizona I stopped at Biosphere 2 in Oracle. Biosphere 2 is the famous closed ecological system where "biospherians" spent two missions living and working to simulate a space like environment. The longer of the two missions lasted two years, and while it had it's share of problems (a whole other posts worth) it was considered to be a success by many in the scientific community.
The space and the science are super impressive but what I was interested in this week was the confined environment and isolation the biospherians experienced. Being stuck in a space (even one over 3 acres like Biosphere 2) for any amount of time with 7 other people is sort of my worst nightmare. Imagine only interacting with those people day in and day out - working, eating, socializing - everything.
Now imagine the stress you'd already be feeling from harvesting and making your own food (one of the biospherians famously said that it took 4 months to make a pizza), conducting science experiments all day, and being the only engineers and maintenance of the amazingly large structure. Then add losing weight due to the low calorie diet, losing oxygen due to the closed system (oxygen got so low that it was equivalent to being over 13,000 ft above sea level), and then the effects of prolonged isolation such as depression, insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, and boredom. Whoa.
Confined Environment Psychology is super interesting and studies these sorts of environments - mostly long term Antarctic research stations (or, appropriately, ICE - Isolated Confined Environments) and uses the results for a model for life in space (just like Biosphere 2 and other Mars simulations aim to do).
Or watch this TedTalk by one of the Biospherians:
I wrote a bit last week about American's tendency to overwork and not take all their vacation time. I couldn't understand why people would willingly do this so I did more digging. My theory has always been that more than 50 hours of work a week makes me less effective and efficient. While the average teacher spends 59 hours per week working, I've always been proud of my work life balance and ability to leave the unfinished work unfinished (to save my sanity). It turns out my theory is on the mark for most people.
According to a Stanford study there is a "productivity cliff" after 50 hours of work per week. The relationship between hours worked and productivity is linear (math woo!) up until 49 hours but then falls after 50. Productivity dramatically falls after 55 hours per week (the cliff) so much that someone who works 70 hours a week produces no more than someone working 55. Whoa.
Long hours have long been shown to increase absenteeism, turnover, sleep disturbances (which leads to even less productivity), increase chances of stroke, heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes (in low-income jobs), and increase depression. So why do we do it? American's value work and "busyness" - but that is another topic entirely. Read on. :)
There was a piece in the Washington Post this week about how busyness has become a status symbol. According to a Harvard study, it's become the new conspicuous consumption - more people are able to have luxury items now so those items are losing their ability to signal importance or worth. Being busy all the time is a way to show your worth through perceived scarcity - (ie. I am very important and in demand).
But if you read about the productivity cliff, the importance of taking your vacation time, or just have a pulse, you know that this isn't healthy or sustainable. You must create margin in your life.
Margin is the "space between load and limits" or "between breathing and suffocating". It's the extra time intentionally planned into your day for the things that might come up or for the rest that you will need. And while you may not be signaling your importance, being intentional about creating margin opens up your life to more balance, creativity, and happiness.
Why I Use a Physical Planner (and you should too)
One more Friday of 2016 and you know what that means - new planner! I read this article on The Onion a couple weeks ago and am ashamed to say that many years I fall into the first few weeks then sporadic planner user group. But not this year. I actually started a new, undated planner a month ago (couldn't wait) and have tried to be very intentional about using it.
Successful people plan. They know where their time is being spent and where it is being wasted. If you are not intentional about time it can (and will) get away from you. If you want to create margin in your life, you have to be intentional. You have the power to design your own life - but you have to be conscious and plan it.
So while I know all the important reasons to plan my days - there are also many reasons why I use a physical planner rather than one that is tech based. Here are some of them:
- Notes that are handwritten are remembered at a higher rate than those on a laptop.
- Physical writing helps you to focus - no notifications or other tech distractions
- Writing helps the brain stay sharp!
- Writing things down helps to mentally unload. You can think more clearly, receive ideas, and focus better once the mental clutter is on the page
- Writing down goals helps to achieve them. Self-authoring brings clarity, focus and direction.
(*Write your goals in your planner! You'll reap the benefits of writing them and of being reminded of them!)
Happy Friday :) *and Holidays!