The power of being alone

There is something to be said for just being alone and many a more intelligent man before me has written thesis upon thesis about how and why.  For me; being alone doesn’t have to mean sitting on the top of an empty mountain staring into a beautiful vista of an unspoilt landscape, although that is a very powerful place to be.  No, being alone in this very hectic world of ours can be as simple as not having your smart phone with you or even having the strength to not open that pesky blinking “new email” notification whilst you’re not officially at work. Finding time to relax and get away from it all is a vital life skill that I have only recently been able to accomplish and this is how I managed to do it. Firstly it is all about mindset:  Like many things in life, giving up smoking, doing more exercise, losing weight even reading more books, you have to want to do it.  There has to be some kind of compelling event, a profound statement or a person driving you to want to make that first step.  Over the years I have completed many tasks which have required a level of self-determination that many struggle to achieve.  I quit smoking from one day to the next after having regularly smoked in excess of 40 cigarettes a day.  I went to night school for 4 years to learn a foreign language in order to be able to study a degree in IT sales and marketing in that language.  I even lead a team of 6 people through the night to complete a 54 mile moorland hike in the Pennines in less than 24 hours.  However the simple task of not looking at my phone and reading an email message that has just landed in my inbox I have found almost impossible.  Even now, whilst writing this blog, I have just opened up the message centre to see what has just pinged into my inbox.  You can see how addictive and how totally connected we have become to these things.  So when I set about trying to have 24 hours of “alone” time it wasn’t about anything else other than having an “email free weekend” I set myself some parameters around this to make it happen.  I have, like many of us, multiple email accounts.  Personal ones, business ones, personal business ones all of which are linked to my phone.  For me the first step was to stop myself from looking at work emails morning noon and night 7 days a week 365 days a year.  I had convinced myself that being so responsive and connected would lead me bigger things, more sales, happier clients… you get the picture we’ve all said it.  It, however, just not true. This is just the same type of justification and excuse that all other addicts use to justify why they do something and there it is! The simple truth of the matter is we’re addicted.  We have to be informed, we have to know what’s going on, we’re to darn right nosy.  Realising this was my first revelation and the first step into a long, and continuous, recovery process.  Finding a happy balance of who I am, who I want to be and curbing my addiction became what this was all about. I therefore vowed that I would not read “WORK” emails on a Saturday.  Just reading this statement even now makes me realise how bad things had become. So it was set but the powers of distraction were still far too strong and I failed miserably.  My private email inbox, the one I use for signing up to all sorts of stuff on the net, would ping on average 50 to 100 times a day…yes FIFTY pings of distraction from all sorts of companies wanting me to buy their product because it was on a one time only offer.  So despite having changed all my notification sound settings to help differentiate between work and personal emails, I was still looking at my screen 50 times or more a day and consequently seeing the evil flashing of mounting unread work emails tempted me into that…“just one look won’t harm, I’ll flag it and then take another look at it tomorrow or even Monday when I start work” …. So there it was again my 24/7/365 addiction to email.  No I had to dive much deeper to stop this and it meant having a radical overhaul of my electronic life. I spent the next 4 weeks looking at every email that came into my personal inbox the very second it came in.  I went to the bottom of the email without looking at the content and clicked on “UNSUBSCRIBE”.  This fired me off it took me to a webpage where guilty messages of “did we do something wrong?”, “We are so sorry to see you go”, “you can take a break for a few weeks if you’d rather”, “we’d really like to see come back please let us know how to communicate with you better”…. The list of heart wrenching statements was endless and in truth they all had one underlining message… HOW DARE YOU LEAVE US. The most prolific offenders even had messages suggesting it would take up to 21 days to stop these emails.  Nonetheless this painful  exercise was totally worth it and the results were amazing.  My personal inbox now gets less than 10 pings a day that equates to 80% less distraction from that one email account alone.  I did the same for my personal business email and then just deleted 2 or 3 other email accounts full stop. My Saturday email free day had taken a step closer to reality but it was still missing a key element; a compelling event to make it happen.  My daughter is what eventually helped me overcome this obsession.  She recently switched ballet class and at 8.30 every Saturday morning we set off to another village further up the valley for her 9 until 10 ballet class.  Saturday has become her “Special Day”!  It is the day which starts with ballet and is followed by numerous treats, such as play dates, days out, small bag of sweeties and even lemonade.  As this was now her day it became the single largest driver to stop all “WORK” email because I was now dedicating my entire day to her.  The compelling event had arrived and voila; 24 hours of ZERO work email communication had begun. Being void of any work related online activity for just one day a week has significantly increased my ability to recharge my batteries for the week ahead, in fact so much so that I now do this for a full 36 hours every weekend.  Only when it gets to late afternoon/ early evening on a Sunday will I even contemplate opening a work email and even then, it usually doesn’t happen until a Monday.  The power of being alone for me is being able to spend quality time with my friends and family and yes I do have the occasional mountain top moment, because living in the Pennines it is made very easy to be truly on your own in a very short space of time, but my real alone time is when I don’t have my phone with me. Image