The most important relationship you will ever have

Months ago in a content planning session our team had mapped out this week’s message, being your own best friend. What we didn’t know then is that Australia’s two most populous cities would be back in lockdown and once again as a collective we would be grappling with the emotional toll. It now feels like this message couldn’t be more timely.

A commonality of these lockdowns has been a sense of loneliness. Felt perhaps for the first time by some, and experienced by extroverts and introverts alike. Now, as we move deeper into lockdown, the possibility of loneliness returns, and so too does the need to forge a strong relationship with the most steadfast person in your life - yourself.

While loneliness itself is often stigmatised in our connected society and seen as not volitional, learning to be alone and, better yet, become your own best friend can be a powerful tool for life.

This may sound simplistic at a time of global crisis, but by becoming your own best friend you have a source of enduring support no matter how disparate the peaks and troughs of life. A support that has benefits on our personal and professional lives a like.

In our modern society we are connected to a network of thousands at any one time. This creates the illusion of connectivity and companionship, and an addiction to ‘human’ interaction. It offers momentary reprieve from loneliness but is often a distraction from reality. 

When we shift our mindset from loneliness to being alone, and find empowerment in our own company we no longer need this fabricated connection or external validation. 

In fact, learning to be our own best friend and becoming comfortable with solitude can be illuminating and liberating and life changing - especially in hard times. 

Jack Fong, a sociologist at California State Polytechnic University is cited in The Atlantic, “When people take these moments to explore their solitude, not only will they be forced to confront who they are, they just might learn a little bit about how to out-maneuver some of the toxicity that surrounds them in a social setting.” 

If you have found yourself in lockdown once more, try to reframe your circumstance rather than falling prey to loneliness and the pseudo human connection of social media. These shallow and futile connections only exacerbate the disparity between our curious, conscious and authentic self, and the persona that we don for the outside world.

“The wrong kind of company is a great deal lonelier for us than being by ourselves, that is, it’s further from what matters to us, more grating in its insincerity and more of a reminder of disconnection and misunderstanding than is the conversation we can have in the quiet of our own minds.”

- The School of Life.

It is time to become your own best friend and relish in being alone.

This is certainly not an easy task at first, but the benefits are numerous.

Here are a few:

1. Sharper intuition

Time alone, especially if spent in introspection and reflection, will allow you to develop a deeper understanding of yourself and your inner workings or psychology - how you behave, think and feel.

I personally find it really impactful when I’ve come to a realisation about my thought patterns or behaviours that may have been influenced by an earlier experience in life. Getting to know ourselves in this deep way can only be done with solitude, time and deep thought.

When we understand ourselves, we learn to trust our inner voice and hone our intuition. Learning to make decisions without the input of outside influence is critical for professional and personal growth with integrity and assuredness.

It may sound like an oxymoron, but what we learn when alone equips us best for the environments we share with others.

2. Heightened empathy and awareness

When we are alone with our own company we tend to drop our social guard. By eliminating the opinions of others we can shift our perspective, reframe our biases and begin to build an understanding for those outside our immediate network.

Being your own best friend and daring to be alone empowers you with the strength to eschew the status quo and think independently. 

We may have been born into the embrace of a family or community, but as we progress through each stage of life people will come and go. Some significant, and others less so. Whilst relationships with partners, friends, colleagues and even family may be momentary, building a solid relationship with yourself will provide you with a lifelong haven no matter who else you surround yourself with.

3. More creativity and innovation

As we found in Cal Newport’s Deep Work, great minds from Carl Jung to Charles Darwin would spend time alone to focus and innovate without interruption or distraction. Unlike the forefathers of modern psychology and evolutionary theory, we needn’t retreat or take a sabbatical in order to create and innovate.

Spending time alone, without the intrusion of social media or interference of notifications, will allow for focussed learning, deep thinking and the generation of impactful ideas that are simply impossible to form in the presence of others.

Quoted in The Atlantic, Matthew Bowker, a psychoanalytic political theorist at Medaille College states, “Put another way, a person who can find a rich self-experience in a solitary state is far less likely to feel lonely when alone.”

It is consequential: if you are feeling lonely, cultivating moments of creativity and innovation (rich self-experience) will increase your likelihood of satisfaction when alone.

Being alone by your own volition - and enjoying it - is when you will experience your clearest thought, flow state, and most authentic creative expression.

4. Self-compassion

We’ve spoken a lot about the benefits of time spent alone, but further to this, being your own best friend is when the most impactful growth and seismic life shifts occur. 

Critical self-talk and negative internal dialogues is something many of us struggle with. 

After a trying day at work you wouldn’t chastise a friend for the fumbles they made. You wouldn’t quell their aspirations with disparaging remarks. You wouldn’t tell them that they looked too large or too gangly. 

How do you treat your best friend? Do you show them your best or worst side, do you gossip or enlighten, do you ignore or validate, do you invest in the relationship or do you take it for granted? 

It is really important that we learn to soften our own critical self-talk and show ourselves the same compassion that we would a best friend. 

According to Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer for Mindful,

“When we practice self-compassion, we are deactivating the [body’s] threat-defense system and activating the care system. Oxytocin and endorphins are released, which helps reduce stress and increase feelings of safety and security.”

Especially in times of challenge, practicing self-kindness and reframing critical self-talk will allow us to better weather the storm or face adversity. Treat yourself with the same patience, tenderness and compassion as if you would any other loved one. 

Consider the remarkable characteristics of your own best friend. Are they motivating? Assuring? Non judgemental? Apply these characteristics to yourself and begin to invest in the best relationship you will ever have.

As we are destined for lockdown for some time longer, and perhaps again after that, becoming your own best friend will, at a minimum, ensure a source of enduring support. By embracing time alone, we will find ourselves enlightened and aware like never before.

“The only real teacher is not in a forest, or a hut or an ice cave in the Himalayas, it is within us.”
- Tiziano Terzani.

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