Spending time on your own can feel daunting, but armed with a few useful tools it’s possible to turn alone time into one of the most fulfilling parts of your day. Here, editor Alex Sims tries The Curiosity Academy’s alonement masterclass to see if it can help her overcome her fear of going solo.
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When I was in my mid-20s I lived by myself for two years, and it’s safe to say that I wasn’t very good at it. The thought of long evenings and weekends all by myself with only my thoughts for company filled me with cold, nauseating dread. So, to avoid any Bridget Jones-style cliches I went out – a lot.
Every weekend I’d make plans with any friend who was available, staying over at their houses so I didn’t have to spend another night alone at home. While every weekday evening was spent at the pub after work with colleagues I’d roped into coming with me.
At the time, I thought my desperation to go out confirmed that I was a social, outgoing person. Looking back, one of the main reasons I was exhausting myself by going out all the time was to avoid being by myself.
Spending time alone is still something I struggle with. My living situation has changed, but when I do have time to myself I spend it glued to my phone, obsessively checking the news and chatting to friends on WhatsApp. Or, I put the TV on full blast to fill my flat with booming background noise and drown out my thoughts.
It turns out I’m not the only one who’s had a turbulent relationship with solitude. Before becoming an advocate for alone time, Francesca Specter says that solitude was one of her biggest fears. Like me, she would plan her weekends around spending as little time on her own as possible, neglecting her own self-care for fear of being in her own company.
This all changed after she broke up with her long-term partner in 2018 and found she finally had to confront being alone head-on. “I decided enough was enough and I needed to stop acting out of the fear of my own company and confront the thing I was so scared of,” says Francesca in her masterclass for The Curiosity Academy.
By gradually spending more time by herself and understanding the impact that alone time can have on wellbeing, Francesca coined the word ‘alonement’ to describe the experience of having alone time in a positive and meaningful way. She wrote a book, Alonement: How To Be Alone And Absolutely Own It, exploring the benefits of being on your own and started a podcast interviewing guests such as Alain de Botton, Poorna Bell and Daisy Buchanan about their experiences of solitude.
“Alonement has huge benefits universally for personal growth and for learning who you are and what you like as a person,” says Francesca. “The capacity to be comfortably alone is crucial for living your fullest, most satisfying life.”
What’s more, Francesca says, “Being alone is a skill you can develop and practise over time.” So, in an effort to follow in Francesca’s footsteps and finally get used to being on my own, I decided to take her masterclass.
In her class, Francesca aims to teach me ‘solitude skills’ to help me become more relaxed in my own company. The first of these skills is becoming comfortable with my own thoughts. Francesca is adamant that I turn off my phone before I begin so I don’t become distracted by messages or group chats and end up spending my alone time dominated by other people.
Reluctantly, I switch off my phone and begin a three-minute guided journaling exercise. I respond to three simple writing prompts, taking a minute to reflect on each one: ‘How are you feeling today?’, ‘What’s setting you back today?’ and ‘What is energising you today?’ I write out my answers in coloured pens and find it less daunting than I imagined to concentrate on my own thoughts when they’re scribbled down quickly on paper.
Next Francesca leads a calming body scan and a box breathing exercise to help us become more aware of how we’re feeling physically. By the time I’ve taken my fourth box breath and snuggled deeper into my sofa, being alone doesn’t feel quite so intense and scary anymore.
Our next task is to start planning our alone time and plotting it into our calendars. “This is all about putting a framework around your alone time and turning it into quality, enjoyable fulfilling time,” says Francesca.
To get the ball rolling, Francesca asks me to make a list of things I most enjoy doing. I choose walking, visiting interesting places in London, going out for dinner and going to my favourite coffee shop.
Now I have my inspiration, Francesca asks me to plan solo dates for myself. The idea behind this is so our alone time doesn’t become something that is just squeezed into the gaps between our social plans.
As I mark my solo dates into my calendar, Francesca tells me to think about something called exposure therapy. This introduces you slowly to the concept of being alone, so if going out for a three-course meal by yourself seems too daunting, you can build up to it instead, starting by taking yourself out for coffee on your own, then lunch and then working up to dinner.
Going on solo dates
Following Francesca’s instructions, I spend Sunday night at home by myself after marking it down in my diary. I switch off my phone (something I wouldn’t usually dream of), turn off the TV and spend the evening cooking myself a fancy pasta dish.
Francesca tells me to practise ‘positive selfishness’ by making my alone time special as if I was going on a hot date with myself. With her words in mind, I set my table with flowers and candles and have a dinner party for one.
It turns out to be one of the most calming and indulgent evenings I’ve had in a while and I head to bed feeling blissfully relaxed.
The week after I step things up a notch and go out for coffee on my own after, realising out of fear of embarrassment, I’ve never sat down for a drink in public by myself. After spending the first 15 minutes convinced everyone in the café is staring at me, I slowly relax into the experience and realise no one cares that I’m here on my own, in fact, I’m one of many solo snackers.
I love my solo coffee sesh so much that I end up doing it the next day and the day after that. The time on my own away from my phone becomes the perfect way to clear my head, collect my thoughts and get me ready for the day ahead.
I elevate things further by heading out on a solo trip to Eltham Palace, one of my favourite places in London, the week after. I take Francesca’s advice and wear an outfit I feel comfortable in to boost my confidence, take a book with me as a security blanket and turn off my phone for the entire time I’m there.
After a short time feeling nervous about venturing out solo, in the end it’s liberating not having to factor anyone else in to how I plan my day. By the end of my visit, I feel I’ve taken the time to really understand what I want with no one else there to tell me otherwise.
Rather than making me feel lonely, taking some time out all to myself has given me the breathing space I need to re-engage, reboot and examine myself properly. Armed with my new solitude skills, I start adding more hot solo dates into my diary.