We’re all told that the key to a successful college experience is to get out there: Join a club, make new friends and spend time getting to know other people you would have never met otherwise. While it’s awesome to broaden your horizons, sometimes it’s really useful to be alone.
It can be scary to be alone if you’re not used to it, but spending time by yourself can help you discover new parts of yourself, allow you time to relax and help you be happier. Being alone also means you can order the exact combo of toppings you want on your pizza!
Dr. Bella DePaulo, a social scientist with a Ph.D. from Harvard and the author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, says that spending some time alone can be “both a freedom from constraints and a positive freedom to do what you want and let your thoughts wander.”
Although Netflix is a great solo-person pastime, here are some more thoughtful and engaging ways to spend time alone and get to know yourself better.
1. Take a nature walk
Immersing yourself in nature is a great way to spend some time alone. Try picking a place you don’t spend a lot of time in, such as a park in a different town or a nature preserve, and walk around.
DePaulo says, “Having other people around – even wonderful other people – can sap some of your cognitive and emotional resources.” By taking some time to be alone and appreciate nature, you’ll be able to focus all of your mental resources on your thoughts and appreciating the beautiful environment around you.
“Antarctic researchers, who have chosen a pursuit that requires spending a lot of time alone, score especially high on a scale measuring ‘absorption,’” DePaulo says. “The scale assesses enjoyment of experiences such as watching clouds in the sky.”
Try upping your score on the absorption scale by taking a walk in nature by yourself, and you just might find that you appreciate the little things even more. You can find a great park near you by using the National Park Service’s Find A Park guide. Don’t forget a water bottle!
2. Treat yourself to lunch
It’s okay to eat alone without a book or your iPhone to keep you company. Sometimes it’s nice to just take some time to be alone with your thoughts.
Whether it’s at a dining hall, an on-campus eatery or a nice restaurant, take yourself out to lunch. Eating alone is a great way to truly appreciate some good food, and maybe you’ll find a new favorite coffee joint instead of the always-crowded Starbucks.
3. Read a book
Reading a book is a great way to spend some time alone while entertaining your brain. Samantha*, a University of Miami sophomore, says, “Reading books is my favorite thing to do alone. I can really focus on the story when I am by myself.”
Most college libraries have a recreational reading section. If you can’t find it, just ask someone at the front desk or a librarian. Read a book about a place you’ve never been before, and it will almost be like you’re there!
If you’re interested in books featuring female characters that are written by women, try The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood or Sula by Toni Morrison.
4. Learn a new skill
Take some time alone to learn a new skill or expand your knowledge on a topic. By being alone, you can thoroughly practice your skill, whether it ends up being rafting, knitting or roller-skating.
Even better, try taking an instructional or fitness class by yourself. If there was ever a time you begged your friends to go to a class with you but they all said no, don’t let that stop you! Although it may be scary to walk in that room alone, the benefits you will get from doing what you wanted will be wonderful once you realize that being on your own is just fine.
DePaulo says, “It is ironic, in a way, that our society disparages people who value time alone, since we are also a society that celebrates rugged individualism and getting in touch with our true selves.”
While it may be scary initially to go to a class by yourself, try to get in touch with your true self, as DePaulo would encourage, and enjoy learning something new!
5. Express your creativity
Being alone often enhances the creative process. Having space to express yourself while focusing on your work can be relaxing—and maybe provide something you can use to decorate your dorm room!
Try drawing or painting a picture, writing a poem or even sculpting (it can be with Play-Doh!) while you’re spending time alone. DePaulo says, “There is so much to be gained by spending time on your own – more creativity, more self-insight, more attunement with your surroundings… to name just a few possibilities.” All of these benefits of being alone can help your true self to shine through in your art.
It’s all right if you aren’t much of an artist; it’s the process of being creative that matters. One easy project you could do is to make a dream board with pictures of all the great accomplishments and adventures you want to experience during college.
If you’re looking for more ideas, try the DIY and crafts section on Pinterest.
There are so many benefits to spending some time alone. The next time you have a few moments to yourself, relax and have some “you time” by doing some of these activities.
*Name has been changed.