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Boldly Unbounded in Solitude and Silence


Boldly Unbounded in Solitude and Silence


 


When you think about solitude, what words do you associate with it? Silence? Loneliness? Disconnection? Withdrawal? Peace? Calm? Something else?


What emotions do you associate with solitude? Where do you experience them in the body?


And where does solitude happen? Is it physical, mental, or both?


Reflecting on solitude and silence brings me back to a 10-day Vipassana retreat I did in North Fork, California. It was easily, and surprisingly, one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. It was 10 days of silence with 10 hours of seated meditation per day.


Silence in this context meant no technology, no reading, no writing, no eye contact with the 80 other participants, and no speaking. It also extended to 45-minute meditations where you attempted to maintain total stillness of the body—not even minor adjustments.


I can still remember the mental turmoil I cycled through each day, the physical discomfort and pain in my body sitting on a cushion on the floor, and an unrelenting desire to get my eyes on something, anything to read. Meals became a craving/saving grace. The nightly recorded lectures became a prize for a day full of silence and stillness. And sleep became my reprieve from the daily challenge.


Yet, when the retreat ended, I felt a level of freedom, clarity, and calm in all aspects of my life that I’ve never experienced since. It was a transformative experience that changed everything for me. And one that I will repeat in the future.



 


The Power of Solitude & Silence


When used intentionally, solitude can dramatically improve your quality of life and your leadership. But first, let’s dig into the what of solitude…



What Is Solitude?


Solitude is simply being alone, physically, mentally, or both. And complete solitude is being alone physically with inner focus—this is the sweet spot. Think of it like walking in nature, mindfulness meditation, or practicing yoga. It could be while you have a quiet cup of coffee while reading on your terrace. Or painting on your back porch.


It comes from a place of choice. Choosing to be alone. Choosing to connect with true yourself.



 


Solitude Supports Exceptional Leadership


While we’re wired for connection, intentional solitude and silence are core to your well-being and support exceptional leadership. So, what are the benefits of solitude and how can they help you be a better leader?



Cultivates Body-Mind Connection


We live in a fast-paced world, filled with distractions but when we slow down we get to know ourselves better. How so? You notice your thoughts—from limiting beliefs to habits and expansive, creativity exploration.


You listen to the body—noticing an underlying fatigue, tension in your shoulders, or relaxation. You may also start to notice the relationship between the body and the mind. Mindfulness paves the way to body-mind connection.


It reminds me of something my yoga mentor used to say:



Quote by Jean Mazzei

I love this quote because I’ve always found it to be true. The body and mind mirror each other and offer profound insights, which leads me to the benefits…


What are the benefits of body-mind connection? Emerging research on mindfulness’ impact on leadership shows:

  • Stronger focus. Less multi-tasking, better distraction management, and conscious transitions from one thing to the next.

  • Better boundary setting. Leaders notice when they’re not able to optimally perform from both mental and physical cues, so they take a break to reset so they can come back with higher performance.

  • Healthier relationship skills. Leaders recognize their assumptions and beliefs and how they translate to reactions, enabling them to emotionally regulate. They actively listen, judge less, and possess a higher awareness of their team’s needs.

  • More adaptable. Leaders can accept change and focus on solutions more easily.

Regulates the Nervous System


In solitude, your nervous system rests in a low arousal state—experiencing a state of connection. It lowers cortisol and offers a sense of calm and connection in the separateness of being alone.


It’s a big difference from loneliness or isolation—coming from being in a state of protection—where poor mental health and lower levels of life satisfaction live.


  • Manage stress better

  • Make better decisions

  • Communicate more effectively and with clarity



Makes Relationships More Meaningful


When you spend time alone, you also spend more time reflecting and introspecting. It leads to a deeper connection and compassion with yourself, higher empathy with others, and appreciation of relationships. It helps you see the people who make up your team more clearly, understand their needs, recognize the value and impact they bring, and make better decisions around those relationships.



Strengthens Bold Leadership


I really love this one, because it frees you from being what society expects of you. It’s the essence of Boldly Unbounded. Solitude offers freedom from pressures and responsibilities coming from others.


It reminds me of something I read in The Pluri Society by Sherry Ning,


You know what you’re best at? That no one can beat you at? Being you. Recognize your insecurities and become what you are afraid to be. The undesirable circumstances of today do not have to be the arbitrary limits of tomorrow—take control of your destiny. As Carl Jung once said, “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” Not who you think you should be or who others would like you to be, but who you truly are.

In leadership, the pressure can feel all too real, so making space to take a break from it is key. It can allow you to listen to yourself without the noise, gain clarity, and make more balanced decisions.



Boosts Creativity


Creativity is a skill like any other. The more we practice it, the more creative we can become. Solitude is one way. Preliminary research shows that solitude can lessen anxiety and foster creative thinking and work.


So while you might be reading, painting, crafting a vase, running, or [whatever you like to do in solitude], you’re also reaching into yourself to find beauty, depth, and connection. You experience momentary insights, offering Aha! Moments, to help you make better decisions and become more resistant to your own biases.



 


Invite Solitude & Silence into Your Habits


Alright, time to invite action into your day. Time to invite solitude and silence into your day. Here are 3 ways to cultivate a daily solitude practice with ease.



Know When You Need Alone Time


How much solitude do you need in your life? Well, it depends. It’s unique to you. The best place to start is by understanding when you need it. Here are signs that alone time is calling to you:


  • You feel tired, even if you had a good night’s sleep.

  • You’re struggling to focus.

  • You feel overwhelmed or annoyed by things that normally don’t bother you.

  • You feel dread for that upcoming thing—hanging out with friends, a local event, going out for dinner—that normally you love doing.


This means you’re likely in a state of protection—fight, flight, or freeze—so taking time for solitude can help you regulate your nervous system and move back to a state of connection.



Build Solitude into Your Workday


Create micro-moments and minimum 15-minute breaks in your day. Here are a few ways you can do it:

  • 5-minute buffers between meetings. Allow yourself to stop, close your eyes, scan the body, and observe the breath for a few minutes.

  • Practice mindful listening. During 1:1s or meetings, listen to others with curiosity and non-judgment, while noticing how your body or mind tends to respond. No need to change or control anything, just observe.

  • Spend 15 minutes in energizing solitude before deep work. This could be playing an instrument, practicing a mindfulness meditation, or reading.

  • Go for a walk. During the workday, get out of your workspace and go for a walk. No music. No podcast. Just presence in the environment around you, noticing the sights, sounds, smells, temperature, etc.



Spend Time in Nature


Depending on where you live, nature might not be easily accessible. Living in Barcelona, snorkeling is the easiest way for me to spend time in nature. All I can hear is the water and see life below the surface.



My first 2023 snorkel session in Barcelona



So try to find a way to access nature—whether it's pure nature, urban gardening, or even watching a nature documentary.


The science...

Over 100 studies have shown that being in nature, living near nature, or even viewing nature in paintings and videos can have positive impacts on our brains, bodies, feelings, thought processes, and social interactions. In particular, viewing nature seems to be inherently rewarding, producing a cascade of position emotions and calming our nervous systems. These in turn help us to cultivate greater openness, creativity, connection, generosity, and resilience. - UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine, by Kristophe Green and Dacher Keltner


My invite for you this week is to take action. Start with noticing when you need solitude. Then, add blocks to your calendar (or another reminder) to build moments of solitude into your workday.


Lastly, find a way to bring more nature into your life. What can you do to make it a weekly ritual?


As always, reach out with questions and ideas, or to share insights you have.


Rachel's sign off





 


P.S. Want to explore how solitude can help you claim what you want—you're biggest dreams? I’ve got 5 questions to ask you that will challenge and provoke your thinking. Would that be interesting to you?



5 powerful questions conversation


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