Episode 004. The Surprising Benefits of Spending Time Alone

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[00:00:00] Cynthia Garcia: In prison, they put you in solitary confinement. So spending time alone can feel very hard for different people for a variety of reasons. 

[00:00:11] Welcome back to The Transformational Nutrition Podcast, the podcast that is redefining nutrition as anything that feeds you physically, mentally, and spiritually. I’m your host, Cynthia Garcia, the founder and CEO of ITN.

[00:00:26] And in today’s episode, we’re talking about what happens when you spend time with yourself? The good, the not so good, and the health benefits that we receive from it when we do. Look, the pandemic was tough for all of us, me included. At first, I saw it as a real opportunity. I’m not going to lie. I thought, you know what? I’ve got this under control. I was ready for some quiet alone time. And it’s interesting, I’m an introvert. You know, I don’t get energy from being out and around others. It actually drains my energy, and I don’t mind being alone. In fact, I really, really like being alone. So when the pandemic hit, I thought I have been waiting for this my whole life. Let’s go.

[00:01:15] And it was great at first, but then I realized just how quiet the house was. How I could hear every noise, every scuffle. I heard the air conditioning turning on, going off. I heard every thought that I had. And then after a while that this went on, I would just start having conversations with the thoughts in my head.

[00:01:41] And well, that was interesting, right? Like having, I would actually just speak out loud. I would just have these whole conversations for myself. And so one day in the middle of my self-awareness marathon, a client called me up. Now, she’s a fairly well-known person in the entertainment industry. And she was used to being surrounded by people, right.

[00:02:04] She was, in fact, she had told me before this all happened, like in one just random conversation that she never felt like she was ever alone. She always had someone with her. You know, she was surrounded by managers and assistants and stylists and makeup artists and on and on and on. People were always giving her input, direction and advice.

[00:02:26] And now, she was all alone. I mean, she told me she’s like, I’ve done a ton of Zoom calls. I’ve organized, I’ve baked. And all I have left is my thoughts. And maybe this sounds familiar to you. She had her thoughts of the past. Her thoughts of the future. Her thoughts about what other people thought about her.

[00:02:48] She wondered if the world would ever be the same. If she would ever be the same. She wondered who she even was. You see, she had been a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and this was the first time she had had alone with herself, her true self in a really long time. And this meant that she had a really beautiful opportunity to figure out what she wanted long-term, what was serving her short term, and what exactly she wanted to focus on doing and being in the middle. It was not an easy road. There were many late night emails and late night text messages, many coaching calls on Zoom, but she found the courage and the strength to move through her feelings of being alone and her fear of missing out.

[00:03:39] You know, I think one of the hardest adjustments we had to make during the pandemic was truly being alone. You know, not seeing friends and loved ones. Not touching anyone else. Missing out on what the world has to offer. Many of us had to confront one of the scariest things that we could have imagined. For so many of us, it was terrifying and that is being alone with ourselves. Now aside from my client that I just told you about having a hard time with her thoughts and just being on her own, I saw a lot of people where this led to depression, anxiety, it exacerbated many other health concerns or mental health concerns.

[00:04:28] And it was really not pretty. And I feel like the reason that this was such an issue, well there are several reasons actually, but one of the biggest is that we came face to face with who we really were. And many of us don’t like that person. Many of us don’t know that person. I mean, listen, Netflix and wine and social media and Zoom meetups could only distract us for so long. 

[00:04:58] At ITN, one of our pillars of the new model of nutrition is spirituality. And it’s not about religion or anything like that. It’s about connection. Connection with others, with the planet, and with each other. But what we see on a regular basis is that many of us don’t have great relationships with ourselves. We don’t know how to be alone with ourselves.

[00:05:19] The truth is most people are just not comfortable in their own heads. Many of us struggle, but more importantly, many of us missed out on an amazing opportunity to reap the benefits of being alone. Now in a culture where we often confuse being alone for loneliness, the inability to appreciate that time by ourselves prevents us from receiving many of the benefits of spending time alone.

[00:05:48] Victoria Kleinsman: Eating disorders, poor body image, low self-esteem has been a theme throughout my life growing up. So I started dieting when I was nine years old. I remember using my mom’s Weight Watchers cardboard calculator. It wasn’t all about the iPhone then. 

[00:06:06] Cynthia Garcia: That’s Victoria Kleinsman, an ITN graduate and the incredible story she is sharing is that of her own transformation.

[00:06:14] Victoria Kleinsman: I’ve learned since nine years old, like, oh, well you control your food because that manipulates the size of your body. So I just took it too far. So I started over achieving in not just food. And when I say overachieving, we’re given set points on Weight Watchers, I would go under that on purpose. Then if it was Slimming World I’d be following, you’d have so many sins that you’d be allowed a day and I’d go under that on purpose. So whether I was following a calorie counter or whatever it was, I would do it to the extreme to try and do it the best that I could, which actually was in detriment to myself. And I just developed anorexia nervosa. I was diagnosed when I was 13 years old.

[00:06:58] My mom noticed it very early on. So I owe my life to my mom, really, she saved my life. It was a really difficult time for the whole family, as well as myself, because of course it has a massive effect, not just on yourself. Now, I’ve been able to reflect back on that time. It really did affect my family in such a huge way.

[00:07:21] Cynthia Garcia: We’ll hear more from Victoria later in the episode until then let’s get back to today’s topic.

[00:07:30] Robert Copeland, who is a developmental psychologist and professor of psychology at Carlton University said historically solitude has had a pretty bad rap. Because it is sometimes used as a form of punishment. I mean, think about that right? In prison, they put you in solitary confinement. So spending time alone can feel very hard for different people, for a variety of reasons for my client.

[00:07:57] It was just because she was so accustomed to this crazy busy life, noise, people, right? She thrived off of a full schedule. And a lot of her got validation from being who she was to so many people. And then that was taken away. Her identity was taken away and she was left with who she really was. And I’m not saying she’s pretending to be someone else.

[00:08:22] All I’m saying is that there was a deeper level of her that she finally got to explore. For others, maybe they’re just accustomed to spending time by themselves, right? Maybe spending time alone helps you to feel more in touch with their feelings. Not all of which might be easy to tolerate when they show up, by the way.

[00:08:45] Like that could be true for you, but yet other people, all different kinds of people here, other people may have some stigma or a negative reaction about spending time alone. They might think, well, only a person with no friends spends time alone, right? Maybe you’ve thought that. Whatever the case, spending time alone can feel challenging to many of us, even though it may ultimately help us.

[00:09:11] Here’s how challenging many people find this. In a series of 11 different studies, UVA psychologist, Timothy Wilson, and colleagues at UVA, as well as Harvard University found that study participants from a range of ages generally did not enjoy spending even brief periods of time alone in a room with nothing to do, but think, ponder, or daydream, right? Had a really hard time with this. 

[00:09:39] These participants, by and large, enjoyed way more when they were doing external activities like listening to music or being on a smartphone. Here’s the crazy part, some of them even preferred to give themselves mild electric shocks than to sit and think on their own.

[00:10:02] Now you might be saying, well, gosh, Cynthia, how long did they ask these people to be alone for? You know, this is 11 different studies with how long were they by themselves? That’s a great question. So the period of time that Wilson and his colleagues ask participants to be alone with their thoughts, wasn’t days, wasn’t hours, wasn’t even one day.

[00:10:28] It ranged from 6 to 15 minutes. 6 to 15 minutes without a phone, without a distraction, without music, without TV, without anything except their thoughts. When faced with that or the option to shock themselves instead, many of them chose that. They chose the electrical shock. It’s very interesting, and it’s also very telling.

[00:11:01] There is an emerging body of research that is suggesting that spending time alone, if it’s done right, can be good for us. That certain tasks and thought processes are best carried out without anyone else around. And that even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities and be capable of focus and creative thinking. 

[00:11:27] Think about it, when’s the last time you just sat and thought? You just were, you just be? When was the last time you did that, right? I’ve been working really hard to put thinking time into my day, and it’s just what it sounds like. You can schedule as little as two or three minutes or an hour. Where I usually have in front of me a notebook and a pen or pencil just in case anything comes up I can write it down. But other than that, it’s just sitting by yourself. So why would we do this? And what are these benefits that these studies are finding? 

[00:12:01] Let’s take a look at those now. So the first thing is these experts say all these researchers in these studies say that spending time alone can benefit your social relationships. It can improve your creativity and your confidence, and it can help you regulate your emotions so that you can better deal with adverse situations. And, and as a bonus, you begin to realize who you were spending time with because you enjoy their company versus who you spend time with because, well, you’ve just always spent time with them.

[00:12:38] Number two, it’s a great way to discover new interests and passions. The freedom of not having to follow the lead of others with no pressure to do anything, no pressure to talk to anyone, or no obligation to make plans is a great way to process and decompress. Even for people who are highly social. It helps us to discover new interests and ideas without having to worry about the opinions of others. Because when you get to know yourself, because you’ve spent this time alone, you discover your real passions. 

[00:13:12] You know, it’s funny. During the pandemic, so many people say, gosh, I love painting, coloring, and working puzzles. Like people have found all kinds of different passions. You also improve your empathy and maybe more importantly, you really assess how you spend your time. Now, maybe you’ve just always done certain things because it’s what you’ve always done, but maybe you didn’t actually enjoy it. 

[00:13:39] Think about it. This alone time will help you see that so that you can do some things differently. All right, the third benefit. The third reason that spending time alone is good is that memories are formed more effectively when people think they are experiencing something individually.

[00:13:57] They are not concerned about what others might think. They can tune in more fully to their own experience. So they’re not influenced by the opinions of others. And that’s a big deal because most of us are in these days. And look, furthermore, when you’re part of a group, you’re way more likely to go along with what the group is doing or thinking, which aren’t always the actions or decisions that you would take or make, if you were on your own.

[00:14:26] Now, this is what my client that I mentioned earlier in the show discovered. She was able just to sit with herself and think about what was really important to her. Not what was important to the people around her, but what was important to her. And then she could intentionally choose how she wanted to live her life. Right? And then she could go create that. 

[00:14:51] So many of us go through the motions of a life we don’t want to live. A life that’s influenced by other people’s opinions. Other people’s wants. Other people’s needs. But if you can get some white space, some distance, some alone time with yourself, you can focus or refocus rather on creating the life that you want to.

[00:15:12] Alright the fourth reason alone time is important is solitude helps to improve concentration and increase productivity. Super important, especially for those of you who might be entrepreneurs, right? We’re always looking like, how can we improve focus? How can we improve productivity? So when you remove as many distractions and interruptions as you can from your day, I mean, think about it. It makes sense, right? 

[00:15:35] You’re better able to concentrate, which will help you get more work done in a shorter amount of time. The more comfortable we can become spending time by ourselves, the less lonely we are when we have to be alone. If you make an effort to build a relationship with yourself, you won’t be scrambling to make plans on a Friday night when your friends cancel. Instead, you’ll be content in your own company, which can make you feel more confident. In fact, you might be the one canceling the plans at some point. 

[00:16:06] And speaking of friends and relationships that brings us to number five, the fifth benefit you get from being alone solitude can actually enhance the quality of your relationships with others. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, I get it, but it’s true. By spending time with yourself and gaining a better understanding of who you are and what you desire in life, you’re way more likely to make better choices about who you want to be around. You also might come to appreciate your relationships more after you’ve spent some time alone or some time apart.

[00:16:40] Now I said it before I love spending time alone. I just do. My husband he’s a social butterfly. I am not, and I am also very particular about who I let into my life. My time is precious and outside of my family, there are only a few good friends that I share it with. I love being able to spend that time alone, doing what I want, whether it’s reconnecting with myself over a hot bath, because I love water, or a good book, or even exploring new activities or places, or even working, because I love what I do. I love helping people and serving people and that doesn’t feel like work to me. It feeds me, and so I enjoy doing that. It’s a time that I truly cherish. 

[00:17:25] All right we’ll be back in just a moment right after we hear a bit more from ITN student, Victoria Kleinsmith, about her incredible journey of transformation in her own words.

[00:17:42] Victoria Kleinsman: So when I was a teenager, Um, that happened two to three years. I would say I was fully recruited from a medical standpoint and then life kind of just happened as normal.

[00:17:53] And I left school at 16 years old, got all my qualifications, but wanted to work with horses. So I started my job and my real job in the horse world. And I don’t know if you know about horses, but it’s a very active job. So I was riding nine horses a day, mucking, stables out. I was on my feet. All the time. So in regards to my relationship with my body and food, at that time, I could pretty much eat what I wanted because I was so active and my body didn’t really change.

[00:18:24] So I was happy with that. So this is, uh, a theme that if my body was how I wanted it, then that means I was okay. So then therefore I could be happy. And then moving on from that time when I was 19, um, I felt, well, I thought I fell in love with a man who was 15 years older than me. Um, it happened very gradually what I found myself in a physically, mentally abusive relationship.

[00:18:48] And in that time there was six years that we were together. I turned to food because that’s all I ever had that was there for me. I distanced myself. Um, from my family, from my friends, my mom was doing everything she could to reach out to me. It’s kind of like you’re in this little world, not in the real world.

[00:19:09] And I was hidden from the real world by him, but I turned to food and because of the extreme dieting I’d done in my past with my anorexia as well, my body. Still craving all the things I’d always craved. And that was the first time in my life that I allowed myself to just eat whatever it was I wanted to eat and more so because it was just comforting me.

[00:19:34] And when I did manage to leave, I kind of rebuilt my life. So I did leave and I rebuilt my life. He had unknowingly left me in thousands of pounds worth of debt that were put in my name with his daughter’s signature, pretending to be me. We went to the police, we did all the legal things, but because there was no proof, it was my word against hairs and I had to pay the debt or I’d be blacklisted.

[00:19:59] So then I got a job with horses again. Just worked really hard, paid all the debts off, rebuilt my life again, because I was working with horses the way it kind of naturally came off. I was so overly active and I could more or less eat what I wanted again. However, I definitely noticed this time I wasn’t nourishing myself.

[00:20:20] So I noticed it was more processed foods. It wasn’t nourishing myself from a place of self care. Like, oh actually, maybe you should have some proteins and fats. And it was just, I’m going to eat the foods. I never allowed myself to have, I’m going to eat the foods that when I was in the abusive relationship caused me to gain all this weight, but now I can eat them, but then also not gain the weight.

[00:20:43] So even though I was happy with my body image at that time, because I was smaller again, my relationship with food was, was not in. Not in a good place. And then not long after that, I started the gym and this is another chapter of my life that opened me up to developing bulemia because I would ride horses all day and be really active all day.

[00:21:05] And then after that, I would go to the gym and my body changed quite quickly. I got muscles very quickly and the, the amount of external validation that I got from the outside world of like, oh my gosh, you look incredible. How do you do. So then my obsession took, came from the gym. I was doing fitness model land in the background though behind closed doors, I was like starving myself all day till I literally physically couldn’t not eat anymore.

[00:21:36] And then I would go to the supermarket on the way home from the gym and buy the whole of the chocolate section and the ice cream section and just go home and binge in secret. And then repeat over and over again. I remember one time. I was getting on a girls’ holiday and I got up at like three in the morning to fit in a 10 K run before the flight, because I would’ve been sat down for an hour on the plane.

[00:21:59] So it was, it was very, very, very unhealthy mindset. I looked like the picture of health from the outside. I was in the fitness magazines and behind closed doors starving, purging, bingeing, and just basically hating on myself. Nothing was good enough. So just that’s why comparison. Isn’t helpful because you just don’t know what’s going on.

[00:22:28] Cynthia Garcia: So how does Victoria’s story lead her to ITN and the path that she’s on today, we’ll find out a bit more later,

[00:22:39] Now I’ve shared a lot of benefits with you, and you can see there’s a lot of great reasons to spend time alone, and I know it can still be tough. So let me give you some really practical steps. If you think I don’t like spending time alone. I get the benefits, Cynthia, but how do I do this? Let’s talk about that.

[00:22:59] Now, I’m gonna give you some tips where you can set some boundaries and find a way to spend some time alone. So the first thing is to focus on your mindset, okay? Remind yourself: I’m alone because I’m choosing to spend time alone for my own self care not because I don’t have other options. So if I get in this mindset, this place of thinking I’m alone, because no one wants to hang out with me and I’m just not loved.

[00:23:34] I mean, you can see that’s just a rabbit hole, right? That’s going to lead to nowhere good. But if I reframe that and I say, no, I’m choosing this. I want this time for myself to care for myself to get clear with my own thoughts to just check in and see how I feel to just be. Then that’s different. It shifts everything.

[00:23:55] And also another tip is to take baby steps. All right baby steps aren’t just for babies. They turn into big steps after so many. Start with your lunch hour. Once a week or even just a couple of times a month, commit to spending lunch by yourself, go for a walk, and sit in the sun outside. Go to a park and eat your lunch and just enjoy that time that you have alone. Just be the observer of your own life without judging, right? Without judging yourself, without judging others, and just see what comes up for you, right? 

[00:24:31] Another tip is to date yourself. Date yourself and be really deeply interested and curious about cultivating positive experiences for yourself when you’re alone. I mean, if you were to plan a date with someone, you’d probably go through a lot of trouble. You’d make it nice. You would want them to be happy and you’d want them to have a good time. Do that for yourself. Take yourself to a nice restaurant. Go on a little adventure. Follow your impulses and desires. Be spontaneous or design a nourishing day or afternoon for yourself.

[00:25:08] If you give yourself attention, time, and you treat yourself nicely, you might find that you don’t feel lonely while you’re alone. Now in a twist on the golden rule, treat yourself as you would treat others, right? Just flip that around there, right? Show up for you the way you would show up for other people. Don’t flake. Be open to exploring new interests, make space in your life and put in the time. Even if it’s just spending 30 minutes a week reading at your local cafe. 

[00:25:40] Another tip is to put your phone away when you’re spending time with yourself to limit the FOMO, right. That’s never fun. Focus on doing things that you love and treating your days alone as special, rather than a dread. You might even want to start making one day a week your alone day so that everybody close to you knows that it’s your time to focus on yourself, right? 

[00:26:01] So think about some ways that you can do that. For example, one of the things that I do, and we all have our things, right, but I have a lot going on, like many of us do. And what I found is that it’s really important for me to transition between my roles of being a CEO or a coach versus a mom or a wife, or even a friend. I need that transition time. 

[00:26:25] Otherwise I go in and I spend time with my husband in CEO mode and that doesn’t, that doesn’t work out so well, right? So I have to soften a little bit, I have to remember to take on my other role. And so I do this thing called mommy minutes. And usually the name came about from my daughter, because as soon as I would finish work at the end of the day, she was immediately like, okay, let’s hang out. Let’s play. And I love doing those things with her. I love it, but I still haven’t transitioned from working. I was still in CEO mode. 

[00:26:59] So I created this thing called mommy minutes. And I say, okay, we will, we’re going to play, we’re going to read that thing, we’re going to do that thing right after mommy minutes are done. And I just take a brief amount of time. It’s never long. It’s maybe 15 or 20 minutes and I just decompress. I just spend some time alone so that I’m in a good place when I am ready to spend time with her. 

[00:27:22] Let’s hear from Victoria and allow her to answer the questions about what led her to enroll at ITN and how ITN’s program helped her to get through the past traumas she’s faced to truly create a life that finally feeds her.

[00:27:42] Victoria Kleinsman: I can’t remember having a normal relationship with foods in my adult life, to be honest, until recently four years ago, I went to Egypt on holiday with a girlfriend and met a Dutch man who I am now aware. Then that’s why I live in the Netherlands. And he introduced me to personal development. Well, I didn’t know that that was the start of my spiritual awakening or my personal development journey.

[00:28:07] I had no idea now. I I’ve explored all of this. It’s 100% my path, my intuition that led me here because when I moved in with him, I could no longer hide my food behaviors. He cared about me. So. I wouldn’t eat all day. You were trying to encourage me to nourish myself from a place of love. Now I know what intuition is and how we’re so guided in this lifetime.

[00:28:36] I didn’t know at that time. So after that night of me just collapsing on the floor and just being like, I don’t, I don’t know what to do. I remember thinking to myself. I’m scared of my own thoughts. I’m scared of myself. I’m scared of being in my own head. And I, at one point I literally thought I needed to go to a psychiatric hospital or something because I was so I haven’t got the words to describe.

[00:28:59] I’ve never felt that way before. And I was at rock bottom and at that time, actually in the Netherlands, and I’d got a job cleaning student toilets and showers because of the language barrier. We’re in the middle of nowhere. We’re not near the city when I moved here. And I jumped in with both feet and was like, oh, I’ll learn the language.

[00:29:20] It will be fine. It’s not easy to speak to it at all. And so at that time I was cleaning toilets. So the next day I went to work because obviously I had to work to pay the bills and to share my part of that. And I was listening to a podcast and that was the model health show, which is Shawn Stevenson, which I believe he’s an ITN.

[00:29:41] And he had Cynthia Garcia on as a guest. And I mean, if this wasn’t aligned, I don’t know what was, of course it was a mind and I was cleaning the toilet. I remember it so vividly and Cynthia shared her story and I just. Something inside me just stopped and was like, oh my God, there’s no, there’s another way I can actually use what I’ve been through all the pain to help all the people.

[00:30:08] And that hadn’t even been, I thought that of mine before it just, all of a sudden dawned on me. So Cynthia sharing her story on that, I went home after my shift at work and said to my fiance. I know what I want to do. I want to be a health coach. I mean, at this point I wasn’t better myself. I haven’t even started my healing journey.

[00:30:30] So not only did I think, okay, well, I can help all those with this. I could also help myself go in through this. So hearing Cynthia’s story made me realize that, okay, if she can do that, maybe I can do that. I was not full of self-confidence in any way, shape or form. It was like a little, it was like how was saying adopt and all.

[00:30:52] And then Cynthia had got a torch and it just shined at the very, very end of this big, long tunnel. So at that was the feeling that I had. Like, maybe this could be something so. So when I signed off, I thought, right, I can get myself healed first and then be a health coach and then do it that way. So I didn’t realize that my niche would have been ironically exactly what I struggled with most of my life.

[00:31:17] I just knew I wanted to first heal myself and then I just want to help other people. So it, I found out my niche through the ICM program and through Cynthia’s oh my God. The amount of self-belief Cynthia gives to you throughout the program of promising that it will just all work itself out after going through the program.

[00:31:41] And Cynthia always shares purpose and experiences. That helps me to understand that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. So I brought all of the shame that I had around how I felt in my body, what I was doing in the background, around my relationship with food. I just very courageously, I don’t really know whether college called from its end each and every one of us, but I just knew if I could, because I heard Cynthia’s story and that inspired me to change my life. 

[00:32:12] Why can’t I inspire somebody else? My name is Victoria Kleinsman, and I’m a food freedom and body image coach. So what that means is I help women to feel normal around food, actually like their bodies, and fall madly in love with themselves.

[00:32:32] Cynthia Garcia: All right so you now know the importance of spending time alone and how you can start to do that. I’ve given you a lot of different ideas here. I also want you to keep in mind that it is all about balance. There’s a ton of benefits to socializing and building real connections with people. So, you know, don’t just shut everyone out and change your phone number.

[00:32:52] Be sure though that you’re making time for yourself too. So this week, I urge you to schedule a date with yourself. It can be anything you could do a solo coffee adventure. You could read a book for 30 minutes. You could take a bath, enjoy a walk, whatever it is that you like to do. And then make a note of how this time feels.

[00:33:11] Is it difficult? Do you enjoy it? And then make sure you let us know by heading over to our Instagram page, we’re @transformationalnutrition and leave us your favorite alone time activity under this week’s episode post. Also make sure that you check out all the show notes and other resources for this episode transformationnutrition.com/episode004.

[00:33:34] And I’ll see you right back here again for another new and exciting episode.

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