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New Study Confirms the Value of Solitude


In my book Digital Minimalism, I emphasized the danger of a newly-emerged condition that I called “solitude deprivation.” As I wrote, the introduction of the smartphone caused our relationship with distraction to mutate into something new:

“At the slightest hint of boredom, you can now surreptitiously glance at any number of apps or mobile-adapted websites that have been optimized to provide you an immediate and satisfying dose of input from other minds. It’s now possible to completely banish solitude from your life.”

I went on to argue that this condition was worrisome. Us humans evolved to experience significant amounts of time alone with our own thoughts. Remove this solitude from our lives and we’re not only bound to get twitchy and anxious, but we miss out on much of the subtle but deep value generated by a wandering mind.

A new paper, published by researchers at the University of Tübingen, and appearing in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, provides some support for these claims. “Psychologists who studied a group of more than 250 people encouraged to engage in directionless contemplation or free-floating thinking,” summarizes The Guardian, “said that the activity was far more satisfying than the participants had anticipated.”

Furthermore, the paper reports benefits to losing yourself in thought, finding that this state can “aid problem solving, increase creativity, enhance the imagination and contribute to a sense of self-worth.”

Kou Murayama, the lead author of the study, noted that the subjects underestimated the value of contemplation, and in many cases worried that this activity would be a negative experience. They often preferred the easy distraction provided by technology such as smartphones. “This could explain why people prefer to keep busy rather than to enjoy a moment of reflection or letting their imagination run away with itself in their everyday lives,” he concluded.

These results do a good job of summarizing our current troubled relationship with our own minds. We fear solitude, but it’s exactly this time alone with our own thoughts that we need to make sense of our experiences and grow as humans. TikTok is fun, but grappling with the core questions of our existence is fundamental.


This week on Deep Questions: In episode 208 of my podcast, posted earlier today, I tackle my problem with task lists, the liminal space between deep and shallow work, and the anxiety of not making enough progress on your goals. You can watch the full episode on YouTube or subscribe wherever you consume podcasts.

9 thoughts on “New Study Confirms the Value of Solitude”

  1. Thanks Cal! When I first read Digital Minimalism I started embracing these concepts and started going for long walks without distractions. I was surprised by how many ideas came to me during these times. I still embrace these ideas and will often take breaks from audiobooks or podcasts during my long commute to work to enjoy more moments of free thinking.

    • That’s true, and complementing solitude with Journaling may be like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I myself am practicing the combo for a while now and it is repaying in spades, all you have to do is to write whatever your mind wanders about and then devise plans to solve for the problems your mind was bothered by.
      stay Blessed

  2. Spot On..I dread the idea of getting bored. Though on Weekends I Try to switch to Nokia Feature phone after reading “Deep work” (Cant do it on weekdays…for varied reasons). Currently reading “A world without Email”…..implementing changes are not the easiest things to do. But trying

  3. My wife and I were on a date and I intentionally left my phone at home. She got a call from one of my kid’s teachers and had to leave for a second. I sat there for 11 minutes. I didn’t even have a menu to look at. Longest 11 minutes of my entire life.

  4. This is an old study. Ancients indians practised this technique and teached their students. But now it is being branded as a new study. OK, anyways my comments will be filtered to protect the blog content.

  5. As a Muslim, I can appreciate this writeup. The Quran repeatedly emphasizes the importance of thinking and contemplation. Phrases like these are repeated dozens of times in the Qur’an:
     “Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses that you might use reason” [Surah al-Baqarah 2:242],
    “for a people who give thought” [Surah Yoonus 10:24] and
    “for a people who understand” [Surah al-An‘aam 6:98].

    “[This is] a blessed Book which We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad s.a.w], that they might reflect upon its verses and that those of understanding would be reminded”
    [Surah Saad 38:29].

    Allah, may He be glorified, says,
    “Do they not contemplate within themselves? Allah has not created the heavens and the earth and what is between them except in truth and for a specified term. And indeed, many of the people, in [the matter of] the meeting with their Lord, are disbelievers”
    [Surah ar-Room 30:8].


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