Do you want to be a hermit? Does living in a cabin away from people, surrounded by nature sound like the best paradise ever? Or do you just enjoy being by yourself, away from others? You’re not alone in this desire. Here’s how to embrace your inner hermit and find more peace and solitude despite living in a world always demanding that you run with the crowd.
A Tradition as Old as Time
There have always been those who have wanted to live apart from society or who cherished a life of seclusion and solitude. You can find these people in the monastic traditions of most religions or look to those who prefer living off grid or in rural areas over living in cities and towns. Everywhere you turn, you will find people living apart and happily so – from those in the countryside to the single man or woman in an apartment in the city. Many find peace and greater connection with life in doing so.
Even in pop culture we have similar archetypes. Watch movies and you’ll always find the lone sage or hermit the hero or heroine visits for knowledge, training or wisdom. Hello, Yoda anyone?
The point is that the world isn’t just made up of extroverts. The search and need for solitude is universal – not confined to the limiting opposites of extrovert and introvert. It’s encoded in our very DNA, to a greater and lesser extent across the population. You could say it’s a spectrum.
Modernity & the Loss of Privacy
Modern society has almost no patience for those of us who simply love a life of solitude and seclusion. We’re “supposed” to want to be with others all the time despite the fact that across all cultures and all recorded history there have always been those who live apart, many revered and respected for doing so, at least in the past.
Technology has made enjoying our solitude an increasingly difficult task. Smartphones and seemingly global wifi mean anyone can call us anywhere at anytime – from friends and relatives, to our bosses and colleagues, to acquaintances and even strangers. Marketers aren’t the only ones calling or sending emails or text. If you live in a city, just walking down the street can mean people asking for money, your opinion on surveys or your time to listen to them talk about whatever it is they’re wanting to pitch.
Maybe you have family and friends always coming over or demanding your time, or jobs that demand attention even when you’re off the clock. Maybe you have invitations and mounting social obligations and wonder how you wound up with so many.
The simple fact is, the world is full of noise and people clamoring for your attention and time. It doesn’t matter how busy you are, people will always take more. It’s up to us to draw the lines and claim the time and solitude we desire.
Here are 7 ways of getting more private time or solitude to do the things you enjoy, even if that’s just laying on your couch and napping happily in peace for 3 hours.
#1 – You Don’t Have to Answer Your Phone
You’d be surprised by how many people think they have to answer the phone when it rings. Actually we don’t. Time is a precious commodity and what we’re doing now is important. Why lose focus on that to answer because someone has called or texted? Let the phone go to voicemail or don’t respond to that text until you want to. Or never.
In this day and age of 24/7 access via phone, email and text, being at the mercy of everyone else’s schedules, moments of boredom, random comments or posts, complaints, etc. is just robbing you of how you want to best use your time.
If it’s important, they’ll leave a message or call back. Better, by not answering every random text or call, you’re teaching people to respect your privacy and solitude. If they get huffy, that’s their problem. You are not their slave and your time does not de facto belong to them.
#2 – Do Not Disturb
Similarly, another place to start in reclaiming your sanity and solitude is to enable your phone’s “do not disturb” feature. It’s better than being on silent since your phone won’t vibrate when someone calls or texts. You’ll still get a notification but only when you actually look at your phone.
Unless you have school-aged children, emergencies that need immediate attention rarely arise. Kids get sick and need to come home or go to the doctor but most every other emergency rarely happens. My phone is off at night. My family and others used to harp about what if there was a family emergency?
I don’t know about you, but my family all live more than a thousand miles away. If something happens at 2am, there’s nothing I can really do. In decades of having a phone, I’ve never gotten an emergency call that needed handling in the wee hours of the night. It’s probably the same for you. You’re far more likely to get an annoying drunk dial or bored text from friends or family or just a wrong number. That’s happened quite a lot in those same number of years, at least for me until I started using these phone tricks. Thank goodness for “do not disturb” or just having my phone off at night.
If you’re extra worried about a particular person, say an elderly parent, you can always allow their phone number to ring, even with your phone set to do not disturb.
So why not put your phone on do not disturb or just turn it off like others have? There’s actually very little in the world that demands our attention, direction or action. I’ve done this trick for years and so far no one’s life has fallen apart without me and somehow the world continues to spin. My sanity and peace have never been better.
#3 – Learn How to Walk Away From Conversations
People will always try to intrude on your solitude. The art to master for any modern hermit forced to live in the world is how to walk away from conversations and people.
When I worked at the office, the best trick I learned to politely keep people from bothering me at my desk was to stand up. This cues people to wrap it up and that you have work to do or need to go somewhere. It works on most people and they usually leave. Many other times I have excused myself to go to the restroom. A great trick is to always have in headphones, even when not listening to anything.
Of course, these are social niceties. I also like the phrase “Well, I should be getting back to work” or “Well, I should be going”. The point is to learn how to deftly turn people away or remove yourself from situations rather than getting stuck in them for endless minutes – or hours.
Some people are against lying but I have found that using stock phrases and excuses to be most useful with those who simply do not understand the need for solitude and see taking time for myself as “wasting time”. For those who appreciate it, I tell the truth.
One of my brothers, for example, is a pretty extreme extrovert and would try to talk to me every day for an hour if I let him. I love him dearly but as an introvert, these sort of daily “touching base” or just “shooting the breeze” conversations drive me bonkers. Even after all these years and multiple conversations on the matter, he doesn’t understand my need for solitude or disinterest in this sort of communication. Still, he doesn’t seem to mind when I don’t answer his endless calls or texts other than to now and again text “I’m busy and want to enjoy some downtime and a few days of writing.” We still talk but weekly or biweekly, not daily.
You probably have chatty extroverts in your life that will bend your ear endlessly. Find tricks to turn them away. Your sanity will thank you and you’ll have more hours in the day to relax and do your own thing.
#4 – Learn How to Turn Down Invitations
Similarly, I use the excuse of other plans all the time to turn down invitations. I simply say “I’m sorry. I have plans that day” or “I’m sorry. I’m busy that day.” You don’t even have to say “I’m sorry.” And I do have plans – with myself. That’s a very important appointment.
Claim later plans to limit time with others. It may not be a “socially acceptable” excuse but you did plan to enjoy your solitude or the quiet. Those are legitimate plans, highly important to you even if others don’t value it the same way.
Sometimes people get nosy or curious about my plans. To be polite, I simply say I need to catch up on errands I’ve been putting off. Other times I have merely smiled and offered nothing, changing the subject to ask about them, which most people love since they enjoy talking about themselves. Of course, I could be rude and remind them that my plans are none of their business.
Sometimes I say that I’ve made plans to take it easy and enjoy my free time. People can respect that. My friends do and I’ve sometimes told them that I’ll be in seclusion for a while and not returning calls, texts, etc. for a period of time – a weekend, a week or however long I’ll be out of touch.
In today’s hectic world, telling people you simply want to enjoy your downtime or evening or weekend or week off is something anyone can appreciate. But not everyone will. You can be as blunt or circumspect as you want. Don’t feel guilty for claiming time for yourself.
#5 – Go Into Nature
This is one of the best ways to enjoy some peace and quiet while getting away from others. Just don’t do it over Memorial Day or Labor Day or you’ll be inundated with the masses.
Visit parks in your town or city. Go hiking or camping in state or national parks. Most areas have wilderness areas close at hand, even if it’s just a few picnic tables near a stream. Going to these places is often energizing for us lovers of solitude, even if all we do is sit in a chair and zone out. For centuries, if not millennia, men have been using the “gone fishing” or “hunting” excuse while never bringing back a single catch. To this I say, good for them. Unfortunately, women don’t really have a ready and culturally accepted excuse to get away from it all and enjoy nature. But I digress.
For awesome solitude, few things beat nature. One of the happiest times of my life and the most filled with solitude was the 7 month solo road trip I took across the US and Canada. Mostly I camped in state and national parks, though occasionally I would Airbnb an apartment for a while, like the weeks I spent in places like Calgary, Vancouver and Billings. I found that camping in the winter was excellent on the mid-Atlantic coast. I got amazing beaches and lakes practically to myself and the weather was often wonderful. Similarly, camping during the week is fantastic as there are hardly any crowds and you usually have your pick of camping spots.
Mornings are superb times as well to enjoy nature since most people sleep in. Being up and out at 7am gets you the world to yourself until about 10am 90% of the time. In busy Yellowstone and Glacier National Park just before Memorial Day, I was out cycling by 7am and when I was returning several hours later, that was when the crowds started hitting the paths. So many times I was grateful for beating the rush and having all that nature to myself.
Perhaps best of all, when you’re camping or in remote places, the excuse of poor cell phone reception can limit your communications with others back in society. This can be highly liberating. Enjoy it.
#6 – Schedule Your Social Time
Between family, friends, work and community obligations, it’s easy to overbook ourselves. Why not designate certain times for being social, whether that’s a point in the day, week, or month?
Personally, I rarely agree to more than three social engagements a week – even if it’s as simple as grabbing coffee with a friend. I’ve just found after 40 years that if I book even three activities with others, I’ll reach my limit and not want to see anyone for a month or two. That and I’ll start getting crabby and not be fun for anyone. If I make the mistake of agreeing to 4 or more activities, invariably I’ll wind up cancelling almost all the engagements from the energy drain of just thinking about that many – and I hate not keeping my word to people. So after many decades with myself, I’ve learned 3 max a week, preferably much less like one every two weeks.
What are your limits and energy reserves? Knowing them will make life so much smoother – for you and others. Don’t be afraid to limit your obligations or social commitments to enjoy some peace and quiet with yourself doing whatever it is you love.
#7 – Be an Unabashed Hermit
The number one regret of the dying is doing as others expected of them and not living the life they wanted for themselves.
At the end of the day, we make our choices. That can be to conform to society’s or our family’s or friends’ expectations or to actually walk to the beat of our own drums. I’ve found being my own drummer to be highly satisfying. Learning to not care what others think has helped free me immensely to set my own tune. Adults pay lip service only to the mantra “be true to yourself”. If you want to do your thing, expect criticism but be willing to break from the mold and everyone else’s expectations for you.
If you want to be a hermit, be a hermit. At least try it out. Maybe you’ll find you like it. Maybe you’ll discover you actually like a bit more socialization instead. Who is to tell you what’s best for you except your own inner voice that plainly lets you know when you’re happy or miserable?
There’s a difference between solitude and running away from your problems. People confuse this all the time and many will be happy to diagnose it for you. My take? If you feel peace and contentment away from others, then you are enjoying solitude. If you feel miserable and anxious when away from others or living like a hermit, then either solitude isn’t for you or you have yet to find peace within yourself. After all, wherever we go, there we are. Being away from others won’t solve any problems we’ve brought with us. Are you seeking true solitude or running from your problems? Again, only you will know the difference. Who else can judge?
Into the Quiet
People will always be dubious about those of us who want to live a life of seclusion or solitude simply because the majority of people are extroverted or love living in groups or pairs. They don’t understand the need for silence or withdrawal inward. Don’t be upset by that. No one is ever understood by everyone. How many people have you met who think they know what’s best for you and offer advice whether asked or not? Family, since it’s a random lottery, will almost always try to guilt trip us into being social but again, it’s our life. We can be as social or not as we please.
Go, be a hermit or lay on your couch for 3 hours while ignoring the world. Don’t feel guilty or like something is wrong with you. Instead, recognize that aspect of you and respect it. We’re all different and since the dawn of time, society has needed those of us who stand apart and seek silence and solitude. Have the strength and love for yourself to walk that path if it’s the one calling you.
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