Solitude or Isolation

How Mindset Determines Your Experience
Solitude or Isolation
In: Newsletter

Hi Friends,

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Solitude or Isolation: How Mindset Determines Your Experience

6 min read

- written by Kevin Kirkpatrick

With the right mindset, everything can go from a challenge to a change. Life presents us with windows into a new path, but if we’re too set on returning to our previous path, we’ll miss the road ahead.

We can’t control the world around us. We only have control over one seemingly small thing: our mindset - in truth, an immensely powerful tool. Mindset controls how we are affected by, and how we perceive, our ever-changing experiences, both good and bad. If our mindset sees negativity or limitation, our world is then viewed as such. Likewise, if our mindset sees positivity and productivity, our world responds with joy and kindness. In both scenarios, the world is not changing - we are.

Mindset is crucial in the current situation - the COVID-19 pandemic. As we continue to manage the extreme disruption of our daily lives, stress, anxiety, and pain can be helped or hindered by mindset. Our natural tendency to be social creatures has been severely limited due to COVID-19 social distancing regulations thus challenging the way we work, communicate, and live.

It’s a strange duality, we have all dreamed of working from home in our pajamas while binge-watching “Tiger King”, yet we're quickly learning this reality comes with its own baggage. People need time to adjust to the concept of physical distancing. The loss of human connection is jarring. We need new tools to cope with the changing situation. But above all, we need emotional support to help guide us through uncertain times. The psychological toll of events like this is remarkable.

Where do the feelings of being alone come from? How are isolation, solitude, and loneliness connected — and more to the point, do they really have to be?

Solitude/ Isolation/ Loneliness - What’s The Difference?

Solitude is chosen. Loneliness and isolation are imposed.

We easily confuse solitude with loneliness. Often people use the two interchangeably. However, they are worlds apart.


For centuries, some of the world's greatest minds — Nietzche, Woolf, Socrates — have championed the benefits of solitude. Ultimately, solitude is something we should seek and enjoy. It is the art of being alone without being lonely. When chosen, solitude is engaging, positive, and refreshing. Solitude offers the chance for introspection, concentration, and free-flowing creativity. In truth, we need solitude whether it’s five minutes or five hours. It is essential to our mental wellbeing.


Whereas solitude is sought, isolation happens to us. (Again, entirely dependent on mindset.) Isolation is associated with a type of prison, forced abstinence from the world we enjoy. It can be especially harmful during times of crisis, as the path "back" to social connection feels frayed.


Clearly, isolation and solitude are linked to loneliness. But loneliness is not only about being alone. Loneliness is an internal process, a devilishly dangerous mindset. We actively avoid loneliness, viewing it as a prison because, in many ways, it is. Loneliness creates an internal feedback loop that leaves us depressed, exhausted, and afraid.

Why are we so afraid of isolation?

In today's always-on society, the idea of being alone with our thoughts is more terrifying than ever before. In fact, a recent study found that several participants chose to subject themselves to electric shock rather than be alone with their thoughts. This is a behavior that builds upon our evolutionary need to be connected.

In the past, we had to stay close to our tribe to stay safe. Nature has not deprogrammed this fear, because, to some extent, it's still true.

Whether we're looking at people through the five-inch screen in our hand or sitting across the table, we still need human connection. But being around people does not equal human connection. In fact, some of the loneliest experiences can happen when you're surrounded by tens, hundreds, or even thousands of people. No rule says a large group of individuals will automatically be connected. The operative word here is "connected.”

We're not seeking emotional noise, we're looking for the signal.

Do You Have Control?

So much of our fear comes from feeling out of control. Feeling like the world is happening to us as passive participants. But that's a passive mindset.

"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." – Wayne Dyer

By changing the way you view isolation, you change your relationship with it. The situation itself may not change, but your interpretation can. We assign value to things in our lives. By giving it a name, we give it power. By changing the name, we take away some of the power.

Try to feel it as energy. Placing your attention on it robs it of meaning. It’s just an appearance of consciousness, at that moment. It’s not what you are. You’re simply noticing it.

Challenged to Change

Antisocial behavior carries a significant stigma, and rightfully so — stealing, lying, and cheating are some of the more common and extreme antisocial behaviors that come to mind. On the less aggressive side are symptoms like negative attitude and peer rejection. Both scenarios are characterized by negativity, which works it's way into our lives as we transition through stages of life.

As we age, we often become both isolated and lonely. Research studying the relationship between loneliness and psychiatric disorders has shown that impaired social relationships can lead to various psychiatric disorders like depression, alcohol abuse, child abuse, sleep problems, personality disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease.

But a lot of the negative behaviors derived from antisocial behavior can also be viewed as a desperate attempt to create a connection and find meaning in life. Unfortunately, the manifestation of these efforts comes at a cost.

There is a big difference between being alone and being lonely. Isolation is a prison we create for ourselves. Solitude is a gift we give ourselves as a way to rebalance the scales.

Solitude may be the best gift you didn't ask for. Find a way to make this time better. Find a way to stay connected. Find a way to remove the stigma and be happy.

The SOIL Model

Models aren’t always accurate, but they can be useful. Maybe we just need a better model for understanding solitude. Introducing, the SOIL Model.

SOIL: Solitude over Isolation and Loneliness.

Like any good model, our model simplifies the complex, is based on credible scientific evidence, and is related to a target and designed for that specific purpose. To be specific, the variables of this model are described as follows:

  • Seek out positivity
  • Limit or avoid media
  • Give or give back
  • Stay active
  • Eat right
  • Seek pleasure in the routine/mundane
  • Create and be creative
  • Seek graceful resilience
  • Learn from mistakes and grow
  • Focus on what we can control

Shifting our mindset can alter our reality. Even in times of uncertainty and discomfort, we can look for opportunities to reshape our path and learn from the changing environment.

We’re in a rare moment in time. Or are we? People have lost their jobs in the past. The stock market has collapsed many times over.

We can choose to see this as a disaster, or we can find the opportunity within the crisis.

We all know we’re living through history. The question is, will history happen to you or will you seize the moment and tackle the divergent path ahead?


2 min read

1/ A Message of Hope (VIDEO) — Neil Gaiman (via Swiss Miss and TED)


“Even dreams, the most delicate and intangible of things can prove remarkably hard to kill.”

Count Neil Gaiman among the rare few who communicate with unrivaled poise and power. His words, both written and read, are a welcome message of hope during this gap in time. Take a few minutes to watch or listen to this beautifully written message.

2/ The Digital Burnout Was Coming. The Pandemic Is Expediting It.Mary Alice Miller

“This is not just about attention. It’s about all the ways we’re trying to patch ourselves back together in this moment.”

We knew it was coming, and we just tweeted about it. We stood back, watched ourselves fall into the attention trap. Now, when the world seems upended, many are finding it harder than ever to escape our digital world.

But is our concern escape or connection?

Maybe being forced to interact in the digital world will invigorate our interest in building a simple, meaningful life that isn’t so dependent on technology.

3/ How Did Writers Survive the First Great Depression?Jason Boog

“In a 2016 interview, Shane Smith, executive chairman of Vice Media recalled the early days of his digital publication: “There was a time when we were a trustafarian commune, and that was fun, that was good,” he reminisced.

How many writers missed crucial digital journalism opportunities because they lacked the financial security required to enter the profession?

In 1938, a book called New York Panorama captured a similar calculus that took place during the Great Depression:

The few writers who starved it out until fame reached their garrets have been memorialized in many romantic biographical sketches; but of the many who were forced by want to abandon their literary aims no record exists. In New York City, where struggling authors are to be found in greater numbers than anywhere else in the country, the depression of the early 1930s had unusually severe effects, and there was a united demand that the Federal government should include in its work-relief program a plan to employ the writer in work suited to his training and talent.”

Thanks to Susan Orlean for sharing this wonderful little piece.


<1 min read

Roam Research

Full disclosure: I’m not a member of the #roamcult.

I’ve personally been very interested in understanding and improving the way we manage and grow our knowledge. I’ve used most, if not all, of the note-taking tools — Evernote, Bear, Notion, Workflowy, OneNote, etc. — and found they all work great for consistent, structured note-taking.

Unfortunately, where they all fall short is creating a network of easily accessible and reusable atoms of information that can be referenced across documents. Roam takes a completely different approach to note-taking.

Instead of relying on a single, rigid format, Roam allows notes to live any and everywhere. How? Bidirectional linking. Rather than explain the tool, it’s best if you just try it for yourself.

Nat Eliason has the best resource for building your networked note system in Roam. Check it out here.


“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”

— Leo Tolstoy


<1 min read

Ego Is The EnemyRyan Holiday

I’ve arrived a bit late. Ryan Holiday’s books sat on my “To-Read” list for years. Sadly, the list grew well beyond reason and I simply failed to prioritize his work. What a mistake.

This book speaks (maybe screams) about dismantling the most central part of your consciousness — the ego. In many ways, I found the book a bit difficult to digest, primarily due to the constant conflicting, selfish internal dialogue from my ego rudely interrupting my attempt to dismantle its very existence. Once I pushed past that voice, the book settled into the welcome space between revelation and retribution.

Ego is The Enemy is deceptively short and punchy. A great bedside read and gift for those who wish to remove their armor without sacrificing their bold pursuits.

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Thanks for reading, and see you next week,

— Kevin K.

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