We've all been there. It's the holidays. You're newly single and your social life is, let's just say, a little slow. You are facing a big blank calendar. No holiday invites or family parties to keep you occupied.
There's a new movie that just came out and you're dying to see it, but you don't have anyone to go with. You wish you could go but you're not comfortable going to a movie alone so you stay in and miss it rather than venturing out alone. Friday night becomes wine and Facebook on the couch yet again.
Sound familiar? It doesn't have to be that way. There's some awesome new research on how to venture out and do things alone, and not feel like a big friendless loser in the process.
Dr. Rebecca Ratner, a professor at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business found that people underestimate how much pleasure they'd get doing things alone, and overestimate the judgment of others. That outsized fear of judgment is holding us back from lots of wonderful experiences that would make us happier people.
Dr. Ratner found that people don't fear being alone for "functional" activities. Going to the drugstore, dry cleaners or grocery store alone doesn't freak anybody out. We consider going to these places alone "normal". It's a pleasurable, non-essential activity where the fear of looking foolish and out of place starts to creep in.
Some of the take-aways of the study offer important advice for those of us in a divorce, who are newly single and learning how to enjoy our lives alone, especially during the holidays.
Some things the study uncovered:
We Underestimate How Much We'd Enjoy A Solo Activity and Overestimate our Discomfort.
The research polled people after doing activities alone and found they enjoyed seeing a movie, a play or going to a museum just as much alone as they have in the past with others.
Calm Down. People Aren't Judging You
There's a fancy psychological term for our acute self-consciousness, researchers call it the Spotlight effect. You know that feeling, when you walk into an event alone and feel all eyes are on you? All eyes are not on you, that's just the spotlight feeling at work. Relax and carry on. (And besides if you do go to a movie alone you get to eat all that popcorn you usually have to share.)
So how do we conquer our fear of doing things alone? How do we learn to be comfortable going and doing all by ourself?
View Your Outing as Educational
In her research, Dr. Ratner found a surprising fact. If you view your outing as educational you are more likely to be comfortable doing that activity alone. If you view your trip to a museum, a networking event, or play as an "educational" event, you'll feel more comfortable attending alone.
Can you view that new play as learning about an important issue?
Can your solo breakfast be "research" on a new neighborhood you haven't spent much time in?
Maybe start small. Try going to a restaurant in your neighborhood. Maybe try lunch first, then work your way up to dinner. Go out alone on a weeknight for the first few times. Then you'll have the experience and courage to venture out alone on a Friday or Saturday night.
Just Do It
As with most things, you'll get more comfortable doing activities alone the more you do them. The first few times will probably feel strange. You will imagine the worst outcome. You'll feel like people are noting that you are alone.
But focus on the courage you're showing by stepping out. And just keep going. You will probably have a great time.
Dr. Ratner has the best advice for all of us:
"Don't put your life on hold until you have people to do things with".
Here's an article about Dr. Ratner's research in The Washington Post.
Thank you Dr. Ratner for sharing your research and helping us all find the courage to go, do, enjoy the holidays solo!