All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
—Blaise Pascal, Mid-17th Century French Philosopher and Mathematician

A recent study in Science highlighted the challenge of self reflection, that my colleague, Blaise, articulated almost four centuries ago. Researchers asked participants to rate how much they enjoyed being alone in a room with nothing to do.

Many of the 409 participants said that they did not like the experience; most preferred an activity to simply sitting quietly and reflecting on their own thoughts. Seated alone in a quiet empty room with nothing to do, some of the participants elected to activate a button to deliver an electric shock to their ankles. Instead of sitting and reflecting, 67% of the men and 25% of the women chose to shock themselves.

We have become accustomed to activity—especially through media and digital communication—to not know exactly what to do when we have time to ponder without distraction. To self reflect, to engage an active process of relaxation and observation of our own thoughts and experiences, seems less enticing than some physical, outwardly directed activity, even if it is an unpleasant electric shock.

Dr. Regina Pally, a UCLA Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst, and Founder of The Center for Reflective Parenting, was a recent Expert Content Contributor for my MasterMind Group. She believes that reflective parenting is the key to child success and optimum family and social relationships. Her group has generated a five-step mindfulness exercise:

  • Push the pause button when emotion heats up
  • Get centered and present
  • Observe in a nonjudgmental way
  • Actively reflect on the other’s behavior
  • Decide how to react to that person

Perhaps, to not be afraid of solitude, and to move from reactive to reflective responses, we need to learn to enhance our ability to self reflect through various means of regulation of states of mind, meditation, and relaxation.