The link between “deep thought” and solitude

Depth of thought matters in classrooms, in meetings for decision making, and in meaningful professional learning.

While depth requires time, a lack of time is not a sufficient excuse. There is always time to do what matters, and depth always trumps superficiality.

Depth requires:


Habits of mind and behavior that value slowness over speed, focus over multi-tasking, nuanced understanding over superficiality, and problem-solving over complaining;

Protocols that keep participants focused on paying attention to both the accomplishment of tasks and the quality of relationships; and

• Solitude.

Most of all, solitude.

Cal Newport offers 2 “lessons” about solitude:

“Lesson #1: The right way to define “solitude” is as a subjective state in which you’re isolated from input from other minds.

“When we think of solitude, we typically imagine physical isolation (a remote cabin or mountain top), making it a concept that we can easily push aside as romantic and impractical. But as this book makes clear, the real key to solitude is to step away from reacting to the output of other minds: be it listening to a podcast, scanning social media, reading a book, watching TV or holding an actual conversation. It’s time for your mind to be alone with your mind — regardless of what’s going on around you.

“Lesson #2: Regular doses of solitude are crucial for the effective and resilient functioning of your brain.

“Spending time isolated from other minds is what allows you to process and regulate complex emotions. It’s the only time you can refine the principles on which you can build a life of character. It’s what allows you to crack hard problems, and is often necessary for creative insight. If you avoid time alone with your brain your mental life will be much more fragile and much less productive.”

What are the conditions in your personal and professional lives that enable depth of thought?

6 Responses to “The link between “deep thought” and solitude”

  1. 1 J M February 28, 2018 at 8:39 am

    Meaningful to me on a professional level as something to develop with teachers and adults at the school. As well, I see a need to grow this with students who are too often overly engaged but not in purposeful solitude. The other factor that I’d need to more fully consider is the line between solitude and isolation (or even marginalization). Much to ponder.

    • 2 Dennis Sparks March 2, 2018 at 8:42 am

      That’s worthy of pondering, JM.

      On the surface there would appear to be overlap between solitude and isolation. Some people might, for instance, seek solitude in an isolated setting.

      But given that isolation often has a negative connotation, I looked up its definition:

      C1 the condition of being alone, especially when this makes you feel unhappy:

      C2 the fact that something is separate and not connected to other things:

      In this sense, isolation produces separation and unhappiness, which may be because it’s not a matter of choice.

      I’m curious where your pondering lead you.

  2. 3 Kent Peterson February 28, 2018 at 10:38 am

    You provide another important discussion that leaders and all educators should consider.

    It is so easy to avoid “Deep Thought” and continue to ride the rapids in the stream of activity that school life entails.

    If everyone could use your ideas, perhaps more issues would be resolved and stress levels reduced.

    This is worth reading again and again.

  3. 5 Tracy Crow February 28, 2018 at 10:53 am

    Thank you, Dennis. That solitude time is so essential to figuring out your point of view, as Cal Newport’s lesson #2 clarifies — how can you base your decisions on principles if you don’t take time to know what your principles are? Without it, we all stay in reactive mode.

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