Gather your group after a ‘significant’ experience or event.
Ask each person to find a space to themselves for at least 10 minutes.
During this time, invite everyone to reflect on one or more topics you would like them to think about, eg did you feel valued during this experience?
Once everyone has returned to the group, you may choose to invite one or more people to share what they pondered.
How To Play Narrative
This technique is a deliberate attempt to provide a space for people to reflect and ‘be’ with their own thoughts for a few minutes (or longer,) without the distraction of other people, or indeed, other media, eg mobile phones.
It’s as simple as asking each person in your group to find a space where they can be alone and not distracted. During this time, explain to your group that you would like them to spend a little while thinking about one or more topics or questions you will pose.
The purpose of this time of solitude is to invite individuals to slow down, stop, seek clarity and possibly think creatively about how to solve a persistent problem.
But, before you send your group off, consider these three important points:
You’ll want to wait for a moment in your program – whether it is planned, or not – when something of substance or significance has occurred, eg celebration, conflict, challenge, etc. In the absence of substance, it can often be difficult for people to find anything to reflect on.
Provide a framework to guide your group’s thoughts, lest they waste this valuable opportunity. For example, you may ask each person to think about how they feel the group valued their personal contribution.
In advance, consider if you plan to ask people to share what they thought about when they return to the group. It is not necessary to ask people to share at all – indeed, some therapists would argue that the process of reflection alone is beneficial enough. However, if you do plan to invite your group to share its ponderings, communicate this in advance, and perhaps invite volunteers only, thereby comforting those people who would prefer not to share. Or, employ the non-threatening Paired Shares technique.
Solo time is a legitimate processing or debriefing technique – however, if this is the only technique you use to process your group’s experience, you will be short-changing them.
Practical Leadership Tips
Take a look at Why Conduct A Debrief Anyway? to learn about the benefits of processing your group’s experience, and how to run a successful debrief.
The reality is most people will not use this ‘solo’ time productively. Even the most conscientious person will find their thoughts drifting to an un-related topic on occasions. And that’s okay. The whole purpose of this processing technique is to provide the space and time for people to think and be alone with their thoughts. In a world seemingly ruled by never-ending distractions, an opportunity for quiet reflection can be very powerful for many people.
That said, some people may find being alone with just their thoughts a rather scary prospect. These folks are so used to filling their lives with a constant array of activity and distraction, they may not be able to manage this quiet time very well. Journalling is one strategy which may assist this unease because it provides a focus for their attention, even if only for a short period of time.
Solo time can be a very successful technique for managing a conflict or a heated conversation that appears to be getting out of control. Simply interrupt the situation, and ask people to remove themselves from the group for a short while to think. When you feel that things have calmed down, invite everyone to return to the group to resume their conversation. In these circumstances, solo time is a bit like asking people to take a ‘time-out.’
Beware, that for some people ‘sitting by themselves’ does not necessarily mean far enough away so as to not distract others. Manage this if necessary.
Outward Bound is well known for having popularised the value of ‘solo’ time by integrating up to three days of it as part of their standard 26-day expeditions. The only things that would accompany an OB participant during their ‘solo’ other than their tent, food and water, was their thoughts, and perhaps a journal.
You could integrate Solo Time as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to understand their emotions, thoughts and values and how these influence behaviour in different situations.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
Sitting alone with one’s thoughts is a wonderful technique to encourage and develop mindfulness. Perhaps combined with efforts to record one’s thoughts, Solo Time can be a generous time for your group to re-focus and pay attention to issues that matter. To this end, your group is more likely to be mindful if you carefully frame their experience in advance. For example, if you want your group to focus on their vision or goal-setting for the future, or the impact of their most recent actions on the group, etc, it is important that you create this expectation before your group departs.
To a lesser extend, allowing for dedicated moments of solo time can be a useful strategy to build resilience because, if framed appropriately, it can be a valuable tool to regulate behaviours and emotions.
Long Time: For mature groups, who have previously experienced the value of solo time, invite them to partake in significant periods of reflection, such as several hours.
Solo Record: Take a look at Journalling to consider making it a part of a dedicated solo time in your group’s program.
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Useful Framing Ideas
It may sound like:
“OVER THE PAST TWO HOURS, YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED A SIGNIFICANT MOMENT IN THE LIFE OF THIS GROUP. TO FULLY COMPREHEND WHAT THIS MAY MEAN FOR YOU AND THE GROUP, I WOULD LIKE EACH OF YOU TO FIND A SPACE NOT TOO FAR AWAY FROM HERE – BUT FAR ENOUGH AWAY FROM OTHERS SO THAT YOU CANNOT DISTRACT ONE ANOTHER – TO REFLECT AND THINK ABOUT HOW YOU WERE FEELING DURING THIS TIME…”
“IT WOULD BE FAIR TO SAY THAT A LOT HAS OCCURRED SINCE WE LAST GATHERED. FOR THE NEXT TEN TO FIFTEEN MINUTES, I WOULD LIKE YOU ALL – INDIVIDUALLY – TO FIND A SPACE TO YOURSELVES FOR THE EXPRESS PURPOSE OF THINKING BACK OVER EVERYTHING THAT HAS HAPPENED, AND IN PARTICULAR, WHAT YOU THINK IT ALL MEANS…”
The inspiration for Solo Time was sourced from Outward Bound, an expeditionary learning company that has embedded this reflection time in their programs for many years.