Essential skills of the modern world

Wake up to the benefits of solitude

Some people are brilliant at being alone, while others find the very idea of going to the cinema by themselves depressing, and would rather starve than ask a maître d' for a table for one. If you fall into the latter group, you are missing out. Being able to enjoy yourself without a companion is fantastically liberating, and will make you feel much more self-reliant.

Structure your time

Big life changes, such as children leaving home or breaking up with a partner, often mean that acres of time alone are suddenly thrust upon you. The best way to avoid feeling aimless when alone is to structure your time. Take a leaf out of Will Freeman's book – the jobless hero of Nick Hornby's novel About a Boy divides his day into "units" of time, which he then fills with various activities. While there is no need to go to such extreme lengths, planning is important.

Aim for quality 'you' time

Time alone doesn't have to be spent catching up on housework, or idly channel-surfing. There is no reason you can't do things you would normally do with others, be it going out for afternoon coffee and cake, seeing a film or having dinner in a nice restaurant, by yourself. Many activities are measurably better alone – reading without any distractions, wandering around art galleries at your own pace, and being able to eat what you want, when you want. Essentially, being alone means never having to compromise.

stay sociable

It might sound obvious, but while spending some time alone is enjoyable, too much of it and you risk becoming lonely. To avoid turning into a conversation mugger – those people so desperate for social contact that they befriend strangers at supermarket checkouts – break up all that lovely alone time with regular visits to family and friends.

rachel shields