When was the last time you turned off all the noise? Shut it all off. Just went off the grid. Embraced silence…
I had that exact opportunity last week, and it was glorious!
We’re bombarded constantly by the bells, buzzes, and dings of our devices – cell phones, computers, tablets – you name it. We’re like Pavlov’s dogs, reacting to every sound from those devices with our rapt attention. We are so conditioned to react that we’ve seemingly lost the ability to make a conscious choice not to do so.
But what price are we paying? Most of us have read the research on our smartphones, and we know that they actually mimic the same addictive behaviors associated with drug use and gambling addictions. I’m not here to bash on smartphones. They have become invaluable tools – especially in the business world. I use mine to do business more than any other type of device, including my computer.
The challenge is not that we use them. It’s in not stopping. Putting them down. Turning them off. Reconnecting to ourselves.
Last week, I took my family on a spring break vacation cruise to Mexico. And, being somewhat frugal, I made the decision not to pay the extra money for all of us to have wifi access while on the ship. Okay, truth be told, I also had an agenda. I was anxious to get some face time with my teenage kids – without having to actually use FaceTime or Facebook! You know, like actually having conversations in “real life.” Crazy, right?
Well, here’s the thing. While on the ship, since we didn’t have wifi access, our phones became somewhat useless. So I put mine down. And what happened next was amazing.
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.” – Anne Frank
Mornings were the best. I’m an early riser by practice, and am usually the first one up in my home each day. On the cruise, I went to the dining room and poured a cup of coffee, then sat on the deck of the ship listening to… well, everything. And nothing. It reminded me of why I began meditating about five years ago.
There is something almost magical and certainly rejuvenating about silence. We experience it so infrequently that we can be uncomfortable with it. We try to fill the silence with some type of noise. Music. TV. Games. Apps. You name it.
But when we take the time – even if only for a few minutes a day – to turn off the noise, put our cellphones down, and just live for a few moments in the silence, we find clarity. We find sanity. We find peace. We find ourselves.
So here’s my challenge to you: embrace more silence. Here’s why.
1. Silence has been shown to help relieve stress and tension. Studies have shown that unnecessary noise can lead to adverse health effects, including things such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, and the release of the stress hormone cortisol. It turns out that silence has the exact opposite effect, releasing tension in the brain and body. In fact, a 2006 study in the journal Heart, found that two minutes of silence is actually more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music, based on changes in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.
“All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”
– Blaise Pascal
2. Silence can help to replenish our mental resources. With all of the noise coming at us from so many different places, our brain’s attention centers are negatively impacted. The prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain used for high-order thinking, logic, decision-making, and problem solving – becomes drained. This leads to distraction, mental fatigue, lack of focus, and an inability to effectively solve problems. The good news is that the brain can actually restore its cognitive resources when we are in environments with lower noise levels or silence.
3. In silence we can tap into the brain’s default mode networks. This means that in silence, we allow our brains to do some of the things that they’re designed to do. Things like daydreaming (see dad, I told you I was daydreaming with a purpose!), meditating, or simply letting our minds wander. All of these have restorative qualities to the brain. We tap into our inner thoughts, emotions, ideas, and memories. These things actually help us to be more creative, to empathize with others, and to make meaning from our experiences.
“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” – Peter Drucker
4. Silence can actually help regenerate brain cells. You read that right; silence can actually help grow the brain. In one study I’ve referenced in my workshops, the University of Massachusetts and Mass General Hospital conducted a study where 16 participants were asked to meditate for a minimum of 30 minutes a day (nothing else different in their daily routines). They each had fMRI’s done at the beginning and end of the study, and what scientists found was remarkable. After only 8 weeks (56 days) they found that every one of the subjects showed a marked increase in the size of their hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Not only that, each one showed a marked decrease in the size of their amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for fear, anxiety, stress, and anger! Not bad for a 30 minute daily investment!
So there it is – the case for silence. I hope you take me up on this challenge. I’ve been meditating for some time now, and even I was surprised at the difference it made for me while off the grid. A good reminder for me as well. Silence truly is golden.
And, if you do take me up on this challenge, I’d love to hear from you! Let me know what you discover by adding just a few minutes of silence to your day. Wishing you the best of success!
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Kevin Ciccotti, Human Factor Formula
Helping companies create sustainable, effective teams that are committed to the success of their projects, the organization, and the individuals with whom they work