Sunset at the beach is a moment of clarity!

Silence is a powerful tool to guide conversations and mine information from the stream of consciousness that flows around us. If silence was just a tool to improve our connections with people and to improve listening, it would be worth practicing. But, silence is also a tool to peer deeper into our minds. Silence improves relaxation and helps individuals to focuses. On the other hand, sound and input also have physiological impacts. 

  1. Silence gives your brain a break.  According to Dr. Luciano Bernardi in the article, Cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and respiratory changes induced by different types of music in musicians and non‐musicians: the importance of silence (NIH), two-minute silent pauses proved far more relaxing than relaxing music.
  2. Heavy media multitaskers were shown to perform worse on a test of task-switching ability. In an article, Cognitive control in media multitaskers, lack of silence creates interference which makes it hard to sort out what is important from what is irrelevant, which negatively impacts our ability to make decisions.
  3. Distraction reduces creativity according to psychologist Jonathan Smallwood at the University of York (articles include The Restless Mind).  According to Dr. Smallwood, silence (focus) “allows us to generate novel solutions to problems.”

Given the benefits of silence to enhance focus, improve decision making and creativity, the question is less ‘why haven’t we embraced silence’ than’ is there an approach to embracing silence that can fit in our lives?’  An approach to adding some silence in your life begins with:

  1. Turn-off your electronics.  Turning-off your electronics does not mean putting your phone on silent. Rather, it means at the very least putting it in airplane mode, closing your laptop lid and shutting down your tablet.  Items like the radio and television should also be off.
  2. Begin with little steps.  Observe silence for five minutes; as you get better at being silent you can extend the time.  Starting with small steps is useful because being silent is a lot harder than it seems.
  3. Sit comfortably by yourself.  I am a sloucher by nature, but I have found slouching to not be conducive to concentrating and has turned into a pain in my back.
  4. Listen to the world around you.  Listen but don’t focus on the specifics. Use the noises you hear to help you disconnect from your thoughts.
  5. Breath.  Breath slowly and deeply (not exaggerated).  The combination of breathing and listening helps you to disconnect with thinking about not thinking about “stuff.”
  6. When (not if), thoughts about the work or pressing issues intrude let the thoughts go by focusing on listening to the environment around you.

Practicing silence is HARD . . . at least for me.  When I recommended taking small steps it was not because it is not possible for some people to be silent for hours. For example, Buddhist monks are known to meditate for hours.  However, I have found being silent for even a few minutes to be difficult; shutting down the inner monologue is difficult.  Whether FOMO or just multimedia addiction, a little silence is a prescription for the new year and for improved focus and creativity.