In A World of Distraction, Why Do We Need Quiet?
Of all the challenges of lockdown, the lack of quiet has been the greatest for me. As an introvert who enjoys quiet pursuits like reading, a noisy household and constant input and work on my computer has driven me mildly insane. My personal need for quiet and times without constant input has been one of my most powerful lockdown lessons. I have to actively seek times for quiet and create opportunities to replenish myself through peaceful reflection.
But why are so many of us afraid of quiet? Why do we feel the constant need to fill silences? Be doing something? Have something on in the background? Why are we afraid to let our minds be still?
Are we afraid to be alone with our own thoughts? And if this is true… we should really think about and reflect on this.
In this article, physicist and write Alan Lightman likens this loss of the ability to embrace quiet to the loss of the natural environment that may of us protest vocally – instead it is the understanding of our own inner landscape we are losing.
But beyond the personal need for quiet – which is powerful enough for an article all of its own – what about professionally?
Quiet is essential for focus. It is essential for effective decision making and the managing of stress.
Think about it logically: too much input = not enough output. Or not well-considered output.
Multi-tasking really is a bit of a myth. And why would you want to give half your attention to important tasks anyway, when you could give all your attention to one task? Do it quicker and better!
Noise also diminishes our creativity. Have you ever had that moment standing in the shower washing your hair when suddenly a great idea falls into your mind? An important insight? That’s because you allowed your mind to be quiet, empty and open in that moment. Moments of insight never pop in when we are scrolling Instagram or making conversation for the sake of it.
And this applies to students as well – research has shown that unless you listen to very specific kinds of music that modulate your brain waves – playing your favourite Spotify playlist while studying is much more of a distraction than you think.
Quiet and Work/Study
Have you ever looked up from computer and realized how little you have worked or accomplished in the last hour? You marvel to yourself and wonder where the time went – but give it little thought. This is the nature of our work days, where colleagues pop in and out of the office for a chat, where we answer every ping of our phone and we check emails whenever they pop up.
The answer is, it is impossible to achieve much in this environment of constant distraction.
While we often feel the need to check emails as soon as they pop in, or our phones as soon as they ping (a challenge I admit, and explored in THIS recent article), we are actually constantly dividing our attention, and not realizing just how long it takes to change your focus between activities. Minutes are constantly lost through this. In fact, productivity expert and life hacker Tim Ferriss checks his emails EXACTLY ONCE PER WEEK. That’s how he saves more and more time for his many projects – you might enjoy reading about this in his original manifesto, The Four-Hour Work Week.
Instead, try turning off your emails or putting aside your phone for a regular period of work or creative time. Especially for creative time! Often when I am grading papers or writing for the Hive, this is what I have to do, recognizing how much of my attention I feel both of these tasks are worth – all of it.
Also, don’t be afraid to put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your office door and let it be known that Friday afternoons or Wednesday mornings are your creative times, or your catch up times that you love and need to protect.
Quiet and the Weekend
In fact, this practice is one we should also practice on weekends. The constant demand to be connected has us consistently checking emails or other work notifications, which can now follow us anywhere on our phones. In fact, now that Teams is a common workplace tool, and that many of us have Teams on our phone, we are now more contactable than ever out-of-hours.
But deep relaxation and energy recuperation cannot occur without taking a real break from these things.
What about the old Do Not Disturb Sign at home? Now that we are all home together all of the time, I believe it is even more important every so often to protect a period of time to be quiet. For me, it is a cup of tea and a book. And no-one may disturb me while I do that unless it is an emergency (and wanting a snack is not an emergency!).
How To Embrace More Quiet
If you want to see the positives more quiet might bring to your brain and your moods, why not try the strategies mentioned above… but also try:
- Try getting up earlier. Sit down with a tea or coffee for 15 minutes before the rest of the house gets up and sit still with your thoughts. I am not a morning person, but I love the quiet of the household before everyone gets up. This might even be a good time to try journaling – one of the key habits of the world’s most productive people.
- Adding in a meditation practice. You might start with a single silent minute of meditation, and add an extra minute per day. In a month, you will have a thirty-minute meditation practice that you can reflect on.
- Choose periods to not fill with technology. We are always filling our brains – and sometimes even with wonderful instructive things like TED Talks or podcasts, but more often music, chatter, and social media scrolling. Why not make the morning walk with the dog a time to embrace silence? Or the short car trip home from the supermarket? These are easy ways to let a little more quiet into your life.
- Embrace Yoga – although the instructor talks this can be a wonderful time to embrace quiet, and to show and experience some gratitude for the body we so often take for granted.
- Schedule in 5 minutes of quiet at regular intervals into your work day. Perhaps after you make a cup of tea during a break or just after a meeting. Gather your thoughts and centre yourself.
- Get out into nature more. Throw the phone in a backpack with a bottle of water and get out into some green space, and enjoy the silence… and then realise it isn’t really silent at all… just a different kind of noise.
Embracing quiet is so important in the busy modern world – and this is why we actively teach young people in our Pastoral Care Programs many ways to be mindful. Having a practice to take a pause, reflect and replenish yourself, is a great gift – and one I hope more workplaces of the future embrace. I am certain they will.
It’s also why Mindfulness is one of the five daily habits recommended by the Wellbeing Hive.
Like this topic?
Why not check out Manoush Zomorodi’s book Bored and Brilliant, or check out some further readings below.