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Getting Comfortable With Silence

Next time you’re at a traffic light, stop and take a look around you. Check out the drivers and passengers in the car to your left and right. Notice something in common?

If they’re like 90% of the people I see, they will have a phone in their hands plugging away at the little keyboard either to check Facebook, text a friend, or examine their music selection.

Why do we reach for our phones the minute we stop at a red light?

Why do we turn our phones on the exact second the flight attendant says it’s okay?

When you’re waiting in line at a place of business or for a table at a restaurant, what’s the first thing you grab? Chances are it’s your phone.

When was the last time time you sat in silence?

I’ve been experimenting with sitting in silence a bit recently. It’s part of an overall effort to minimize distractions alongside deleting apps on my iPhone and simplifying my work process. For quite some time, I was the guy that constantly had to be fiddling with a keyboard of some kind at the first glimpse of down time.

The first few steps were sadly rather scary. I’ve largely become addicted to the distractions that we have at our disposal. Here’s what I’ve done so far to mitigate the pangs of withdrawal that come with minimizing distractions:

Start Small

The first little bit of silence is going to drive you crazy. Your mind is going to run wild. You’ll probably look for anything to fill the emptiness. So, in an attempt to avoid the inevitable, start small.

For me, the first step was not listening to the radio or a podcast when I’m driving to work or the gym in the mornings. In the past, this time had been filled with whatever pump up jam I needed to get me going. Now, it’s filled with some thinking and mental preparation for the day ahead.

Delete Apps

Ever since the iPhone came to Verizon (which I stayed up all night for by the way), my cellphone has been packed with the latest and coolest apps. For quite awhile, I’ve been the guy surfing Lifehacker for the “Best of” apps to figure out how I could further clog my phone.

Recently, I’ve deleted 90% of them. I had a pretty stringent deletion process. If I hadn’t used the app that week, it was gone. I ended up keeping six apps outside of the normal stock Apple ones (namely some banking apps, Google Chrome, and the Starbucks app for digital payment when I buy coffee). I deleted Facebook and any other social networking site (including Instagram) except Twitter, which has become my network of choice.

Eliminate Notifications

I’m a big fan of killing notifications on both my phone and computer. For Mac users, it’s as easy as pressing Option and clicking the notification icon on the upper right-hand corner. Or, you can go through your notification center and disable anything you see. Do the same thing to your iPhone. Unfortunately, I’ve found that the iPhone still finds ways to pop up notifications.

Set a Schedule for Checking Email

I’ll admit: I’m an email addict. I’m constantly plugged into my inbox. The problem is that every time I see that little “1”, I just HAVE to check and see who it is.

So, I have two different strategies:

  • For my phone, I disabled auto-loading of email messages. That way, the only way email loads is when I click the icon and ask it to. I’ve also started disabling email accounts at certain points of the day (i.e. when I’m trying to get work done and when I leave work for the day). This allows me to decide when I check email rather than having it scream out at me.
  • For my computer, I stopped using the Mac mail app. Instead, I just use Gmail in Chrome. I don’t have any app in my dock notifying me each time a new mail message comes in.

Increase the time you sit in silence.

For the first time, a minute is going to seem like an eternity. The key is to persist through the silence and allow your brain to go dark. Over time, you’ll get used to the silence (dare I say even maybe enjoy it). You’ll be free to think and dream. Let your mind wander, just make it a point not to think about work. I try to think about anything else.

In fact, if you really want to push the boundaries, try going for two minutes with this website. I didn’t make it the first three times I tried.

Disable Wi-fi

For the longest time, I swear I was addicted to surfing the internet. Part of my job involves exploring the web and uncovering publishers. However, it’s far too easy to get lost in the internet when you’re actually trying to be productive. With notifications popping up left and right, it’s easy to get off task.

Now, when I’m really trying to do work, I simply turn off the internet. It works extremely well. You’ll immediately notice a boost in productivity when the internet doesn’t exist.

Remember, You Can Write

I have a notebook that goes practically everywhere with me. Throughout the day, I’m constantly writing down notes, ideas, and drawings of both current meetings and projects that may never even come to fruition.

Here’s the thing: I’m really good at typing. I took a typing class sometime in school, and my fingers are extremely comfortable on a keyboard. But, I’ve learned that if I truly want to record an idea without distraction, I need to write it down. There might be some science to it, or it could just be my imagination. When I write rather than type, ideas flow faster, and I’m not limited to the characters on the keys. I can draw, scribble, write, and create. Later, when those ideas are being put into practice, I’ll type them out in an orderly fashion.

Silence is hard to come by in today’s world. We have so many gadgets and outlets vying for our attention. The trick is to develop a filter for what gets in. Through experimenting with silence and the tactics mentioned above, I’ve experienced much clearer thinking.

Leave a Thought

  1. Great stuff Jeremy. I’ve been re-reading “The Power of Less” and this is spot on with those values. Looking forward to unplugging this weekend!

  2. Silence, meditation, whatever it is, is so hard for nearly all of us. Just trying to sit and be with my thoughts isn’t a hard thing for me, I just continually wander–and that’s ok. It’s just taking that time to be with whatever arises, and what does arise won’t always be something negative or some repressed feelings, it might simply be what was good about the day. The trick is letting yourself get there though, exactly as you’ve said! I finally deleted an extremely addicting game from my phone in order to break the habit. It wasn’t causing me any “damage” per se, but it was realizing there were so many better ways to use my time!

    Nice post man

    • Thanks Chuck. There are so many better ways to use our time than what we currently do. I’ve been trying to eliminate so many distractions by selling items on Craigslist. It’s also turning into quite the lucrative adventure too!