Quiet reflection has been as important to the human experience as exploring and pushing physical boundaries has been.
Some make it a part of their everyday, like Christian contemplatives and Buddhist monks and nuns. Some make it an excursion to fuel their next endeavor, like Henry David Thoreau:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life ….”
After five years at Walden Pond, Thoreau returned to “normal life,” became a land surveyor, and wrote books that many believe to be a source of modern-day environmentalism.
What can we gain from quiet reflection today? And does it play a part in the hustle-and-grind culture of car sales?
Science says it should.
Silence on the Brain
As it turns out (and as many of you may have suspected), our brain performs better when it regularly experiences both input and output activities. Currently, most of us are way weighted on the input side.
Is this title of a recent Forbes magazine article, “How Much Time Americans Spend in Front of Screens Will Terrify You,” right? (The answer is over 11 hours.) Yikes.
The World Health Organization just released recommendations that children age 1 and under not be exposed to electronic screens at all, and that kids under 5 be limited to less than an hour of “sedentary screen time” per day.
For adults, studies show that excessive screen time can lead to an increase in stress and sleep disturbances. And it may even make you less effective at your job.
In addition to screen time, there’s Spotify, podcasts, magazines, books … plenty to keep us from just sitting with silence.
Remember good ol’ Alan Watts, who penned popular writings on esoteric topics in the ’50s and ’60s? One of his theories is that our anxiety is tied to our disconnection from the present by our continuous dwelling on future happenings that might not ever happen. Today, that could also be said as our continuous dwelling in distraction.
Intentionally focusing on silence brings us back to the present moment – the only place where happiness happens.
Plus, silence makes us smarter. Well, a 2013 study showed that silence may be linked to the creation of new brain cells, anyway. In the study, mice that “listened” to silence for two hours every day experienced new cell growth in the hippocampus (the part of the brain involved in the formation of new memories, and also associated with learning and emotions). And while new cell growth doesn’t always translate to benefits, in this case the new cells did become new, functioning neurons within the mice’s brains.
Noise can also contribute to stress in our lives, raising our cortisol and adrenaline levels. But silence can relieve tension in just two minutes, according to a 2006 study in the journal Heart.
Another interesting study showed that silence is more relaxing than “relaxing music.” The study aimed to find out which type of music was the most relaxing, and instead discovered that the two-minute pauses between the music selections proved most relaxing to the brain.
Making It Happen
Hustle and grind has become a movement in its own right, celebrating the smarts, drive, and work ethic of a growing group of ambitious folk. The best technology supports and fuels the hustle-and-grind mindset, giving us ways to work smarter, not harder. But would balancing that activity with some quiet time pay off?
Adding five or 10 minutes of silence to your day might be a fun experiment.
Self-made Wall Street billionaire Bobby Axelrod seems to know the importance of quiet time. (OK, he’s a fictional character, but still ….)
Now, where to find a quiet spot. You might not have time to drive to a botanical garden every day, but in a pinch, your car could provide the right spot. Or even a bathroom or an unused office room. Set a timer so you don’t have to be checking your phone every 30 seconds, and settle into the silence.