Why You Should Make More Time for Silence
Welcome to Self-Mastery — a place full of timeless ideas about living well, continuous improvement, and doing less, better.
“We sit silently and watch the world around us. This has taken a lifetime to learn. It seems only the old are able to sit next to one another and not say anything and still feel content. The young, brash and impatient, must always break the silence. It is a waste, for silence is pure. Silence is holy. It draws people together because only those who are comfortable with each other can sit without speaking. This is the great paradox.”
— Nicholas Sparks
Silence is golden, and beneficial for our health. Now, think back for a moment. When was the last time you sat in a room with the TV switched off? When did you last sit back on a train without headphones in? When was the last time you ate a meal without your phone on the table? I ask because it’s rare for anyone to sit in silence these days. Let alone enjoy it. But it’s as important for your health to do so once in a while as is healthy eating and daily exercise. Here’s what I mean.
The world is filled with noise, and much of it isn't good for us. It links to stress, heart disease, reduced immunity, insomnia and more. Even just a few minutes of silence interwoven into your daily ritual is enough to provide multiple rewards for your mind, well-being and daily happiness. “There is no substitute for the creative inspiration, knowledge, and stability that comes from knowing how to contact your core of inner silence”, as said by Deepak Chopra.
Your body reacts directly to noise—or rather, a lack of it. This finding was discovered by accident in 2006 when an Italian study observed the effects different types of music have on the body. The researchers saw that their participants relaxed more during two minutes of silence when they were changing the tracks than when listening to music.
“When the brain hears sounds, it has to determine their meaning, which involves the amygdala, the fearful part of the brain”, explains Dr Fiona Kerr from the University of Adelaide. “Even when you’re asleep, your brain’s sorting through the noise you hear. But during silence, the amygdala’s activity slows, you relax and stress-hormone levels fall.”
As your amygdala calms, other parts of your mind get busy. “The lack of stimulation and distraction during sleep puts the brain into abstraction mode”, Dr Kerr adds.
“It’s starts to wander, it plays out unfinished tasks, thoughts get consolidated and part of this process is the production of new neurons”.
Two hours of silence (like you’d get during long meditation or at a silent retreat) is enough to help you think and feel significantly better. It’s been shown in mice studies to trigger the production of new cells in the brain’s hippocampus—the area linked to learning, remembering and emotions.
When life feels on top of us, and we start to feel overworked and overwhelmed, tired, or burnt out, we often look for ways to get away from it all. Do you ever find yourself looking for a quiet place during stressful moments?
We live in a world filled with different obligations, distractions and sounds throughout the day. Some natural, some superficial. Most of it annoying. Most of it tiresome. We rarely encounter the purest silence.
It sometimes takes a single mindset shift or idea to completely change our worldview. Silence is potent enough to be the only thing you need to accomplish that.
A personal example. There was a time in my life, three years or so, where my stress levels were at a consistently all-time high. I wasn’t happy. I was around the wrong people. I didn’t enjoy what I was working towards, nor did I know what else I could do. But this was also the same time I started going for walks, alone.
I’d head out after my University lectures, or quite late in the evening, when all you had were warm-coloured street lamps to pave the way ahead of you. And I’d pick one direction to walk in without a single bearing of where I was going or for how long. It was just to relax and be in nature. I took headphones with me to play melodious and lyricless songs—at first, eventually, I kept things quiet. It was safe, I knew that. I didn’t speak to myself, nor did I think about things in my head. I just stayed present. I took time to observe the nature I was in, or to hear the tranquil emptiness of the roads next to me. Often, I ended up resting on top of a half-pipe in a skate park that sat on the other side of a wide lake between me and the wide and booming city streets. And I’d listen to the buzz of nightlife and breathe deeply.
The mental-filing process of silence is restoring and replenishing. It helps us recharge—and even the biggest extrovert needs time for peace and quiet. Those walks helped me through countless low and unhappy moments, and it slowly changed me for the better all the way to today. I’m happier, more accepting, lighthearted, but more focused on what’s important now. Thanks to silence.
“The people I see who ignore this are the ones who are most overwhelmed, who are struggling making even the simplest decisions and who simply aren’t happy”, says Coach Eve Broenland.
Silence can be incredibly confronting. It can take time to get used to. I try to see it in levels: the first level of fostering silence is to expose yourself to the lack of sound while you do other things—like when sitting and enjoying a cup of coffee with no other stimulation. The second level is less movement—like sitting completely still in silence. The third level, the hardest for most, is being able to ignore your thoughts—and this is when silence tips into meditation.
In so many ways, I lived and acted as if there was a problem with me. As if I was just who I was and incapable of change. Uncomfortable in silence. But the hard work I put in to be happy when alone and in solitude over the years made me realise I was making things too hard for myself. I realised life could be ten times simpler if I wanted it to be. All I needed was more time to myself to think—or rather, not to think.
The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The real challenge is to silence your mind and get out of your own way. Whether it’s a 10-minute breathing practice or meditation, conducting bouts of total silence will always help you calm down, tap into your creativity and daydream, fantasise, meditate, or focus on the task at hand. Whatever you want. If you let it.
Silence isn’t merely the absence of sound; it’s simply the absence of stimulating or distracting sound. It’s about avoiding anything that causes your brain to throw up its sensory guard, trigger stress and keep busy.
If you find that doing nothing in complete silence is too confronting, the first step can be as simple as not putting on music or the TV when you come home, or cooking in peace, or taking a short walk without your phone.
You could try to seek places that lean towards stillness, such as forests, nature parks, libraries, art galleries, museums, spas or a church. And just sit for a bit, taking things in while enjoying the space. It may also help to not plan your moments of silence and to just grab them when you realise that all around you are still.
It takes two to three minutes a day to start to show positive mental and physical effects.
Trust me, it can change everything.
What’s on My Mind
Nothing makes me happier than seeing others enjoy my work. When you create, when you share your ideas and do things from love (not for), and someone finds it, resonates with it and connects with you, there aren’t many greater feelings than that.
This Week’s Reads
“The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curioisity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries to merely comprehend a little of this mystery every day.”
“The most important skill I learnt is how to Google things and figure things out fast. If you always ask other people how to do stuff you'll never learn that skill. There's a lot of power in being able to operate autonomously and independent, it makes you an original person which increases the odds of you coming up with great ideas.”
A Quote to Think About
“There’s not really that much to fear in terms of failure, and so people should take on a lot more accountability than they do.”
My Favourite Things This Week
Music - I love music, and I love organising. So I’ve tidied my favourite songs into 12 (soon to be 13) Spotify playlists for anyone who enjoys the same music.
Video - You may have heard about the MBTI (Myers-Briggs) Personality Test. It’s bullsh*t, but that’s a good thing. This video will explain why.
Advice - Everyone loves unsolicited advice (/s). So here’s 99 for you.
A Question for You
What 3 things could you remove from your life that would make it better today?
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Thanks for reading.
Until next week,
P.S: 50 weeks. 50 editions. Almost 100 readers. Thank you for being a part of this journey so far, especially if you make it all the way down here! My goal is to reach 1,000 subscribers by the end of 2021. Fingers crossed!