Shhh! I'm Thinking Here!
We are surrounded by noise. The sounds around us, readily available on electronics and devices, easily heard from industry in our environment, and even constantly playing in our very own heads. Unwanted sounds and thoughts qualify as noise. Anything that interferes with our ability to hear ourselves think is most certainly noise. And the impact on our health and sanity is nothing to joke about. Studies show that people who are unable to quiet the noise suffer from decreased happiness, troubled sleep, anxiety and a whole host of other less than helpful things. I think one of the biggest sources of noise is our devices and screens. They are ever-present, ever-glowing reminders of what we need to do, what we need to see, what we need to consume. And while their benefits and convenience are appreciated, I don't believe we are ready to confront how much we rely on them for all of the wrong reasons. If we are consumed with our devices, what else isn't getting done? What else isn't getting attended to? And where does that leave us when we discover that we never have any time for ourselves to just be? Are we avoiding something by staying glued to our device? Just a thought....yeah. We can actually have those when devices are away, too. Devices, despite their benefits, are a deep source of "noise" in our environment. Maybe it is time to try something new. Let's silence the noise a bit.
1. Put your device away. My kids are so sensitive when they see the adults around them on phones. They know that a phone means less attention to them, or less attention during our precious time together. We already have a no screens rule around the dinner table but we do our best to just stash our phones in the keys' basket and let them be. We will hear it if it rings, but we need not have it in our hands, begging us to idly scroll, respond to texts in real time, or just play a game. But for the heart surgeon on-call, the rare employee who needs to be ready in an instant, there is just no excuse to be glued to our phones. I can hear the push back already - those who say they use their phone to relax. I don't want to take away your relaxation, but isn't it possible that whatever is on the phone that keeps your attention is simply the opposite of relaxing and just convenience instead? Try putting that phone away. Think hard about why you think you need it so much because that reason is worth exploration.
2. Set a timer on your screen time. If you really can't extract the phone from your grip, at least make an effort to limit the time you spend on it, and other screens. One loved television program, 10 minutes to scroll through social media, 5 minutes to read the news. Give yourself reasonable limits for your down time. And don't take it to bed with you! With its bright lights and tempting distractions, how can we possibly settle our brains for a good night of rest with that thing on our pillow? Seriously set it aside to rest, and then go do something else, like - -
3. Find something peaceful to do, without any agenda or timeline. My go to is reading, but I also love puzzles, cooking, crosswords, playing piano, sewing, sweeping the floor. Yes, even that can be relaxing, especially if it doesn't really need to be done. Any activity that requires no talking, no stress, and little effort. Once the devices are no longer within reach we start to rediscover all of the things we could be doing with our time. A whole lot, it turns out.
4. Breathe. This is not meditation. Just breathing. I personally have a love/hate relationship with meditating, meaning I love the idea of it but I hate trying it. I really am just talking about taking a few deep breaths. Our daily breathing is fairly shallow, and you feel that intensely when you finally pull in a deep 5-10 second breath and let it out. Do that a few times and you feel pretty good. Try it before you respond to a contentious email, or before you confront your spouse about finances, or before you discuss something with and adversary. It helps clear out the noise you are generating about the situation and gives you a moment to reflect and then act. Breathe deeply to recharge quietly. And then, just maybe, you will find time to - -
5. Listen to your own voice. You do have one, even is no one is listening. Just sit and think. Have a conversation with yourself about how you are feeling about what's going on. Get a temperature check on your emotions. Do more than just run through your task list. Do more than just stew about negative things. Encourage yourself, or forgive yourself. Don't allow the noise to squeeze out the most important sound of all - you.
Eliminating the noise is impossible. But reducing it, and your efforts to do so, leave us with an opportunity to listen in more thoughtfully to the sounds that do more to uplift and enrich us. And we can certainly use more of that.