Tell me how often you’ve felt like your mind is full of noise. So noisy that it’s hard to think. Sometimes it may be because we have too much going on in our life (i.e. family, work, chores, hobbies, staying up on the latest COVID development, Netflix). But sometimes, it’s actually real noise in our environment that’s contributing to the madness.
The Power of Being Quiet can be viewed through both the lens of positivity & productivity. (I know, total shocker! Haha!) Since we most likely won’t be using the Japanese solution of attending forest therapy sessions to de-stress, let’s break down real, practical ways to incorporate moments of quiet that’ll boost our positivity & productivity!
Quiet Environment is good for us.
“According to the World Health Organization 40% of Europe is exposed to noise levels that could lead to disturbed sleep, raised blood pressure, and potentially increased incidences of heart disease.” — John Coleman in @HarvardBiz 
Or, consider this:
“We may also be losing the ability to hear distant sounds, which our ancestors would have been able to pick up when living in the relative silence of nature.” — Sandrine Ceurstemont in @newscientist 
Now put that into contrast to the moments when things are quiet around us. I’m talking so quiet, you can hear the background noises like the clock ticking or the chirps in nature. Doesn’t that bring a sense of calm? It’s a wonder why we DON’T seek out more moments of quiet. After all, humans are pleasure-seeking animals and it’s surprising that we’d rather bombard ourselves with noise versus feeling good in the quiet serenity.
“Taking time for silence restores the nervous system, helps sustain energy, and conditions our minds to be more adaptive and responsive. For example, silence is associated with the development of new cells in the hippocampus, the key brain region associated with learning and memory.” — @JustinZorn @LeighMarz in @HarvardBiz 
Quiet Conversations are the Best
During a conversation, are you the kind of person who can stand the awkward silence, or do you rush in to fill it with something to say?
Growing up, I was definitely the fill-the-void kind of person. Upon reflection, my younger self interpreted silence during a conversation as it must be uninteresting and boring. And that would be a reflection on who I was, also uninteresting and boring. Therefore, I had to fill it with something to say. My sensitive ego couldn’t handle that much insecurity.
Fast forward to the conversations we witness around us today. In meetings, it’s a power struggle to have your voice heard, resulting in people speaking over each other (how rude!). Or maybe when we used to go to bars, we had to yell loud enough over the music or other nearby conversations to be heard. Worse yet, we’re in an argument with someone and despite the volume of our voice, we’re not being heard.
“It’s about taking a temporary break from one of life’s most basic responsibilities: Having to think of what to say.” — @JustinZorn @LeighMarz in Harvard Business Review 
If we can take the pressure off of ourselves of having to think of what to say… if we can convince ourselves that silence during a conversation does not mean we’re boring… and if we can find a way to make the other person feel heard… then that’s a next-level win.
To bring it home, some quick tips:
- Maintain eye contact.
- If the other person feels heard, that’s a positive feeling you gave someone.
- Actively listen, don’t multitask. Multitasking is a myth and it ruins relationships.
- Finally, pepper them with tons of questions. It’ll make you look like a conversation genius.
Quiet Morning Routine is an Upgrade
“A few years ago, the World Health Organization declared that excessive loud and unpleasant sounds pose a health risk in western Europe. Biologically, noise is meant to alert us to danger and when we hear sounds, our levels of stress hormones and blood pressure rise. Chronic noise exposure can have a long-term impact on health, for example, by disrupting sleep, and at its most extreme it can kill, typically by contributing to heart attacks.” 
You know and I know that I absolutely love morning routines. That is, the routine we have each morning that sets ourselves up for success the rest of the day. (And yes, like it or not, we all have a routine in the morning. Sometimes they’re great and nudge us towards greater achievement, and sometimes they suck and budge us closer towards the abyss. Too dramatic?)
Some thoughts on the power of being quiet in the morning and how it can elevate our routine.
You set the priorities, not the other way around. Lower the noise in our mind associated with emails and social media. If you answer emails, then you’re doing what others want you to do. If you’re on social media, their algorithm is dictating how you feel.
“Whatever emails or text messages have come in during the evening or in the early morning are usually not in service to me… Can you fix this? Can you do that? Why did this happen?” — Bozoma Saint John on a Thrive Global Podcast interview 
No emails or social media until you confront the hardest decision for the day — what will you choose to spend your time on, i.e. set your own priority. I’ll be honest, it’s easier to be told what my priorities are. Whenever I do get around to checking my emails, I find things I need to approve, review, or take immediate action on, “put out the fire.” It’s easier to go on auto-pilot and just checkbox the to-do list. But that’s not what’ll get us to the next level. You choose what’s important and make time for that.
Think back to when and where some of your best ideas occurred. Perhaps it was in the shower or while you were out on a run. Or maybe while walking the dog or waiting in line someplace. What one common thread in them all — things were quiet. Both in our head and in our outside environment, it was mostly quiet.
“Cultivating silence isn’t just about getting respite from the distractions of office chatter or tweets. Real sustained silence, the kind that facilitates clear and creative thinking, and quiets inner chatter as well as outer.” 
This isn’t some new discovery, rather, lots of creatives have already incorporated quiet into their routines. Walter Isaacson, Carl Jung, and Ray Dalio are a few folks of renown who have disciplined practices for managing the flow of information and setting aside periods of being quiet. 
Yet, why is that? Why does a deprivation of sensory information lead to creativity? People compare our brains to computers. (Funny thought, before the invention of the computer, did people compare the brain to the technology of the period, such as steam engines, wheelcarts, and a bow & arrow?!) With computers, there’s a maximum amount of computational power. Have too many windows open or programs running at once, and the computer lags and stalls. Yep, that’s also our (monkey) brain.
So, when it comes to being creative, innovative, and generally just open to ideas, try reducing the amount of “windows open” in our minds.
For me, I’ve left my phone on silent now for years. I only turn the ringer on when I’m expecting an important phone call, such as from Patrick Stewart and when he needs to run ideas past me. 😉
Quiet is a Strategy
Most of the time, it’s best to be the first to throw out an idea. That way you’ve planted the majority core of the idea, and now others are just refining it.
But sometimes, it makes more strategic sense to be quiet. Absorb, listen, iterate in your own head before saying anything. Here’s when I know to stay quiet:
You’re not a subject matter expert. In other words, if you haven’t thoroughly researched the topic yourself, do everybody a favor, sit back and learn.
Your role model is present. Maybe it’s someone you respect or someone with a great reputation. Usually this is the leader or highest ranked person in the room. Or it could be it an up-and-coming or a new teammate and you want to see what they’re all about. In any of these cases, you’re better off observing.
You’re in an emotional or tough topic. If this is the case, all the better to let others talk and let them be heard. Until they feel heard, whatever you say won’t be heard either.
You want the illusion of power. For example, in a game of poker, many times the best tactic is to stay absolutely quiet. Don’t show any “tells” or give out any information that could give your opponent an edge. Stay absolutely silent and motionless, as if a bear is sniffing you up and down.
One final story before I conclude my point on how being quiet makes strategic sense. I play tennis. I’ve been in matches where when the opponent gets frustrated, they’ll yell or throw their racquet. And to be honest, when I see that, I get even more confident knowing that they are not on their game. Therefore, if you’re feeling frustrated, don’t show it. During arguments, negotiations, performance reviews, poker, anywhere. There’s Power in Being Quiet.
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- The “Quiet Life” Hypothesis Is Real: Managers Will Put Off Hard Decisions If They Can by Kotaro Inoue
- The Busier You Are, the More You Need Quiet Time by Justin Talbot Zorn and Leigh Marz
- Find Quiet (and Maybe Even Peace) at Work by John Coleman
- The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses by Adam Grant, Francesca Gino, and David A. Hofmann
- It’s harder than you might think to appreciate silence by Sandrine Ceurstemont
- Bozoma Saint John: Daily Routine by Hao