In today's world, silence has become something of a rarity for most of us. And yet, it's in the space of nothingness that some of our best ideas have a chance to emerge.
While it's not wrong to have a busy brain and dynamic schedule, from time to time we all need a reset. An opportunity to pause, breath, and come into balance. And while we know this may be true in theory, for most of us it's difficult to achieve in practice. Here's why it's important to prioritize and carve out time for silence on your calendar.
The Value of a Quiet Mind
Having a calm mind doesn’t mean wiping your head free from all thoughts. That's simply not possible! What it does mean, however, is taking adequate space to slow things down and clear the mental clutter.
While it may not seem obvious, all the clicks and notifications and beeps coming at us from our phones alone take something precious from us. Like an invisible thief, they snatch moments of quiet one millisecond at a time. The cumulative impact of this over time is a shortened attention span, which can have a significant impact on our creativity and resilience.
According to researcher Dr Sharon Horwood, “[w]hat we do find with technology like smartphones and tablets is that they have the tendency to increase our absent-mindedness, reduce our ability to think and remember, to pay attention to things and regulate emotion. Most of us have our phones within arm’s reach. Even the possibility of a message or a call or something happening on social media is enough to divert our attention away from what we are doing.” (The Guardian Labs, Is technology short-changing our attention spans?, April 22, 2021)
Maintaining a quiet mind is far more important than most people realize. By learning how to take breaks from the everyday noise that surrounds us, you create room to reconnect with yourself. Silence also gives us the opportunity to notice the small things we might normally overlook, which can spark new connections and ideas.
When you become more aware of your surroundings, you dial back into what it means to be human and fully alive. The trees that give you shade, the leaves that dance to a slow gust of wind, the pebble by the sidewalk that reminds you of your last beach walk. These may sound small and even unnecessary experiences when set against your never endeding to-do list, but the more you connect with your surroundings, the easier it becomes to connect with yourself and your deepest passions in life.
Positive Effects of Silence on Physical Well-Being
Encouraging stillness and silence in your life also has beneficial physical effects. If you’ve been grappling with anxiety or overwhelm lately, consider that a clear signal that your mind and body are seeking stillness.
Often we believe that the source of our stress is that there’s "too much work to be done." And while this may be true, you only compound that stress when you don't give ourselves permission to slow down, rest, and get quiet.
A few tangible effects of silence on physical well-being include:
- Lowers blood pressure, which lessens the chances of heart attack
- Promotes good hormones
- Decreases blood cortisol levels, which relieves stress and tension
- Prevents plaque formation
Additionally, silence can potentially help create new cells in the hippocampus region of your brain, which is responsible for learning and memory.
10 Ways to Calm Your Mind
So how do we cut through the noise? How can we slow down an overstimulated brain?
There are many ways to practice this, so it's important to try different methods to find the ones that work best for you. Whichever you choose, remember this: the process is cumulative.
Think of it like brushing your teeth so you don't get tooth decay. You have to do it on a regular basis to reap the health benefits. The benefits of quieting your mind may not be immediately apparant, so don't give up after 2 or 3 tries! Trust the fact that it builds over time.
1. Pay more attention to your breathing
By tuning into your breath, you are training your mind to relax. To do it, sit in a comfortable position and just begin to focus on your breathing. Notice the patterns and the rhythm. If your mind starts to wander - and it will - slowly bring it back to the breathing. This is one of the best ways to quiet your mind, and there's plenty of empirical evidence to support it!
2. Wander in nature
Spending time in nature is also an effective way to carve out some space for yourself. Nature is always good company. Be it a beach, the forest or even just at a local park, when we're in nature we reconnect with a reality beyond human constructs. This helps us tap back into what it is to be human.
3. Meditate regularly
Meditating doesn't necessarily mean sitting cross-legged in lotus position. Instead, think of it as maintaining "a single point of concentration." In this sense, the breathing exercise above is a form of mediation. There are many traditions and styles to choose from: sitting, walking, guided, or silent.
When you meditate, you’re corraling your thoughts and giving your mind a place to focus. The human brain is a thought-producing machine, after all! To harness its power in service to your goals, its helpful to know how to manage your thoughts. Meditation is a workout for the mind, and over time enhances your ability to choose the thoughts you wish to follow.
4. Engage in self-reflection
Check in with yourself regularly, and ask yourself the necessary questions. Perhaps once a week, sit down with pen and paper and explore how you're really doing. For a list of reflection questions to consider, check out PositivePsychology.com's guide: 87 Self-Reflection Questions for Introspection [+Exercises]
5. Center your values
Research shows that tapping into core values results in increased performance and persistence over time (Vansteenkiste et al., 2004). When we're clear about our values and reflect on them regularly, our choices and actions begin to intuitively align with what's most important.
For some strategies on how to do this, you can explore this resource blog and accompanying podcast: What Are Your Core Values and Why Do They Matter?
6. Have a regular conversation with yourself in a quiet space
Another one of the ways to quiet your mind and practice self-reflection is to have a regular conversation with yourself. This may not sound like a revolutionary suggestion but the truth is we don't often take the time to do it.
While it's important to give yourself stillness and quiet through breathing exercises and meditation, it's also necessary to give yourself unstructured space to interact with your own thoughts. A conversation date with yourself is yours to create: it might look like reflective journaling, or just lying back on the couch and daydreaming.
7. Note the things that cause you stress
The experience of stress and burnout is deeply personal and no two people experience this phenomenon in the same way. Taking time to identify the root causes of your unique experience with stress is the first step in finding effective solutions.
Take a self inventory of what might be weighing you down the most. Some factors could include:
- Feeling marginalized in certain situations
- A lack of social, professional, or community support
- Misalignment of values
- Feeling you are not being seen or appreciated
All of these examples constitute personal triggers for the onset of stress hormones. Acknowledging, naming, and becoming aware of these triggers will give you more power over the feelings that come with them.
The act of naming is a simple technique that packs a strong punch. When we take the time to label and name things, our limbic system - which governs emotions both positive and negative - gets to take a slight break. In that moment, your logic center kicks in to participate in the rational process of analysis.
Generating awareness around your stress triggers also gives you data to work with in setting goals to change things that are overwhelming you.
8. Move your body
If you're starting to feel like a brain on a stick, it's helpful to get out of your head and drop down into your body from time to time.
Yoga and exercise are two physical activities that help quiet the mind. They both require focus and help to silence the buzz in your head. Engaged physical activity also helps to minimize random, floating thoughts. Even simple activities such as a quick walk or stretching practice will help slow things down.
9. Practice self compassion
According to Greater Good Magazine, compassion can be understood as a mental state that is oriented toward recognizing suffering in ourselves and others. It includes four components:
- Awareness that suffering is present
- Feeling moved by that suffering
- The desire for relief from suffering
- Willingness to take action
A simple practice that self-compassion researcher Dr. Kristen Neff recommends is to talk to yourself as you would a good friend. The next time you experience self judgement or critical self-talk, try imagine your best friend is feeling this way instead. What would you say to them, or want them to know?
10. Feel your feelings
Ever notice how when you're in the grip of big feelings, you tend to think the same thought or replay a situation over and over? When we're upset, the mind can start running on a loop, ruminating on whatever is bothering us without ever reaching a resolution.
One way to interrupt this cycle is to pause and really be present with what's there. Give the feeling your full attention if you can, with compassion and curiosity. To address and clear it, try writing it out or talking it over with a trusted friend or advisor. As simple as this sounds, it can help free you from the emotional and mental stress that may be causing more noise.
As you become more aware and mindful of your thoughts, behaviors, and surroundings, it becomes easier to navigate through this world with grace.
Implementing simple strategies like the ones described here will pay dividends over time. Mindfulness practicies help to strengthen emotional intelligence and encourage us to act in our integrity. This is critical, not only in business but across all aspects of our lives.
The result? The capacity to better serve your clients and build a sustainable coaching practice without compromising your own well-being.
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