Why are we so scared of silence? Here, author and motivation and mindfulness expert, Andro Donovan, makes the personal and professional case for implementing a digital detox.
Look around any bus, train or tube and you’ll see people playing on their phone, headphones on, anything other than sitting in silence.
And yet it’s the ability to create space for contemplating that allows us to go inside ourselves and connect to who we really are.
21st century distractions make it tough for us to pay attention to our internal wisdom, which, as director Steven Spielberg has pointed out, never shouts at us but only whispers.
Without access to this soft voice, people remain unaware of who they are, what they want from life and where they should be focusing their energy.
Mindfulness research suggests that meditation sharpens skills such as attention, memory and emotional intelligence. Being silent is the first building block.
Digital detoxing at work
Modern executives understand the importance of silence. Silence can be a very practical way of getting yourself and your team to reset your minds and take five quiet minutes to clear space in your heads before an important meeting.
Silence during a meeting is often seen as awkward and uncomfortable, something to be avoided. So many of us find it difficult to sit in silence. We may have negative memories from school when we were made to sit in silence as punishment for being too noisy.
And let’s face it, we’ve come to think that silence means not having the answers. Yet silence is an essential tool for effective meetings, allowing participants to think before speaking, to notice feelings, and to recharge.
For successful digital detox, leaders must set the guidelines – a digital abstention rule could help to make meetings shorter, increase efficiency and ensure full participation.
Collecting in everyone’s mobiles at the beginning of meetings might seem radical but it may be the only way to have everyone be present.
Dealing with reluctance
Digital detox is a big step – you will see people literally recoil at the mere suggestion of it. It means no email, no photos, no WhatsApp and no social media. It’s hard to persuade yourself to go through with it, and all the more so if you have to motivate others to follow suit.
Like most big challenges in life it starts with little steps. Initially try just abstaining, or imposing abstention, for one meeting. Once you have managed this, you could try whole days of not checking your email – just imagine, the whole of Sunday!
For how long or how often is up to you: you can try just stepping away at weekends, or put your smartphone away when you’re having family time in the evenings. Simply raising consciousness on the addiction is the place to start.
Reaping the rewards
Many people are interested in being more present. They may even have tried to meditate, but have found this too challenging. However, taking five minutes at the start of a meeting or before an important phone call can make a big difference to the outcome.
Once people feel the benefits they become converts, as taking time out is good for us. Our breathing slows down and our body relaxes. We don’t realise how rarely we give ourselves permission to do this.
It’s a very accessible technique, but so many of us have an aversion to sitting still, and a fascination for responding to all the distractions constantly being streamed onto our mobiles. It’s as if we are addicted to “doing” rather than “being”.
Silence is our secret weapon
Without being able to access this quiet space inside ourselves, all we do is respond to what life throws at us in a succession of knee jerk reactions. Being silent is a secret weapon that enables us to achieve more clarity and authentic self-expression. Understanding how to access this space is the first step towards using it to our best advantage.
Rather than remaining in a place of stress, amid the constant panic of the survival instinct that flares up every time our phones beep at us, being silent – without our usual electronic distractions – helps us access a deeper part of ourselves, allowing us to be more in touch with our emotional intelligence. This in turn saves us from the negative effects of knee jerk reactions and other self-limiting behaviour.
Three simple things you must do to be silent successfully
(1) Sit still, eyes closed, hands on lap, back straight, both feet on the ground
(2) Be quiet — no talking, no listening, no distractions
(3) Pay attention to your breathing, fully breathe into your diaphragm. And notice what happens.
Andro Donovan is the author of Motivate Yourself – Get the life you want, find purpose and achieve fulfilment.
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