The expression Silence is golden means saying nothing is preferable to speaking. It derives from the fuller version ‘speech is silver; silence is golden.’
Today I want to use this familiar saying in a different manner. Silence is golden is how I describe the day that I chose to turn off the radio, and the background noise that occupied my life regularly for more than two decades.
About seven months ago, I accidentally forgot to turn on the radio when I awoke. After many hours of working at my desk, stopping and eating lunch, and then returning to my desk, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t turned the radio back on. It was mid-afternoon. I had been working for the bulk of the day in silence.
I then turned on the radio to my favorite talk station and returned to my desk.
What happened in the next few minutes hit me like a ton of bricks. I was seriously distracted by what was being said on the radio. It wasn’t the content that distracted me, it was just the non-stop blather of it all. It was like a car crash, and I couldn’t help but stop and look. With the radio on, I couldn’t help but to stop and listen. I was addicted.
I immediately walked over and turned off the radio. I went cold turkey. I went silent.
Here are the 3 immediate benefits, or gold, that I’ve received from the decision to go silent.
1. Greater Self-Awareness
The voice in my head is now able to speak with greater awareness. It’s no longer busy processing the voices of others.
My guess is that listening for all those years was a way of avoiding making a decision. If I spent countless hours evaluating what someone else was saying and thinking, I wouldn’t have to confront what I thought and wanted to say.
Lesson Learned: Being a critic of others is easier than critically evaluating one’s own beliefs.
I’m much better able to focus on a single activity with silence as my default background.
I’ve previously written how multi-tasking is overrated. I do still multi-task, but instead of trying to do five things simultaneously (including listening to external noise/opinions from the radio and evaluating/judging those opinions), I now work silently on two or three things in concert. And those two or three things are synergistic to each other and internally generated.
Lesson Learned: What seems like harmless background noise can harm a most valuable asset … your ability to concentrate.
In addition to the increased productivity I’ve realized from improving my ability to concentrate, I’ve also learned a more efficient way to process information.
While talk radio can be highly entertaining, the redundancy makes it an inefficient method of gathering information. Now, when I do turn on the radio, I hear the redundancy. What was previously being heard and learned in ten hours is now information that can be learned in ten or fifteen minutes.
Lesson Learned: Reading multiple sources and using the power of the Internet, RSS feeds, Twitter, and multiple daily news sources is a much more efficient method of keeping yourself informed.
As I reflect back on my old habit, I realize that for more than twenty years I was simply telling myself that listening was harmless, it was strictly background noise, and it wasn’t a distraction. I told myself that all the tidbits of information were valuable learning. I convinced myself that this harmless background noise was forcing me to think about my own values and take positions on national issues. I was becoming a better citizen. And in a very generic way … it was true.
But what I previously was doing no longer works for me. I wasn’t talking about my own ideas, beliefs, and positions. I wasn’t standing up and explaining what I stand for. I was too busy judging and evaluating the voices of others.
In short, I was following. I wasn’t leading.
I’m glad I turned off the radio. My gold from that decision is greater self-awareness, improved ability to concentrate, more efficiency in gathering information, and speaking with 100% passion towards those things to which I’m committed.
What background noise in your life should you just turn off?
Do you use background noise as the excuse to avoid standing up and being heard?
Are you allowing another’s voice to act as a surrogate for your own?
Next Blog Title: Life Lessons from the movie Forrest Gump
Next Blog Date: March 10, 2011