Technology and digital media have made it extraordinarily easy for all of us to stay connected and informed. In addition to a regular stream of news, we have podcasts and audio books to occupy any open crevice of time between meetings, during drives or when exercising.
The problem with all of this information is that most of us never unplug long enough to allow our brains ample time to process it. Instead, like hoarders, we simply take this continuous stream of content and shove it into any available corner of our intellect with the hopes that one day we may use it.
Like any exercised muscle in the body, the brain needs time to rest, rebuild and recuperate. It is during rest that our brains are able to process and organize information. This is the reason there continues to be a growing emphasis on the value of sleep and its ability to aid in memory and learning.
Of course, all of us do not have the luxury of sleeping seven to 10 hours every day. For those with a busy schedule, however, there is a practice you can adopt to encourage your to rest and recover during the day, and all you need is one thing: 10 minutes of silence.
1. Make 10 Minutes
All you need is 10 minutes a day, which is roughly the equivalent to making a cup of coffee. According to Headspace, a popular mobile app that will guide you through short meditation sessions, "Many of the recent findings seem to be pointing at frequency rather than duration. So for example, 10 minutes a day, every day of the week, is likely to be far more beneficial than 70 minutes on one day of the week."
2. Turn the Phone Off
Steve Job's biographer wrote that the legendary founder of Apple purposely made it difficult to power off an iPhone. Jobs explained the reason saying, "Maybe it's (because) I want to believe in an afterlife, when you die, it doesn't just all disappear. The wisdom you've accumulated. Somehow it lives on. But sometimes I think it's just like an on-off switch. Click and you're gone. And that's why I don't like putting on-off switches on Apple devices."
While Job's reasoning is intensely profound, it is also terribly inconvenient. Instead of turning off our phones, we have become accustom to simply putting them in silence or airplane mode. The problem is that when our phones are on, we subconsciously think about them and are inclined to use them. So while it may be difficult to do so, get in the habit of powering your phone off for 10 minutes to eliminate any urge to check on it.
3. Find Your Level of Silence
We all tolerate varying levels of noise and silence. As a parent, for instance, I have developed an uncanny ability to block out background noise. In fact, I become quite nervous when everything in the house is quiet, which typically means one or both of my children are plotting something.
Regardless, you need to find a level of silence that allows you to focus your effort of resting. Noise and other distractions can cause your mind to race, which defeats the purpose of this practice. If necessary, I suggest investing in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones, which are also great if you are a regular business traveler.
4. Start with Help
Learning how to train your brain to resist the swirling torrent of thoughts requires practice and patience. I have been practicing for a few months now, and I still find it very difficult to avoid the urge to mentally re-order my to-do lists.
For this reason, consider using helpful instruction. In addition to Headspace, I have utilized a mobile app called Calm, which has a number of free and paid features that provide guidance and tips to ease into your practice.
5. Take Notes
While you will read that removing all distractions is important for optimizing silence, I personally have found that once in a routine, I have been more susceptible to unique and creative ideas. Of course, these new ideas disrupt my silence when I worry about forgetting them. For this reason, I keep my personal journal close by so that I can write down quick notes and thoughts if needed.
Some people will think of this practice of silence as meditation, conjuring images of monks or yoga enthusiasts. The truth is that you do not need to learn meditation chants or buy yoga pants to get the most out of the practice. All you need is 10 minutes, a quite place to sit, and the willingness to allow yourself to get the most out of the gray matter in your head.