LIFE – This Is How to Stop Taking Yourself Too Seriously

This Is How to Stop Taking Yourself Too Seriously

Just follow rule number 6

“The mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it isn’t open.” — Frank Zappa

If you follow just one rule in life, choose rule Number Six.

Two prime ministers were having a casual conversation. One was intrigued about this rule that seemed so simple. The other man has just recommended it on two occasions with an immediate positive outcome.

First, a subordinate came to see him. He was upset, banging his fist on the desk. Then, a hysterical woman who was gesticulating wildly. After their boss reminded them of rule number 6, they both left the room in a positive mood.

The other prime minister was intrigued, “What is rule number 6?”

“Rule number 6 is don’t take yourself so damn seriously.”

The first prime minister laughed. He wanted to learn more, “So, what are the other rules?”

“There are no other rules,” was the answer.

The secret of life requires following one single rule. If you want to succeed and be happy, don’t take yourself too seriously.

The Center of the Universe

“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” — Mark Twain

When we take ourselves too seriously, we believe everything revolves around us. That’s why we fear being ridiculed — we don’t want to face we are not so special.

The fear of shame kills our drive — we censor our desires to avoid being laughed at.

The paradox of shame is that, by looking for approval, we turn others into our judges. The fear of rejection makes us desperate for pleasing others. We become prisoners of other people’s judgment.

The fear of ridicule is anticipation — we worry about something that mighthappen.

As Brené Brown explains in his book Daring Greatly, seeking approval disconnect us from our desires. Women are expected to be naturally perfect. Men live under the pressure of not being perceived as weak. The author captures the need for worthiness in the sequence “pleasing, performing, and perfecting.”

External expectations are a moving target, as I wrote in this column. By trying to please everyone, we end pleasing no one — ourselves included.

Our self-worth is tied to how our audience receives our performance. If they love it, we are worth it. If they don’t, we feel worthless. Living our lives as an endless performance is exhausting — we are always playing a part.

Perfectionism is the enemy of change. The bar is so high that we never rest to have fun. We want to do everything the right way — one single mistake could ruin everything we’ve built.

When we take ourselves seriously, we take others seriously too — that’s why their opinions hurt us. You let their judgment define your identity — you accept the labels people give you.

The solution lies in finding balance: take life seriously, but not yourself.

As Alan Rickman said: “I do take my work seriously and the way to do that is not to take yourself too seriously.”

Goodbye Measurement World

“The notion that leaders need to be in charge and to know all the answers is both dated and distracted.” — Peter Sheahan

I consider myself a serious person — I take life seriously.

However, my peculiar sense of humor has allowed me to cope through turbulent times. A long time ago, I learned to stop looking for other people’s approval. If something goes well, I enjoy it. If it doesn’t, I move on.

I’m not immune to other’s people influence, but I’ve learned to own my actions. I do what feels right and take full ownership — there’s no room for blaming others or myself.

I feel comfortable being uncomfortable — vulnerability is recognizing my perfect imperfections. I learned to take life seriously, but not myself.

In the Art of PossibilityRosamund and Benjamin Zanders share 12 rules for bringing creativity into all human endeavors — rule Number Six is the best. The authors invite us to take a distance from our serious and heavy selves.

Our inner-self has been trained to ‘measure up’ in a competitive world — we look for external references to define our performance.

We live in a measurement world. Everything we do is measured against others. How much money we make. How beautiful our partners are. How happy we are. Our identity is relative to what other people have or do.

“The frames our mind create define and confine what we perceive to be possible. Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves in life, only appear unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view.” — Rosamund and Benjamin Zanders

Change your outlook. Move from measurement to possibilities.

When others laughed at you, they measure you against their expectations. But if you focus on achieving what you wish, regardless of what people think, you will reach your full potential.

Take leaders, for example. Those who feel superior try to suppress other to look even better. Those who feel inferior try to make others suffer too. When you stop measuring yourself against other’s expectations, you are not only free, but you don’t feel the need to change others.

We have two selves, according to the Zanders, our Calculating-Self and our Central-Self.

The Calculating-Self it’s us in survival mode — it sees everything as an attack on us. The Central-Self represents the generative, prolific, and creative nature of ourselves and the world. Instead of putting us at the center of everything, it appraises reality without an agenda.

The Central-Self is a softer, brighter, and lighter version of ourselves — it’s ego-less.

Rule Number 6 is a reminder to lighten up and not take ourselves so seriously! It releases us from selfish and self-limiting views — instead of trying to be appreciated we stop giving a damn.

The Power of Humor

“You can’t deny laughter. When it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays as long as it wants.” — Stephen King

Do you consider yourself a serious person? Do you find it hard to let go?

There are two types of people. Those who find it easy to laugh at themselves. And those who take themselves too seriously. Laughing at yourself is more than a positive mindset — it improves our health also.

Research links laughing at oneself with having an upbeat personality and good mood. It’s at the foundation of having a sense of humor. However, laughing at oneself is not easy — it represents the most difficult (humor) level.

Those who laugh at themselves regularly are less prone to chronic stress too.

Adaptive humor — cheering people up or seeing the humor in adverse events, is connected to well-being and psychological health. It increases resilience, diminishes the risks of heart attacks, and helps us manage pain better.

Humor gives leaders an edge too. Employees mentioned “sense of humor” and “work ethic” twice as much as any other phrases to define what makes a good leader, according to a study by Bell Leadership Institute.

Taking ourselves with a grain of salt gives us perspective — we can learn from mistakes by observing from a distance.

Tips to Take Yourself Less Seriously

“Don’t push the river, it flows by itself.” — Chinese proverb

1. Confront the fear of being ridiculed:

End the vicious cycle — fear fuels more fear. Face it and get over it. As Seth Godin said, “Dance with fear. As you dance, you realize that fear is, in fact, a compass — it’s giving you a hint that you are onto something.” Use that fear as energy to leap forward.

2. Drop the ball on purpose:

I don’t mean metaphorically, just let something fall through the cracks. This will not only help you realize that one mistake won’t kill you — but it will also help you regain control. If someone complains, smile and tell them you did it on purpose. Erring on purpose prepares you for unexpected mistakes.

3. Change the tone, change the conversation:

The best way to overcome pressure from perfectionists is not taking them too seriously. Perfectionists tend to think in right-or-wrong terms — either you succeed or fail. Use humor to disarm their approach: show them life’s shades of grey.

4. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

This simple question can help you, and others, put things in perspective. I’m not telling you not to aim high, but to find balance. Write everything that comes to your mind. Are you worried about real things? Or are you taking small things too seriously? Reflect and separate worries from facts.

5. Become shame-resilient:

Learn to acknowledge the voice of shame when it’s calling your name. Face that emotion. Brené Brown suggests talking to your shame, “This is disappointing, maybe even devastating. But success and recognition and approval are not values that drive me. My value is courage. You can move on, shame.”

6. Add more humor to your life:

Surround yourself with funny people. Turn off the news and violent shows; watch a comedy instead. Use self-deprecation instead of nasty labels. Smile. Especially, when you feel nervous or upset. Find the humor in something serious. Getting used to laugh at yourself will make you immune to your audience’s laughter.

7. Let go of your reputation:

Your image is not you. It’s just what people perceive. Don’t let your self-worth depend on your audience’s applause. When your self-worth is not on the line, it’s easier to take more risks and be courageous. You stop thinking if you know how to dance or not. You just start swaying.


Life’s too short. Don’t take yourself so damn seriously. I know, it sounds easier said than done, but trying to impress others requires more energy. Learn to see the opportunity hidden within challenges.

Don’t take others too seriously either. Free yourself from the Measurement World. Be okay being vulnerable. Take life seriously, not yourself.

Typical Life Problems And How To Solve Them

15 Typical Life Problems And How To Solve Them.

Photo © Angelika Platen (Walter De Maria)

All of our problems are the same. This is the 156th time I’ve written this fact (for those of you counting).

Problems are forever and we can’t avoid them. You’ll wake up tomorrow and have problems for breakfast. You’ll jump on the train and read a problem in your email inbox.

You’ll get to the office and get a problem smack bang in your pretty face!

The typical problems we face can be solved.

Here are 15 typical life problems and how to solve them:


You didn’t reach your goal.

Just because you set a goal, doesn’t mean you’re going to get it. Many of life’s toughest goals take lots of attempts. Some of the goals I missed are:

• Dream careers

• Girls I wanted to date

• Saving enough money to build a school in Laos

• Reaching 100k followers on LinkedIn

People who talk about success and personal development (and even write for a site called Addicted2Success like me) also don’t reach their goals.

The best feeling about reaching a goal is the journey it took to get there. If all your goals were easy, then you’d feel nothing at the end of the process.

Image Credit: Manly Caves

Solution:

Take the goal you didn’t achieve and try a different approach. Doing the same thing over and over to achieve your goal is the definition of insanity.

Your heroes miss their goals too. What makes them stand out is that they don’t give up. The fun of goal-setting is knowing that you’ll fail.


Someone criticized you.

If you want to make a dent in this world, then the critics will come out of the closet. The bigger your aspirations are, the more you’ll be criticized.

The number of critics you have is in direct proportion to your success.

“I had an entire blog post written about me saying how stupid I was. It felt like crap on day one. By day seven I’d made peace with the criticism and kept writing”

Solution:

You can’t please everybody that you meet in life.

When you speak on a stage, for example, 25% of people will like you, 25% won’t know who you are and 50% of people will think you’re an asshole even though you’ve probably done nothing wrong.

Critics are not all bad. You can learn things about yourself from them too. The solution is to learn from criticism, not be afraid of it.


Your career got messed up.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a happy-go-lucky office worker, your career is going to get messed up at some point.

The definition of business is this: Moving from one problem to another and making money in the meantime to fuel your mission. Business is really just problem-solving.

  • Redundancy could right hook you in the face.
  • The business you founded could go backwards and even bankrupt.
  • Your career skills could become outdated.
  • You could get fired for making a mistake.

Your career is going to get messed up. Things you can never predict in your career are going to happen.

Solution:

See career challenges for what they are: an opportunity to try something different. If your career never got messed up, then you’d probably stay in your comfort-zone for your entire life and never try something different.

The solution is to see your career getting messed up as a chance to grow. Getting made redundant could be the one reality that makes you want to create your own startup.

Having a customer leave could decrease your workload and create space for clients who won’t drain your time and make you no money.


You have financial troubles.

That crazy little thing called money will let you down at some point.

“I’ve personally been rich and poor multiple times”

Upon reflection, the time I’ve been the happiest has been when I’ve had the least amount of money.

Countless studies have shown that money isn’t what your life’s about. As humans, we seek meaning, love and our own version of happiness.

Money won’t give you any of those human needs.

That doesn’t mean money doesn’t matter; it just means that it shouldn’t be your main focus or something you obsess over.

Image Credit: Andy Warhol

Solution:

Lack of money is a gift. When you don’t have money, you become resourceful and creative at the same time.

Lack of money helps you decide on what matters and what doesn’t.

If things get really bad, then you’ll likely prioritize feeding your family over buying another useless car that will never make you happy. You’ll take joy in the simple things in life.

The solution to financial problems is to see them as a gift and choose a meaning for your life instead.


You’re unhealthy.

Our health has become a real problem. We wonder why we feel tired, sick and get headaches. We’ll all experience health challenges at some point in our life.

How many health challenges we experience in our younger years will come down to food and exercise. The strategies for being healthy haven’t changed.

There’s no mystery around being healthy it’s just that we’ve become lazy.

Convenience powered by apps has overtaken our ability to do basic tasks and not binge watch Netflix every night.

Solution:

Take ownership. Quit feeling sick and do something about it. Have some blood tests. Change your diet to be more plant-based.

Image Credit: Idelle Weber

Drink more water. Get your lazy ass to the gym 3 times a week for 30 minutes. Stand up from your desk every now and then so you’re not sitting for the whole day and messing your spine/neck up.

Whatever you do, take ownership of your health and quit being ignorant.


A relationship ended.

There’s less than 1% of people who met ‘The One,’ lived happily ever after, and never experience a breakup.

Even that 1% will have that relationship end at some point when either side passes away.

For the majority of us who don’t strike gold the first time around, we’re going to have to deal with breakups and the trials and tribulations of romance.

We’ll probably find ourselves in a toxic relationship for too long.

We’ll probably get cheated on at least once.

We’ll probably have our hearts smashed into a million pieces when we discover that someone ‘No longer loves us anymore.’

These are the realities of the human condition and our need to reproduce and keep our species alive.

Solution:

Finding love is about understanding what love is not. You need relationships to end to find out what love really is. All breakups suck in the beginning until you grow and move on. Then, the solution to this problem is to find yourself.

Once you find yourself, the heart will be ready for love again. How you move forward from there is up to you.

You can try the good old fashion nightclub scene. You could go to Meetups. Or, you could start swiping left and right on a few dating apps.

“Have your heart broken just don’t let it stay that way”


You made a dick of yourself.

Geez, this one is an ugly truth for me.

I’ve made an ass of myself more times than I’ve had protein and veggies for dinner. Here’s a few just for laughs (and your entertainment).

• There was the time I tried to pretend I could be the Wolf of Wall Street and got laughed out of the interview due to not being able to explain derivatives

• There was the time I thought this girl liked me and tried to hug her while we were walking only to have her hate my guts

• There was the time I went out with friends and threw up on my friend’s couch after having a single shot of Tequila

• There was the time I did my first public speaking gig and messed up a speech about my own life which I’d rehearsed over 100 times

We could talk for days about how I’ve embarrassed myself over the years. We could even compare epic fails to see who’s are worse. This is not a game though.

We’re all going to go into situations with the best of intentions or all the experience in the world and still screw up.

Solution:

Making a dick of yourself is a sign of courage. Courage is what is found in leaders and those who are doers.

Making a dick of yourself is an acceptance that you might fail in the short-term.

Those who fail in the short-term will eventually win in the long-term with practice.

“The opposite of making a dick of yourself is perfection.That’s a life where you think your shit doesn’t stink and you spend your entire day trying to impress everybody to eventually impress nobody”

Making an idiot of yourself is perfectly fine. What’s not fine is being perfect.

Image Credit: Romero Britto

Someone messed your *shit* up.

Car, home or insert other material possession that doesn’t matter. None of these material things that got messed up are joining you in the afterlife.

You can’t bury the Bentley with you (although someone tried) so you can drive around with your great, great, great grandpa and do burnouts in the afterlife.

The stuff that is going to get messed up doesn’t matter.

Solution:

What matters is that you don’t get messed up. What matters is that you take care of yourself so you can take care of others. Maybe when your junk gets messed up, you’ll realize that you didn’t need it in the first place.


You feel like your life has no meaning.

These moments where nothing makes sense is where you get to explore. We’re not born with a meaning for our life. Meaning comes from learning who we are and growing as a person.

The meaning for your life when you’re 19 will probably change from when you’re 51 and got three grown-up kids.

The quickest way to destroy your life is to believe that life has no meaning. A lack of meaning leads to depression, carelessness, drug taking and even crime at an extreme level.

Solution:

If you feel like your life has no meaning, then it’s time to experiment. Standing still is not how you find the answer.

“Being intensely focused on one’s self only leads to more suffering”

A short-term solution to this problem is to experiment with helping those who have nothing. Spend time with people who’d kill to be in your position and get some perspective.

I’ve found in my life that the greatest meaning for your life is normally tied to finding something you’d be happy to do for free that helps others.


You feel like you can’t go on.

We’ve all had those days. Those deep and sometimes dark thoughts can lead to a place you’ve never visited.

Some failures in life hurt more than others. Some failures can’t be solved through a listicle post such as this one with a dose of inspiration.

If you truly feel like you can’t go on, then there’s another way.

Solution:

Seek real help. These dark thoughts must be treated and sometimes the best medicine is to seek professional help through counseling, or for an extreme case, by calling Lifeline.

While I’ve never had suicidal thoughts personally, I have dealt with mental illness.

“There is a way to come out the other side, but you have to put aside your pride and seek help”

Please don’t become another victim of suicide by doing nothing.


Every day feels the same.

You wake up. You eat. You go to work. You eat. You come home. You eat. You go to bed.

Life can feel the same if you do nothing. It’s up to you to create variety and shape your habits into something more than a fixed schedule which makes you feel bored.

Days feel the same when there’s no purpose behind anything you’re doing.

Image Credit: Meg Duffy, aka Hand Habits

Solution:

You must find joy in the repetition. You do that by taking those reps and making them mean something. Add some variety in by breaking your comfort zone. Set a goal to do something wild during your day every so often.

• Travel to another country

• Talk to someone new

• Try learning a new skill

Even after trying something new, you have to get used to some level of repetition. Let that repetition become habits that serve something which can help others.


Your friends are screwing your life up.

Dump them. Divorce them. Delete their number.

Every relationship you have in your life is a choice. The people around us often hold us back. They fill our minds with limiting beliefs, stories and goals that give us no sense of meaning.

Friends can kill our dreams or make us believe something we never thought was possible.

Solution:

Everyone deserves a second chance. Start by telling your toxic friends how you feel. Give them a chance to change with the new you.

If they refuse, take a break from them for a while. Ask yourself whether you want them in your life long-term.

‘Fitting in’ is what we’re taught to do. What I’d advise you to do is be you instead and that will attract the right people into your life.


You feel stressed.

77% of people in the US alone experience regular stress.

This young, previously blonde blogger has also recently learned about the effects of stress. I had a cortisol test and the doctor found the levels to be twice the normal range.

This stress led to brain fog, tiredness and a lack of mental clarity. Stress is also caused by what you let into your life. Having options can be a bad thing.

Solution:

“We don’t need more; we need less to destress”

• Declutter your home and office

• Say no to more meetings

• Say yes to invites from people that make you feel like saying “Hell Yes!”

• Buy less material things

• Have fewer people in your life

• Listen to one podcast instead of many

• Read fewer books instead of every one that’s recommended on a podcast

• Have less recurring subscriptions

• Invest and save more money so you can stress less about unexpected bills

• Take regular breaks (quarterly has worked for me)


A fear is standing in your way.

There are so many common fears — fear of spiders, flying, public speaking, dying, career change, heights and maybe even a fear of expressing yourself.

Fear is a concept of the mind. Nothing is scary or not scary. Our mind makes that choice for us and provides meaning to everything.

Image Credit: Pop Art Portraits

Fear can be overcome and that’s why we love stories of battling with fear. I’ve famously spoken about creating fear lists and then knocking them off one at a time.

Solution:

Smash the fear into tiny little pieces. Don’t avoid it. Don’t let it stand in your way any longer. Make a decision to overcome each fear you have and you’ll be unstoppable by the end.

Don’t let nerves trick you into thinking you’re fearful. We all get nerves, but we can still keep moving forward with nerves — I’ve even learned to use nerves to my advantage by using them as an extra energy source.

Nerves tell me I’m on the right track.

I’ve overcome my fear of public speaking and my fear of flying — my fear of spiders remains, but I’m working on that one 🙂

Real fear can be overcome through deliberate practice.


Dealing with the concept of death.

Last but not least, the old chestnut of death. Death is the one life problem we all have in common and can’t solve. Sorry for the bad news.

Death is going to take us eventually and it will take people you love through your life too.

“The solution to dealing with death is not to overcome it but to accept it”

Death can be our greatest motivator if we let it. Once you understand what death means in all of its darkness, you’ll understand life.

You’ll see death, not as a problem but a fact. That fact will change the way you see everything going forward. For me, it took several near-death experiences (almost being murdered and a cancer scare) to see death for what it is.

Death is not an easy pill to swallow. No short blog post like this is going to give you all the answers you’re probably wanting to know.

The only way I see of dealing with the reality of death is to go out there and live the best damn life you can, while you can!

Use your life to do something that gives you meaning and then you’ll no longer see death as a problem when it comes upon you.

Peace, love and respect — thanks for reading.

Why Silence is the Think Tank of the Soul

Why Silence is the Think Tank of the Soul

Mental noise is destroying your mind

Silence is an endangered species — Pic by Kalen Emsley

Upon meeting a Zen master at a social event, a psychiatrist decided to ask him a question that had been on his mind for a long time.

“Exactly how do you help people?” — the man inquired.

“I get them where they can’t ask any more questions.” — the master replied.

Mental noise is hurting our minds — we are continually asking questions that create busyness, not knowledge. We are in ‘reacting mode,’ leaving no room for reflection. To regain perspective in life, you need to pause. Silence is fertile ground.

When was the last time you push the pause button in your life?

Silence is not just lack of noise. It’s an empty space for your mind to recover clarity. And to protect it from mental noise.

Many people believe silence is isolation. However, it’s busyness what detaches us from reality. You need to take distance and reflect. As Lao-Tzu said: “Just remain in the center, watching. And then forget that you are there.”

Silence is not about the absence of sound — it invites the presence of everything else.

Silence is an endangered species

“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.” — G.K. Chesterton

Noise keeps us busy.

Our brain is continually exposed to internal and external stimuli. Silence feels impossible, like emptying our spirit.

What creates noise in your life?

Social media notifications, Netflix binging, overthinking, constantly being surrounded by others, and overloading our calendars are just many of the infinite ways to avoid silence. We’ve turned noise into entertainment — it provides a temporary distraction so you can’t pay attention.

Gordon Hempton believes that silence is an endangered species.

He’s an acoustic ecologist — a collector of sound all over the world. For Hempton, real quietness is being present — silence is not an absence of sound, but an absence of noise. The Earth is a ‘solar-powered jukebox.’ He believes that we take in the world through its ears.

Noise is contaminating our minds.

The World Health Organization in a 2011 report called noise pollution a “modern plague,” concluding that “there is overwhelming evidence that exposure to environmental noise has adverse effects on the health of the population.”

Noise is not just a modern disease. It has been hurting our minds since the 19th century. Back then, a British nurse and social activist, Florence Nightingale, wrote that “Unnecessary noise is the cruelest absence of care that can be inflicted on sick or well.” Nightingale argued that needless sounds could cause distress, sleep loss and alarm for recovering patients.

Permanent silence is not always good either. Animals must listen to survive — that’s how we anticipate danger before it happens.

The problem is when noise becomes escapism.

Psychologist Carl Jung noted that we naturally seek out noise because it suggests human company — we used to need the comfort and safety of the group to survive. Nonetheless, our lives are not under constant attack as they were many centuries ago. Detaching from our environment for a couple of hours won’t put your life in danger.

When you step back from an issue, you can spend more time on solving the right problem.

The paradox of sound

“He who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words.” — Elbert Hubbard

Silence is not about the absence of sound but the presence of something else. Your mind is like a canvas — if it’s full of noise, you can’t paint anything new on it. When we are in silence, we make room for everything else.

Gordon Hempton wants your help in recovering the value of silence. “Not too long ago it was assumed that clean water’s not important, that seeing the stars is not that important. But now it is. I think we’re realizing quiet is important, and we need silence. That silence is not a luxury, but it’s essential.” — the acoustic ecologist said.

When you remove the noise, the essential speaks up. However, though it’s a magnificent revelatory experience, it can backfire if you don’t prepare adequately. The voices we hear in silence can create worrying noises.

Our constant social connectivity keeps us busy. What’s even worse, we let our social identity to speak louder than our true-self. The fear of missing out keeps you away from your reality — you stop paying attention. Without self-reflection, there’s no understanding. Silence lets your inner voice become present.

If the brain is actively processing noise it can’t turn off — it’s impossible to rest and reset when you are always asking questions or reacting to external stimuli.

Getting rid of the noise is more an aspiration than a reality. That’s the paradox of silence: we wish we could have quiet time, but it’s not easy to pull off. Removing other voices means we need to start listening to our true thoughts and words.

Being in front of white canvas or blank page can be intimidating. That’s why most of us run away from silence.

Silence has many meanings

“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.” — Leonardo da Vinci

Is silence just the absence of noise? Or is there a deeper reason for you to invite sound into your life?

Silence is cultural. For the Japanese, silence is more positive than it is for other populations.

Japanese people highly value silence as an essential form of non-verbal communication — it conveys information, emotions and it’s a sign of respect and personal distance.

In his 2007 paper “The Cultural Significance of Silence in Japanese Communication,” Takie Sugiyama Lebra identifies four dimensions of silence: Truthfulness, Social Discretion, Embarrassment, and Defiance. The first three dimensions are helpful to maintain positive relations while the last one has a negative connotation.

In the Western world, silence is associated with doubt, loneliness or pain. If you tell your friends that you need silence, they might understand the feeling. But if you don’t answer their messages for 12 hours because you opted to stay silent, they will assume something is wrong with you.

Silence is always ambiguous. It’s difficult to understand its true meaning.

Rather than trying to define silence, think of it as an experience. Silence is the real sound of music. Empty spaces play a meaningful role in building the right atmosphere in architecture and space design. The white space is the most crucial element in visual design.

There are two types of silence: outer and inner. Getting rid of external distractions is not enough; you want to avoid your thoughts from eating you alive.

Why silence is the think tank of the mind

When you pause, you don’t just stop talking. You also choose not to listen to external distractions. Everything is within you.

Silence enables something else to emerge. Perspective, reflection, distance, ideas, and solutions, all show up unexpectedly when you silence the mind. It’s a whole ‘team’ that comes to help you. Gordon Hempton said: “Quiet is a think tank of the soul. We take the world through its ears.”

Lao-Tzu believed that “Silence is the great revelation.” He said that we turn to books for revelation, but their authors found the interlude of silence as their source of inspiration. Silence can bring you directly to the original source of knowledge.

Silence adds intentionality and rhythm to your life.

The same happens with music. Without silence, the various notes would all feel the same. Utilizing silence for very brief — less than a few beats — or for longer periods, creates a different impact on the listener.

Silence is more than a beautiful state of mind; it positively benefits your health:

  • It helps grow new brain cells. A 2013 study found that two hours of silence could create new cells in the hippocampus region, a brain area linked to learning, remembering, and emotions.
  • It decreases stress by lowering blood cortisol levels and adrenaline. A 2006 study in Heart, showed that two minutes of silence relieves tension in the body and brain — it’s more relaxing than listening to music.

How to recover the power of silence

Practicing silence is not easy.

Going for a walk outside in nature, taking a deliberate break or practicing deep breathing exercises are easy ways to get you started.

Try the following exercises and see which works best for you. Start in small doses. Being silent can backfire at the beginning. It takes time to enjoy the benefits of not being distracted by noise.

1. The Silence Exercise

David Swartz, a history professor, uses this exercise as a transition after one of his courses. He invites students to write a short paper on silence. During 90 minutes, everyone focuses on the task without speaking.

Students are instructed to put away their smartphones and leave the presence of other people. The paper is a reflection on the experience and includes a historical perspective too. What does it feel like to be silent? What happens when we don’t have constant access to a smartphone? How is our lifestyle different to premodern times ones?

2. Beyond the word

This exercise is based on an ancient Indian prescription: if you read for one hour, write for two hours and meditate for three hours. The purpose of such proportion is to avoid being blind recorders of other people’s words or ideas. You can stick to the ratio but start with a shorter duration for each part.

The exercise encourages a personal dialogue and self-reflection. It’s a nice transition: from being in the company of someone else’s words to being surrounded by your ideas as you write, and, finally, focusing on silencing your mind.

3. The Silence Game

This Montessori Exercise builds on the concept that, deeper awareness and sensitivity to noise, help us get into a “more refined and subtle world.” Constant noise can create irritability, frustration, confusion, and even sleepiness.

The purpose of this exercise is to make silence collectively. A board with the word “silence” and a picture of a tranquil place, reminds that every child might do its part. The silence is not only a positive outcome but is the byproduct of everyone’s effort.

4. The sound of one hand clapping

Our logic says that we need two hands to clap. “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” is a Zen challenge that has several interpretations. Some say that it’s a way to help you listen to other sounds — your heart, the rhythm of your breathing or the awareness of your mind. Others believe it’s a metaphor how we see life with a dualistic approach: cause and effect.

I use this question when coaching teams to invite them to reflect on the power of silence. Sometimes to inspire creative ways to make sound with just one hand. Other times, simply to challenge logical thinking; by putting our rationality aside, we let the think tank of the mind show up.

5. Meditation: The Silence That is Listening

This guided meditation by Tara Brach emphasizes the anchor of listening; it guides us to relax through our body and let sounds wash our thoughts out. You don’t need any previous meditation experience to benefit from it.

Listening to sounds is powerful to quiet the thinking mind. It will help you connect with the natural openness of awareness. By becoming more receptive, you can welcome your full presence and the peace of quietness.

6. Building a tower with a constraint

Imposing constraints challenges individuals and those who interact with them alike — everyone must adjust their behaviors. A set of teams are challenged to build the tallest tower using Jenga blocks. It seems simple until most team members are assigned a specific constraint: one cannot speak, another is blindfolded, one cannot use the hands, etc.

Not being able to speak reframes the interaction. The person who’s silent pays more attention. The rest of the team becomes more attentive to the quiet person’s feedback. It dramatically increases both collaboration and self-awareness.

7. Become silent for a day

This exercise is about cutting the chord literally and metaphorically without attending a silent retreat. You can define what ‘a day’ means for you. I would suggest that you aim for, at least, 4–6 hours. And then gradually increase it.

Becoming silence is about unplugging from social media, emails, phone calls, and every other form of communication — including face-to-face dialogue. You need to set up some grounding rules to those close to you.