It's 2019 and we seem to be racing through time. Are you aware of all the noise? And are you also aware of how it might be derailing your life?
I grew up in a less digitally connected world and I’m so grateful for it, because it gives me something to strive toward as I try to remember what “quiet” is. When I was a kid we had a television with 13 stations on it and only one of our two household TVs was color. I remember everything went off the air at some point each night, with a patriotic theme song and a soaring fighter jet, and then a screen that dissolved into snow or vertical lines.
Forced quiet time, every single night.
I remember phones attached to walls that were used only when you wanted to have a conversation. I remember letters sent in the mail that you would sometimes have to wait a week to receive. I remember the newspaper that arrived every morning with updates and coupons and cartoons, and that my grandmother would read quietly with her coffee.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, I remember not having a smartphone or a laptop (or even reliable Internet service), so I turned on the computer only for specific purposes like typing a research paper or checking email once a day. I didn’t use it for time wasting like I do now.
I know most of us look back nostalgically on history and talk about “the good ole’ days” and how much slower things were “back then.” But I feel like it’s really true right now because when I look at the world over the last decade or so, everything is just so fast.
We have fast Internet. Fast cars. Fast shipping. Fast news cycles. We have so much information coming at us every second of every day that, if we don’t consciously try to tune it out, we can get swept up in the swirl. And once our time gets sucked away by these digital worlds, we stop focusing on what we’re supposed to do and who we’re supposed to be.
I struggle with this noise a lot. For the last few years I’ve made extra effort to find my way back to a quieter life so that I can focus on the real business I need to do. My biggest obstacles, historically, have been anxiety (and my need to fidget when it shows up) and the “connectivity” that seems to come at us from all directions, all the time.
Case in point: If I want to communicate with my friends, I have to maintain a connection to my smartphone because people don’t live down the street or even in the state anymore. Nobody has time to visit or call, so we shoot off quick messages in the small gaps of our days and we expect others to respond within a certain amount of time.
Second case in point: If I want to understand what’s going on in the world, these days I have to log into a news site or turn on the TV – I can’t just pick up the paper off my lawn (although maybe I ought to see how expensive it would be to go back to that). Picking up that smartphone or turning on that computer then exposes me to a barrage of news stories and commentary and an endless supply of “breaking news” about this and that and everything in between.
There’s no turning the page, there’s no last page, and there’s no placing of the newspaper into the wastebasket so that I can go on with my day.
I had a bit of an implosion last summer after I gave away too much time and emotional energy to the negative comments on one of my LinkedIn posts. After about 24 hours of watching comments roll in, I’d become angry and frustrated and was engaging in self-defense. Eventually, about 36 hours in, I just deleted everything despite its popularity because the toll on me was too high.
I then closed my LinkedIn app, slammed my phone down on my nightstand, and went to take the shower that I’d meant to take an hour earlier. And as I was getting my towel off the rack and rounding up my pajamas from the closet, I thought about how much time and energy I’d wasted on a single social media post without any eventual payoff. The post was now gone.
How, Elizabeth, did you allow this to happen again?
Those sorts of implosions are usually what lead me to finally pull back and find some quiet. I took a break for the weekend and stayed away from both social media and the news, but of course by Monday I’d timidly logged back in. Messages had piled up, posts had piled up, and I felt like I was behind on something that shouldn’t even matter.
I'm slowly learning to let all that noise be.
And this is really important because I’d been feeling frustrated about how much energy it was taking for me to get through my days. I was feeling like I didn't have anything left to do the things that mattered to me - things like writing and cooking and gardening and reading.
But you know what? I was giving my supposedly non-existent energy and time away, too. I was laying on the sofa feeling physically drained but also scrolling my smartphone and wasting my thoughts. I could have been reading a book. I could have been journaling. I could have been meditating and finding some quiet, which might in turn have helped my physical wellbeing.
But instead, I was succumbing to the noise.
I think being aware of this struggle is step one, but then step two is actually doing something consistently to remedy the situation. I'm finally working my way through step two after a long time on the hamster wheel of step one.
What have I done differently? I've started a practice of being quiet. Sometimes this takes the form of sitting for 15 minutes of meditation in the morning. Sometimes it takes the form of a walk by the greenbelt to listen to the birds and the bugs. Sometimes it takes the form of making a conscious decision to put my smartphone away for a while - including turning off the notifications. Sometimes it takes the form of playing ocean waves on the Bose speaker I bought for myself about a month ago.
When I do these things I'm pulled back into the present, and into what I'm supposed to be doing with my minutes and hours and days. It's a really good reset and a way to figure out if I'm on course or off, and where I need to go next.
How do you protect yourself and your time? How do you make sure that all the noise doesn’t keep you from living the life you truly want to have?
You are given a finite amount of years on this planet, so spend them wisely. Making a conscious effort to find some quiet is a good first step toward figuring out what your true self actually wants you to be doing.
My first book, Halfway There: Lessons at Midlife, will be published in spring 2020. To be notified when it is available for purchase, sign up for my mailing list.
The Big Pause