We live in a noisy world. The constant cacophony of beeps, vibrations, alerts, and alarms intrudes on our attention, chips away at our productivity, and increases our stress. To keep our edge at work—and inspire creativity and innovation—we need to trade in some of that noise for regular moments of silence.
Quiet stillness restores the nervous system, leading to the development of new cells in the brain regions linked to learning and memory—helping us become more agile, adaptive, and responsive, according to research. Here are three ways to find your quiet place right now:
1. Create a Restorative Ritual
Research shows that we don’t just want quiet time…we need it. According to the Attention Restoration Theory, quiet stillness restores the nervous system by replenishing the resources we lose throughout the day to sensory overload.
How to do it: Set aside a few minutes each day for “restorative silence”: a state of mental and physical stillness. It could be ten minutes of journaling, a quiet morning walk around the neighborhood, or simply putting your phone away and looking out the window. These quiet, reflective activities activate our brain’s default mode network, which helps us process our thoughts and make sense of our experiences.
2. Reframe Uncomfortable Silence
The daily soundtrack of our lives—phones, computers, TV, music, traffic, and so on—has made our brains used to being stimulated at all times, (even while we sleep, according to Harvard sleep experts), which can make quiet feel downright uncomfortable. But studies show that mindfulness gets easier with practice, so sitting with your discomfort actually pays off over time.
How to do it: Notice when you are avoiding silence. When you’re waiting for a friend, for example, do you automatically reach for your phone? Then, reroute that response, using it as an opportunity to center yourself. Tune into the scene and sensations around you. What do you see, hear, and smell? Notice your breathing: Is it shallow or deep? Embracing that silence—rather than trying to fill it—gives your brain a rest and provides valuable space for reflection.
3. Silence the Internal Chatter
Noise pollution doesn’t just come from out there. Often the noisiest culprit actually comes from within. Research shows that our brains are always processing information, even subconsciously. A study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience showed that quiet helps us enforce “weak associations” in our subconscious, bringing them to our awareness to boost our problem-solving abilities. We need to quiet our internal chatter to make room for creative insights.
How to do it: Break the cycle of ruminating thoughts. When you notice yourself stuck in a repeated thought pattern or stumped by a problem, get out of your head by going for a walk, doing yoga, or using a mantra, such as “There is no wrong answer.” Switching your thought channel will change your perspective—sparking the creative ideas that lead to change and innovation.