Heads Up: The Busier You Are, the More Your Brain Needs Quiet Time

Updated 05/16/17

When you close your eyes at your desk, the abundance of noise becomes obvious. The pitter-patter of fingers strumming keyboards punctuates an otherwise quiet office, and sirens and horns form the chorus of city life. While these everyday sounds might be commonplace, research suggests they might also be the reason you feel stressed, rushed, and mentally drained.

In an article for Harvard Business Review, public policy consultant and meditation teacher Justin Talbot-Zorn and organizational consultant and coach Leigh Marz pinpoint one habit successful people share: cultivating silence. Author J.K. Rowling and psychiatrist Carl Jung swear by the power of "deep silence" while California Governor Jerry Brown and Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan describe "structured periods of silence as important factors in their success," the duo points out.

So why are some of the world's busiest and most successful people scheduling silence into their routine? According to Marz and Talbot-Zorn, research suggests it's not just restorative—it's crucial for mental function. "Taking time for silence restores the nervous system, helps sustain energy, and conditions our minds to be more adaptive and responsive to the complex environments in which so many of us now live, work, and lead," they explain.

It also allows us to tap into our creativity and generate unique ideas. "When we're constantly fixated on the verbal agenda—what to say next, what to write next, what to tweet next—it's tough to make room for truly different perspectives or radically new ideas," they say. "It's hard to drop into deeper modes of listening and attention. And it's in those deeper modes of attention that truly novel ideas are found."

Yes, the busier you are the more likely your brain needs quiet time. Here's how they suggest you schedule it into your routine today:

  1. Schedule five minutes of quiet time between meetings. The duo recommends prioritizing silence by slotting it into your calendar. Close your office door and take a few moments to reflect.
  2. Try a news fast. Spend several hours abstaining from news or entertainment, and reflect on how it makes you feel.
  3. Go on a silent retreat. Journalist Andrew Sullivan describes his experience at a silent retreat: "My breathing slowed. My brain settled. … It was if my brain were moving away from the abstract and the distant toward the tangible and the near."

    Have you been to a silent retreat? Tell us what the experience was like. 

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