The morning commute…most people have one, whether short or long. A consistent chunk of time that you can devote to a number of things to start your day off right. Do you tune in to a morning talk show to get a laugh? Do you listen to an educational podcast? Do you pick up listening to your latest audiobook? Up until a few years ago, my morning commute was inundated with the chatter of a radio morning show. One morning I decided to just turn off the radio and sit in silence. The results were so positive, I have made the silent commute my morning ritual. Here is why I wouldn’t trade my tranquil commute for any podcast, book, music or radio show.
Silence and doing nothing are counterintuitive to a culture based on productivity. Besides the drive to learn more, do more and be more, we are surrounded more than ever with electronic stimuli. For all the amazing things that smartphones can do, apps, texts and email notifications alone are enough to exacerbate anxiety.
That doesn’t even take into account your own thoughts buzzing through your head. Many researchers have estimated that we have anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 thoughts per day, but are still grappling with the concept that we have multiple thoughts at multiple levels at the same time.
It turns out that being plugged in all the time is detrimental to your mental health because it creates a constant state of stimulation. Noise puts your body in a stressed state, but silence relieves that stress. Noise pollution from televisions and radios causes a host of bad effects on the body like high blood pressure and increased levels of cortisol.
Your mind needs quiet time to recover from constantly processing stimuli. In fact, there is a theory called Attention Restoration Theory which seeks to explain how and why our ability to focus is fatigued and how to recover from that fatigue. Studies around the Attention Restoration Theory found that quiet is essential to recovery, with a quiet walk in nature offering the most intense regenerative effects. And while you probably don’t have the luxury of taking a nature walk on your way to work, you can still benefit by riding in silence and noticing any nature that you see out your car window.
Your brain needs silence to do its own internal tidying up. Silence allows you to hear your own thoughts instead of being busy receiving and sorting through the thoughts of others. Imagine your mind is like your house and you have a busy day ahead of you. You go into your kitchen to cook a meal and as a result, your pots and pans are dirty. Before you have time to clean the kitchen, you have guests coming over so you quickly shove shoes, toys and clothes from the living room into the closet. Then, the guests arrive and you are busy talking and entertaining them long into the night. You fall asleep late at night. The next morning, you wake up and your house is a wreck. At this point, you can choose to take some time to get your home in order or to start the whole process over again. People who choose to repeat the process again are like people who don’t prioritize quiet time. Their mind becomes chaotic and untidy because they are always subject to external stimuli. At some point, your brain function suffers because you don’t give it time to sort itself out. Taking time out of each day to be quiet allows you to tidy your mind and keep it operating at its full potential.
Think of your morning commute as the perfect opportunity to practice mind care. Just as you eat healthy foods and exercise to keep your body healthy, your brain needs its daily dose of silence to stay healthy and functioning well. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Without taking time to sharpen your mind, you will experience more stress and reduced mental capacities. Several studies done on middle and high schoolers showed that implementing a mandatory quiet time for students and teachers improved academics as well as behavior.
So give your brain a chance to surprise you this week. Commit to a silent commute for just five days and see how it affects you. What should you expect from your quiet time? Well, don’t be surprised if you are uncomfortable at first. Many people are so used to constant noise that silence can make them feel strange and even anxious. But if you can get past the initial shock of silence, your mind will begin to do some amazing things. Old memories that you haven’t thought about in a long time may resurface. Profound realizations about your life may present themselves in the silence. You may be surprised to find the solution to a problem or issue come bubbling to the surface of your mind once you have cleared away the rest of the noise.