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The power of silence

Insights come more reliably to an undistracted mind. Have you noticed a little magic in the otherwise purgatorial time you spend with the cabin doors closed, approved electronic devices off, between pull back and take-off? Have you noticed that you had a few moments to think?  That few minutes is a blessing–it’s time you are given to spend un-distracted by the interruption of your digital daily life. Embrace it!

Yet most of us work intently to optimize our distractions: fine-tuning i-devices with apps and connections, so that we might encounter information all the time. Mobile digital life guarantees that you can have something to distract yourself whereever you go, whatever you are doing. Your thoughts are under siege.

You can even listen to music or the radio while swimming or showering. You can take in NPR or a book on tape while walking your dog or doing yard work. But don’t!

  • Turn the radio off when you drive, sometimes
  • Leave the iPod home when you walk the dog, sometimes
  • Don’t use a shower radio, each time
  • Clear some time with your thoughts, all the time

You get the picture.

How does this apply to foresight? Thinking about the future is a tough mental game. To effectively explore and understand it, you need to do think about a lot of things at once. You have to think altogether new thoughts. This is equally true for effective analysis and writing.

There are new connections to be made, insights that need time to germinate and ground to sprout in. “A ha!” moments need to break through, from your subconscious. Must they contend with the latest on the Jets or J-Lo? The Dow or the Dodgers? The boss’s memo? It seems they must, until we reach for the “off” switch, or put down the i-thing for a little while. And when you write, don’t always stop to look things up, consult other sources. Sometimes let the ideas flow, the writing come out. Fact check later.

To have some success thinking about the future, you really need to think about it. That includes time away from distractions, absolutely, but it even includes time away from the facts and finds that you may be using to try to understand your future. If you don’t stop taking in information long enough to think about it, you won’t quite get there.

Image: saturn ?, via Flickr, CC attribution license.


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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Peter February 15, 2012, 12:43 pm


    This is so manifestly true. My turn to zen practice has helped hugely in wrangling the tsunami; the other – and considerably easier – has been to experiment with an interesting app (ironically) that simply kills your digital connections for a set period of time. Despite my insistence that – of course – I can manage my own flow, it’s an enormously freeing experience to have that whole world simply unavailable. Check it out @ macfreedom.com (both OSX and Windows). ‘Course a good four hours running in the mountains helps as well (minus of course the distractions of coyotes, thousand foot falls, and the like).


  • John Mahaffie February 15, 2012, 2:02 pm

    Thanks Peter,

    I think it’s apps, better self-control, power outages, ‘net outages, and, conceivably 57-mile runs in the mountains, where there’s likely no service of any kind.


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