The Zen of Silence

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Is silence painful to you? Does sitting alone with your own thoughts make you squirm and want to run the other way? According to a study conducted by psychologist Timothy Wilson and colleagues at U.Va. and Harvard University 67 percent of men self-administered shocks when left alone to think to the 25 percent of women who did.

Why? Researchers are still trying to find answers. Why do people find it difficult to be alone with their own thoughts? "Everyone enjoys daydreaming or fantasizing at times," according to Wilson, "but these kinds of thinking may be most enjoyable when they happen spontaneously, and are more difficult to do on command."

I first came across this statistic going through Arianna Huffington's O course "Thrive" and it struck me. I used to be this way. My old self can certainly relate to this when I was still in a crazy busy working environment and I was "on" all the time. I was constantly in motion and doing, flying from one thing to the next. I remember vividly once sitting on my couch at home after work trying to relax but I couldn't. It felt as though an electrical current was running through my body.

Nothing helped and certainly sitting there alone with my thoughts was the least thing I wanted to do. My mind would think of the emails I still had to read and take action on, my projects, my meetings, my deadlines. Oftentimes I was mulling over tricky situations on how to best handle challenging colleagues and find a win-win situation. It was stressful to say the least. Back then I would have gladly taken that electric shock. Sitting alone with my thoughts was too hard.

Sitting alone with my own thoughts didn't even seem normal to me. No one I knew would do it. It was a sign you were not getting anything done. I had to be busy. It justified me. There had to be all those emails, calls, texts and a long to-do-list. It meant I had something important to do. My mind was always on the next thing and I never wanted to really soak in the present. I didn't know how and I certainly did not want to.

It wasn't until recently that I have learned to value silence and sitting still. There is a lot of power to it. There is power to slowing down and being in silence. Imagine it took Isaac Newton two decades to fully develop the full-fledged theory of gravity. Two decades. In today's world that seems like an eternity and would many of us give it the time it takes to think things out like Newton did? Another great example is Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn. He schedules 30-90 minute intervals of nothing each day -- to think. We're always moving forward and want things done now - in a fraction of a second. A second is even too long. Just think if a webpage takes a few seconds to open up how frustrating that may be to you?

Want to experience the power of silence and being still? Take a little time at least once a day to be silent for at least five minutes. Let your breathing slow down and just be with no distractions. You might be surprised to find that your days go better when you really unplug for a little while.