Need help cultivating wordlessness? This incredible film is a meditation of sorts, and it certainly leaves me speechless.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
A study suggests that people have a hard time being alone with their thoughts. What can you do about it?
Everybody spends time alone, but some of us find it more difficult than others. The potential benefits of solitude include reduced stress, enhanced creativity, and improved concentration. Yet a recent study suggests that many people prefer any stimuli, even negative ones, to being alone with their thoughts.
Christine Carter, PhD, a sociologist and happiness expert at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, isn’t surprised. “Our normal state of being is constant stimulation,” she says. “We live in a culture of busyness, where we’re constantly moving, constantly doing, constantly on the go. We equate being busy with meaningfulness, so when we’re alone, it can trigger a lot of fear and anxiety that our lives are lacking meaning.”
While I’ve long known about the neurological benefits of meditation, it wasn’t until I watched Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talk that I started thinking about how many of the benefits of meditation come from quieting the verbal part of our brains.
To be honest, silence is not a state I naturally seek. I’m extroverted. I’m loud. I love parties and big families and people. And as an avid reader and professional writer, I tend to fear — not cultivate — a loss of words.
But reading nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman’s new book Thinking, Fast and Slow got me (you guessed it) thinking a little more about this. That noisy verbal part of our brains is slow, processing only about 40 bits of information per second. The creative, intuitive, non-verbal brain processes about 11 million bits per second. Knowing this, I’ve been motivated to try and better harness the power of my non-verbal brain.
According to Martha Beck — Harvard sociologist turned life coach, and one of my personal heros — practicing what she calls “deep wordlessness” is just the ticket. Here’s what she writes about wordlessness in her most recent book Finding Your Way in a Wild New World:
To master Wordlessness…you must unlearn almost everything you were taught in school about what it means to be intelligent. The sharp focus you were told to sustain is actually a limiting, stressful, narrow attention field — something animals only using the the moment of ‘fight or flight.’ Dropping into Wordlessness moves the brain into its ‘rest and relax’ state.”
I’ve been practicing Beck’s techniques for cultivating worldlessness, and though it doesn’t come easily to me, I’m finding it well worth the effort.
Take Action: Beck’s book is loaded with literally dozens of techniques for activating our non-verbal brains. One is to simply to follow your own bloodstream. You can try it by focusing your attention on your heart in the space between breaths: after you exhale deeply, pause your breathing and find the feeling of your heart beating. Take another breath while following the sensation of your heart beat. Once you’re following your heart beat, see if you can feel your circulatory system elsewhere, in your ears or toes or hands, your head and organs, or your entire body. Hang out for a while in this meditative state.
Join the discussion: What do you think?!
Learn more! I write a lot about wordlessness in my new book, The Sweet Spot. I hope you’ll consider pre-ordering it…pre-orders matter a lot for authors; they determine whether or not a book launches as a bestseller. Lots of people are already recommending it — check out the testimonials here!
Photo by Michael Coghlin
Despite the soul-crushing moment in the middle, I love this narrative about seeing your own beauty when you are in your groove — in that place where you’re doing what you do best.
Until about five years ago, when my ability to push through pain and difficulty started to slip away. My body began breaking down; in 18 months, I blew through nine courses of antibiotics (at the end of which I still had a chronic strep infection).
I had it all, except the thing that mattered most — my health. (The fact that I was a successful happiness expert did not escape me!)
Fortunately, I did have the solution to my utter exhaustion at my fingertips: I was absolutely steeped in the science of happiness and resilience and well-being. I knew that I could find a way to apply all this research to my life so that I could be happier and more successful without also feeling sick and tired.
And so that is what I did. I consciously and deliberately road-tested any tactic that had been validated scientifically that could bring more ease into my life—anything that could make me more efficient or more productive or more creative or more intelligent. I tried out every research-based strategy that promised to give me more energy. I consciously sought to develop my “sweet spot,” that place where I had the greatest strength, but also the greatest ease.
In short, here is what I did:
(1) I learned to dramatically increase my brainpower through play and positive emotions.
(2) I developed daily micro-habits that channel my brain’s natural ability to run on autopilot, so my habits could bear the burdens that I’d been hoping willpower would shoulder.
(3) I figured out how to ease overwhelm. On a typical day, we take in the equivalent of about 174 newspapers’ worth of information, five times as much as we did in 1986. Unfortunately, feeling overwhelmed makes us dumber than if we were stoned or deprived of an entire night’s sleep. It also makes us irritable, irrational, anxious, and impulsive.
(4) I learned new ways to connect with the people around me and repair relationships that had frayed, knowing that our social connections are our single greatest source of both strength and ease.
(5) Finally, I learned how to become comfortable with a little discomfort while I built mastery and developed the grit I needed to bounce back from life’s inevitable setbacks.
All of these tactics of ease made me healthier and stronger. Before long, I’d made my sweet spot bigger, and I’d found my groove. I hadn’t dramatically changed my career or my family structure or moved to the woods without my smartphone. I’d made a series of small shifts.
Our lives are like a set of interlocking gears of varying sizes. Often, we try to improve our lives by moving the large gears: by getting divorced, or married, or moving out of the city or quitting our job. And sometimes it is very necessary to rotate these big gears—but these big ones are always difficult to move. The Sweet Spot is about shifting the small gears, the ones that rotate relatively easily. And because all the gears are interlocking, when we tweak a small gear here, the large gears start to move—effortlessly—as well.
So that is my story, and the story of my new book, The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work. My hope is that it will be your story, too (but without the health crisis!). I want to hand you all the preventive medicine I’ve discovered to start living and working more from your sweet spot.
Take Action: If you are inclined, please pre-order my book! I know that it seems silly to order a book so far in advance, but pre-orders really matter a lot for authors; in most cases, they determine whether or not a book is a best seller. One reason to pre-order The Sweet Spot: Lots of people have read it, and they recommend it. No need to wait for reviews, you can check them out here.
Join the Discussion: When do you feel most in the groove, like you are living or working from your sweet spot? What factors contribute most? Share in the comments.
“I imagine a world where we smile when we have low batteries because that will mean we are one bar closer to humanity.”
Check out this week’s Happiness Tip to learn a little more about why putting down our phones/cameras can help us make happier memories.
This last weekend was my nephew’s first birthday party, and because he is absolutely the most adorable baby EVER and I love him so much, I’d planned on widely documenting the occasion, in HD video and still photography. You know, just so we’ll never ever forget the adorableness of it all.
I forgot my big camera, but that didn’t really matter because every adult and teenager there was snapping away with their phone cameras like crazy paparazzi (myself included).
In the middle of all this, I remembered a study which showed that photographing objects in a museum impaired a person’s ability to recall much about the object they photographed—and also impaired their ability to remember that they’d seen the object at all. So I stopped madly photographing the big event and started trying to just be present.
Then I remembered a follow-up study. The “photo-taking impairment effect,” as researchers call it, didn’t occur when people were asked to zoom in on a detail of the object they were photographing. And so I went back to photographing, this time zooming in on my nephew’s messy face (did I mention that he is adorable?).
Here is what researchers think is happening: When we take a picture, we delegate memory-making to our camera, and our brain stops trying to make the memory itself. But when people photograph a specific part of an object, their memory is not impaired, presumably because their brains still need to make sense of the whole picture in order to photograph the detail.
Take Action: We tend to feel happiest when we give the people we love our full attention. It is hard to be fully present at the same time that we are photographing something. So whether we are after a happy moment or a happy memory, often the best thing we can do is just put our camera down.
Join the Discussion: Have you noticed that you remember less about an event or special moment when you photograph it?