Some people need to sit in a Starbucks to focus. Others need a bit of white noise from being at the mall to focus. Many like to have music playing in their ears to help enhance their focus. I like quiet. Lots of good old fashioned quiet. This puts a bit of disadvantage because then all my thoughts just sound so loud. Yet, I love my quiet. What’s a guy to do.
White Noise Focus
The thing with total quiet is that it is good to let the noise in one’s mind to get pretty loud. Not sure what the science is with humans craving quiet… but when we think of the most tranquil of places that are quiet… they aren’t quiet.
The peaceful calm of sitting by a lake with the birds singing and nature doing what it does, is quiet for us, but is not the absence of sound. I think what we love is the peace and tranquility of sounds that do not require us to think consciously. We call that soothing and calming.
The absence of sound is hard to create. The world is filled with sounds. The world is filled with motion that creates sounds. Vibration is the way sounds gets communicated. Everything that has a degree of energy emits it’s own frequency… which can be measured as sound.
Is the sound audible to humans? Maybe. But it’s radiated energy nevertheless. Whenever that energy elevates to a level that is too much… it becomes a distraction. Sometimes that distraction can be annoying or overwhelming. Think of the situation like a construction site. It’s filled with random loud sounds. Some are predictable others aren’t. We don’t find that sound very calming at all. Well, most people don’t anyway.
Companies go to great lengths to control the sound-scape of their offices to make sure that people are productive. There are ways of controlling how the voice of people carry so that people can think. The biggest challenge in the post-modern office is the open floor plan. This means less control of how sound moves. This means you hear all conversations. You hear everything. It’s starting to be hard to focus in full loud busy offices.
Enters White Noise
What is it about white noise that helps us focus? It provides a level of distraction for the mind to not hear the internal noise it creates. Some folks believe by distracting the mind, the mind is able to do it’s best work.
After hearing a lot of these theories, here is what makes sense to me. We have the conscious mind that that holds all the processes we’re aware of. We feel we know how that part of our mind works.
We have the subconscious mind that is out of our reach, but very busy working nevertheless. When we’re into our thoughts, we are working to keep focus on what we’re saying to ourselves consciously. That takes a lot of energy. We can’t think of all the various variables… because we can’t hold that many self-conversations at one time.
The subconscious mind however isn’t burdened about sounding clear and logical. It can process all kinds of connections anyway it wants… and not worry about making sense to us. When it figures something out, it props it up to our conscious mind through gut feelings, vibes, feelings, and hunches.
This is why many high level creatives will go for a workout when they want a brilliant idea to surface. This quiets the conscious mind and allows the subconscious mind to do it’s work. Having the right level of white noise helps distract the conscious mind from speaking to itself and lets the subconscious work while we focus on whatever task we’re doing.
for all the technical ways this works… IE the science of it… I’m sure a few Google searches will help
What Makes for good white noise
I’ve been testing a bit of white noise options for this post. I’m sitting in a noisy-ish waiting room as I’m working on my laptop. There is a bit of music from overhead speakers in the distance and a large screen television playing loudly the Maury show. I can’t concentrate with the television on. However, I got headphones on pumping music. I’m now able to work.
The mind is trained… or hardwired… to listen to the human voice. Whenever we hear a person speaking, our minds filters out all other noises to prioritize the voice of the person. This allows us to communicate better as social beings. This is also why it’s not advised to use music with vocals when trying to block out unwanted distractions… we tend to listen to the words in the music instead of focusing on the task at hand. (not saying you can’t learn to focus with music that has vocals. Ask most young folks today… you’ll know that they can concentrate with music that has vocals better than their parents can)
I got random tunes playing off of Pandora. I found that whenever a track comes on that has vocals, I have to either slow my rate of thought for this post… or tune out the vocals to focus on the post. Adjusting the volume helps so that the vocals don’t push through my focus. The tracks with no lyrics… well… I’m in a zone and I’m doing great. I can even crank it up a bit more to tune out the television even better.
Editorial Note: I typically do not write with a television near me or with music playing… but for the purposes of relating to this topic… I did so as an experiment.
This is how sitting out in nature helps so much. We’re natural beings. Being in our natural environment means that we have the right sound-scape that will allow us to relax, concentrate, and just be. Whatever that “be” means to you.
Do I want to make a habit of using headphones to focus? No. I do like my quiet a lot. But when I think back to the places where I write the most… there are white noise machines blocking out the human voices that would have distracted me. Yes, I do most of my writing on my lunch break at work in a small office that has a white noise machine. I don’t even hear that machine anymore. I just hear silence. Sweet golden silence. And my hands just fly over the keys.
Without that zen like feel of peace and bliss… my word count wouldn’t have been able to reach the levels it has. I wouldn’t be able to manage all the writing I have to do. Sadly, with little children at home, there is no time that works for me to write so blissfully at home.
Take Down the Noise
Sharing these thoughts has me appreciating the few moments of quiet I enjoy. This also helps me appreciate my headphones a bit more. I tend to use my headphones for learning purposes…. I do plenty of podcast listening during commutes. That’s a lot of speech to digest at 2x speeds… but I love it.
Whenever I have to think and I’m in a place where it makes sense to use my headphones to drown out the distractions with music… I’m all in.
However. Not all noises have to be drowned out. Being mindful of where you’re at allows you to encode the memories of what you’re doing better. Example: sitting around with friends while quietly waiting to get into a restaurant does not have to be filled with chat. It could just be peacefully enjoyed for what the moment is. People sharing a common experience.
If we opt to tune out the mood of the moment with our headphones or the screens of our phones, we take away from the wealth of memories we could be making.
In the moment, it may not mean much, but in a world filled with information overload, why connect the digital noise to the memory of being with friends and family?
Another way to put it… there are some folks who tell me that they’re constantly overwhelmed with news. They can’t really remember when or what they did with anyone, but they know all the news that happens on their social media feed. It’s my opinion that the digital noise was encoded with the memories of their socializing. Because there is a constant stream of noise and digital sound bites coming in all the time, the brain has no clear distinctive sound-scapes to differentiate the memories with.
I can tell you the mood of a date I had with my wife at a certain food chain because I didn’t have any distractions. I know that Sinatra was playing. She was talking about an experience with a client she had. She had her head leaned to her left and was softly talking while I was smiling and enjoying her smile.
This was a very distinct memory. We tried new dishes. The light was low. I had my phone on airplane mode. The place was pretty empty so we had no distracting conversations clouding ours.
Had I been on my social media feed and tuned in to music in the my ears… I would not have the same memory encoding in my brain. Her conversation would have been another sound bite in the mix of the noise I was scrolling through.
So… yeah… we need to take the noise level down a bit. There are times we need to be very present. Stay focused. Then, there are other times when we can just enjoy the chaos of the noise that our world has… like social media, news, mixed media diets, etc.
As old as the advice is… there is a time and place for everything. We just need to create a bit of quiet around what is really important to us so we can better enjoy those moments and have lasting memories about them.