I have previously discussed the barriers to achieving silence in this busy world including the discomfort of others and internal barriers such as self-doubts and negative messages. Christine Jackman, author of Turning Down the Noise, acknowledges that even as she wrote this book, she was beset with self-doubts including, “Who will read this?” Christine reminds us that it is not only internal noise that we have to deal with but also digital noise that causes overload, both mental and emotional. “Information overload” has become vey much a part of our language as we struggle to handle the endless flood of information from social media, TV, and email. However, as Christine points out, the real toll of overload is on the emotional level.
The emotional toll of digital noise and overload
The social media giants such as Facebook, Apple and Twitter aim to distract us by drawing our attention away to something they want us to spend time on or purchase. Christine cites research that shows the effect of headline grabbing by Facebook and Twitter – identifying what particular headlines are best able to grab our attention and induce us to click through to the article or message. These headlines use emotive words to capture our attention, employ high profile people, promote conflict, and engage “polarising emotions”. The negative emotional impact of digital noise is compounded by cyberbullying and trolling.
Research into the negative impact of digital noise, intensified by the advent of the smartphone, demonstrates that the associated noise pollution results in decline of cognitive abilities, increase in sleep disturbance and development of mental health issues such as anxiety, disconnection, loneliness, and depression. In stark contrast, Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman, in their book, Altered Traits, have demonstrated that the stillness and silence embedded in mindfulness meditation results in four positive outcomes, (1) increased concentration and focus, (2) improved self-regulation in the face of stress, (3) heightened self-awareness and (4) increased empathy and compassion. The latter outcome is enhanced considerably by specific loving-kindness meditation.
The need for supportive lifestyle changes
Christine explored mindfulness meditation as a way to quiet the mind and “counter the toxic effects of digital noise and overload”. She decided to practice meditation for 30 minutes each day, split into two 15-minute sessions – one in the morning (when I find it best to meditate) and the other in the night before going to bed. This level of committed mindfulness practice is sustainable in a busy life and the evening session can prove to be an antidote to sleeplessness.
Mindfulness practice needs to be supplemented by supportive lifestyle changes. Christine chose to remove social media apps from her phone and introduced a range of other changes, some of which are discussed in her “Silence: A How-to Guide” at the end of her book. She still had to deal with the negative chatter from her “Monkey Mind” when she was experiencing tiredness or boredom or feeling threatened. However, she found that through her mindfulness practice she had quietened digital noise and overload and was better able to recognise the “noise” from her Monkey Mind as well as disarm the resultant self-doubts.
Mindfulness practice, including meditation, can help us to maintain our stillness and equilibrium in the face of digital noise, overload, and the resultant stress. As we grow in mindfulness, we can develop increased self-awareness and self-acceptance and more readily deal with our negative thoughts. Associated with that is increase in the capacity to reduce our reactivity to negative triggers and to take wise action. However, mindfulness practice needs to be supported by other compatible lifestyle changes which reciprocally are enabled by quieting the mind.
It is interesting that even in times of success, we can be assailed by negative thoughts that can impact our self-esteem and derail us from our life purpose. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the highly successful book Eat, Pray, Love, explains this dynamic in her TED Talk, Success, failure and the drive to keep creating. Elizabeth suggests that the route to equilibrium is “to find your way home again” – and meditation can help us on this journey to “whatever it is that we love beyond ourselves” and to which we can dedicate our energies with “singular devotion”, our life purpose. She explains in another talk that our current work-from-home situations created by the pandemic represent a great opportunity to confront our fears and use reflection, meditation, and mindfulness practices to develop self-awareness and self-regulation.
By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)
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