If You Want to Achieve Big Things, Sit in Silence and Embrace Quiet Time
Inputs drown our brains.
I’m overwhelmed by inputs right now. I have some big things I want to do like get married, write a book, launch a course, go on a holiday after 18 months of sitting at home, etc.
It’s hard to do any of that when your life revolves around the internet. The internet can feel like a bar full of drunks speaking gibberish, who have no idea what they’re saying. Being online is living with the volume turned up to deafening. The noise makes you think differently.
I’m reading a finance book at the moment about the best investors in the world. One insight shocked me: every single one of them spends a large amount of time sitting in silence. They prioritize silence over the noise of what stocks to invest in or how the stock market is doing.
Maybe you should turn down the noise to turn up the joy. From a state of joy, it’s much easier to achieve big things.
The Hollywood Actor Turned Gardener
Audrey Hepburn is best known as a Hollywood actress. Actors have to deal with a lot of critics and are expected to look amazing everywhere they go, even when grabbing a bite from In-N-Out Burger at 3 am in the morning.
Many people don’t know that Audrey was a big believer in quiet time. She chose gardening as her zen habit. The habit came from her days growing up with threats of violence, wildly contagious illnesses with no cure, and ration cards (before the days of calorie surplus we have now).
To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow was her motto. The quietness of her garden taught her to be an optimist. “Anyone who does not believe in miracles is not a realist,” according to Audrey. It’s amazing what time in the garden can do to your outlook on life when things get noisy.
As the quietness took over Audrey’s life, she began to spend more and more time with her children. The Hollywood critics slammed her for the move. They spewed their opinions in the form of salacious headlines. Audrey didn’t understand. Throughout childhood all she wanted was the solitude of a garden. She now had a garden so she didn’t need noisy Hollywood anymore.
The Forgotten Genius of Apple
People are quick to hero-worship Steve Jobs. I’m not a fan. I’ve heard many firsthand stories of how he treated his employees.
The real genius of Apple is Steve Wozniak — and the leader of the Quiet Revolution and the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introvert” agrees. Early in the morning and late at night, he’d sit in his cubicle at Hewlett Packard and work on what would become the Apple computer.
Working alone helped him cut out the noise and focus deeply on the idea of computers that would become iconic furniture in our homes. Quiet time helped Woz escape the office politics of his day job.
A friend of mine was lucky enough to spend time with him when he helped bring Woz to Australia. Woz came across as deathly quiet in between the events he traveled to the Aussie beaches for. He’s a huge advocate for spending time thinking alone, especially if you want to be truly innovative.
The Quietness That Sparked an Accidental Revolution and Changed History
Most of you will have heard of the Rosa Parks story. Rosa was an African American Woman living through the times of segregation. One day on a bus a white man asked her to give up her seat.
Rosa said one word that changed history: no!
This refusal to obey orders sparked a civil rights movement that changed society forever. It’s a great scene. It’s easy to imagine Rosa as some bold woman who’d kick anybody in the genitalia who questioned her. That’s not actually the case. Rosa had a lot of noise in her life. But she wasn’t much of a noise-maker.
Elaine Steele, a close friend of Rosa, said “Mrs. Parks was a soft-spoken person, but it didn’t mean she wasn’t brilliant.”
Elaine goes on to explain that Rosa liked to sit in silence and was a deep thinker. All that deep thinking is what eventually led to the day where she changed history by refusing to give up her simple seat on the bus.
After the bus event, handwritten documents written by Rosa further showed she was a deep thinker. She didn’t suddenly just wake up one day and decide to achieve big things. She’d been using quiet writing as a form of thinking long before.
There are a few things I’ve been experimenting with to turn down the noise and experience some of the quiet magic Woz, Audrey and Rosa have embraced. Use the advice if you want to do big things too.
The mostly unknown type of snooze button
I’m not talking about the alarm clock. Email has a snooze button. When you start your day and open up your email inbox to a rush of anxiety, snooze some of the messages until later.
On days where I do nothing but write non-stop, I snooze all emails except the ones with writing ideas. The key is to know you don’t need to be guilty for not replying instantly. Always-ON is how you snooze your life away.
The ‘no reply is the best reply’ motto
With all the inputs you get across a vast array of messaging apps — WhatsApp, Messenger, LinkedIn, Slack, Telegram, Signal, Twitter — there is a way to escape all the noise.
My mantra is “the best reply is no reply” when the message is entirely selfish or seeks to hurl a boulder at your face. You can simply not respond. The world gets quieter when you do. The loud ones calm down and stop screaming at you when you simply mute them with no response.
Reactivity to noise is an option, not a command.
The rules-based approach from Tim Ferriss
Making too many decisions increases the noise in your head.
Tim Ferriss taught me that you can simply use rules to make decisions for you. All you have to do is post a set of rules online and then refer to them. The person wanting to make noise in your calendar can’t argue then. Ferriss has a rule that he doesn’t do book reviews. So when a request comes through asking him to do a book review, his assistant simply replies with a link to the rule.
Rules automate noisy decisions. Make your list.
Make energy-based decisions like a badass
The point of all of this is lost on many. When the world gets too noisy, your energy levels suffer. You can have great time management skills, but if you forget about energy management, then the time you spend before your life expires can easily be spent in soul-crushing low energy states.
Achieving big things requires enormous energy. So the energy thieves in life require you to have a strategy for dealing with them.
What works for me is this question: “Does this give me energy?”
If not, most times, I switch off, go back to my cement hideaway, sit in silence, and try to embrace quiet time. Quietness is where the ideas that make up dreams come from.
All the noise makes the fictitious glasses we use to view the world foggy.
Sitting in silence and embracing quiet time is like changing the glasses you use to see the world. All of a sudden, every breath spent alive seems like an opportunity not worth wasting for noise that makes you feel deaf.