The Un-Silencing of the Human Mind

I just stumbled upon this report from 2014. Apparently people would rather electrocute themselves than spend 15 minutes alone. We have all become mentally hyperactive, and when we don’t have a smartphone, a puppy, or a rave to distract us, we go nuts. Apparently.

From the abstract:

In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.

Some of my most precious time is that in which I am free to think, undisturbed by anything; sometimes a rhythmic, repetitive action like walking helps to quiet the mind but other times just staring, lost in thought. I have some suggestions for the mentally distracted world in which we live:

  • Adopt a low-information diet. Some things you need to know about. Other things you don’t. Make a conscious effort to triage the information you consume—no one, not even the most informed, can keep on top of everything. Figure out what’s important, and follow it.
  • Consume real food (for your mind). Celebrity gossip, internet quizzes, and shocking stories of inventions by real moms are not important. Unless you somehow make a living or are otherwise involved in this sort of thing. If so, shame on you.
  • Practice.  The key to being comfortable alone with your thoughts is to do it and find the benefit there. I promise you, it is.

But as Thoreau says, some people would rather do just about anything than spend time with themselves. The research in the Science article just brings to modern day a nugget of wisdom that is timeless.

Living with constant mental noise will never allow a true Jailbreak ethos to take root in your life. Put down the phone—turn off the TV—turn off the radio—and spend some time quietly thinking. Sure beats administering yourself electric shocks, don’t you think?

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