Practicing Silence: An Inspirational Story

In my previous post, I discussed the Living Deliberately course offered by the about the Pennsylvania University, which Megan Sauer, a reporter for CNBC Make It, diligently pursued and was able to break her three worst habits.

Megan writes that, she negotiated a change in her remote work schedule with her editor, and took a vow of silence and stopped using her phone for two days. She wanted to become more aware like the Living Deliberately class alumni, who said to have felt calmer and hesitant to rejoining their social and virtual worlds after the course.

Meghan shared her story about how she spent the entire two day period without talking or using technology, and how she picked up something that upended her sense of happiness: Sometimes less is more.

Meghan’s 48-hour “monk” trial

Meghan says she noticed something during her 48-hour monk trial, ” I noticed something: Without my phone and other people, I was more aware of my emotions, making it easier to squash three of my peskiest anxiety-driven habits”.

Meghan explains the method by which she attained her happiness:

1. Lessened the impulse to check phone

  1. Experiment and Disconnecting from Phone: Meghan decided to disconnect from her phone as an experiment to enhance her focus and productivity. Initially, she had to physically stash her phone away to resist the urge to check social media.
  2. Surprising Benefits of Disconnection: Disconnecting from her phone led to unexpected benefits. Meghan was able to immerse herself in reading, devouring 200 pages of a book in one evening, a task that would typically take her weeks.
  3. Renewed Vigor in Work: The following day, Meghan approached her remote work with renewed vigor. Using handwritten notes, she was able to draft a 500-word article in record time, free from the distraction of constantly checking her phone.
  4. Improved Memory and Focus: Meghan found that without the constant interruption of her phone, her memory improved, allowing her to retain ideas for longer periods and enhancing her overall focus.
  5. Implementing Restrictions on Phone Usage: Even after the experiment ended, Meghan remained cautious about her social media usage. She implemented restrictions, such as setting time limits on social apps and blocking access to distracting platforms during specific hours.
  6. Reduction in Emotional Attachment to Phone: Three weeks later, Meghan noticed a significant reduction in her emotional attachment to her phone, indicating that her experiment had a lasting impact on her relationship with technology.

Three weeks later, I really do feel less emotionally tethered to my phone.

– Meghan Saucer, CNBC Make It reporter

2. Stopped distracting with TV and podcasts

  1. Anxiety and Overwhelm: Meghan describes how her anxiety manifests as her thoughts multiply and race, leaving her feeling overwhelmed by trying to process multiple things at once.
  2. Phone Distraction: Initially, Meghan’s instinct is to reach for her phone for comfort. However, she finds that social media only adds to her stress, with constant streams of news and content.
  3. Social Media Breaks: Meghan used to rely on short breaks from social media, such as changing her Instagram password for a few days. Research showing decreased depression and anxiety during social media breaks influenced her approach.
  4. Technological Disconnect: During a 48-hour period without typical technological distractions like TV, podcasts, and texting, Meghan found herself feeling surprisingly better than during her usual social media hiatuses.
  5. Resurfacing Anxiety: Despite the initial relief, Meghan’s anxiety resurfaces, causing her thoughts to spiral once again. She becomes aware of her escalating internal dialogue and seeks further disconnection.
  6. Effective Coping Strategies: Recognizing the need for a break, Meghan turns off her TV, stashes her phone, and goes for a walk. This immediate action helps slow down her thoughts and reduce her heart rate.

3. Stopped ‘crowdsourcing’ her emotions — and felt better

  1. Seeking Guidance and Input: Meghan reflects on her tendency to seek guidance even when she knows the answers to her questions, such as choosing between items or contacting her ex-boyfriend.
  2. Impact of External Advice: She acknowledges that seeking extra advice can sometimes cloud her judgment, as McDaniel’s students also experience. While asking for help is valuable, Meghan realizes that external input isn’t always necessary to understand her own feelings.
  3. Processing Thoughts Independently: Meghan finds that working in silence allows her to process her thoughts more effectively. Without immediately seeking external validation or discussion, she can identify and address her concerns more efficiently.
  4. Engaging in Quiet Reflection: Meghan adopts practices like going on walks without distractions and limiting social interactions to recharge quietly. These activities help her gauge her emotions and provide valuable moments for introspection.
  5. Lesson from Daoist Philosophy: Meghan recalls a lesson from McDaniel about the Daoist concept of water. Just as dirt settles in water when left undisturbed, Meghan finds that giving her mind space and quiet allows clarity to emerge amidst her thoughts.

You have to learn how to be bored. Or sit with feelings of anger or sadness or loneliness, without crowdsourcing your emotions to your friends.

Justin McDaniel, Professor, University of Pennsylvania

What Meghan Learned After 2-Day of Silence ?

Here are the following three lessons Megan learned from her 2-day silence:

1. When I’m stressed, social media and TV don’t necessarily make me feel better

  1. Coping Mechanisms for Overwhelm: Meghan shares her habit of reaching for distractions like her phone or TV when feeling overwhelmed. However, she notes that instead of alleviating her stress, this often leads to her thoughts multiplying and escalating into panic.
  2. Perception vs. Reality of Mental Health: Meghan recounts a conversation with her new doctor who expressed surprise at her reported struggles with anxiety and mild depression. Despite her outwardly bubbly and confident demeanor, Meghan acknowledges that her inner thoughts are not always reflected in her external presentation.
  3. Awareness Through Experimentation: During her experiment with disconnecting from distractions, Meghan found it easier to listen to her inner self-talk without the usual distractions of TV, social media, or podcasts. This increased awareness allowed her to notice intrusive thoughts and dismiss them more easily.
  4. The Benefits of Silence: Meghan reflects on the positive effects of silence, citing studies that show how it can improve concentration, creativity & mindfulness, and even physical health by reducing blood pressure, cortisol levels, and improve insomnia.

2. Asking for help is great — but only when you actually need it

  1. Challenging Times in 2020: Meghan reflects on a challenging period in her life during the fall of 2020. She completed graduate school, ended a relationship, moved back in with her parents, and faced unemployment amidst the ongoing pandemic.
  2. Dependency on External Support: Meghan relied heavily on daily calls with a friend to cope during this tumultuous time. However, she acknowledges that this experience may have taught her the wrong lesson—that she needs to enter crisis mode and share her emotions with others whenever she feels negative.
  3. Learning to Sit with Negative Emotions: Meghan discusses advice from McDaniel about the importance of learning to sit with feelings of anger, sadness, or loneliness without immediately seeking validation or comfort from friends. McDaniel suggests that discomfort can often be dealt with in just 30 seconds.
  4. Effectiveness of Self-Observation: During her time in “monk mode,” Meghan found that allowing herself to observe negative thoughts without immediately seeking external validation was surprisingly effective. This allowed her to identify triggers and examine her emotions objectively.
  5. Questioning Negative Self-Perceptions: Meghan questions why she would assume that everyone secretly hates her for minor imperfections or concerns, realizing that she doesn’t judge others for similar traits. This introspection prompts her to reconsider her own self-perception.

3. I feel better when I slow down

  1. Perception of Meditation: Meghan acknowledges the widespread belief among celebrities, CEOs, and monks that meditation can be life-changing. Research supports this, with a 2014 meta-analysis from Johns Hopkins University finding moderate evidence that meditation can improve anxiety, depression, and physical pain.
  2. Struggles with Traditional Meditation: Despite the potential benefits, Meghan admits to struggling with traditional meditation practices. Sitting still in silence or listening to meditation app recordings often leaves her feeling frustrated and unable to calm her wandering mind.
  3. Alternative Meditation Strategy: Meghan learns of an alternative meditation strategy from McDaniel, who suggests allocating 30 minutes per day for sitting or walking in silence. During this time, one must refrain from reading, learning, or listening to music, instead focusing on breathing and observing surroundings.
  4. Personal Experience with Silent Walks: During her own experiment, Meghan finds herself walking in silence for longer than the recommended 30 minutes. Although it doesn’t completely eliminate her urge to use social media, she discovers that walking without distractions can help her better monitor her anxiety levels.
  5. Acceptance of Emotional States: Meghan concludes that she doesn’t need to feel good all the time. Rather, she aims to make self-care practices less daunting and hopes to achieve a greater sense of happiness as a result.

Wrapping Up

Meghan encountered challenging circumstances and high levels of stress. Her attempts to calm her mind with meditation alone didn’t work. Rather, she found peace by spending quiet time, like going to walks without distractions, which helped deal with anxiety and feel better herself.

Meghan learned that it is okay to feel bad sometimes and that it is important to take care of herself in order to feel happier overall. Her story shows how finding moments of calm can make a big difference in managing life’s challenges.

Acknowledgements: ChatGPT summarized the Meghan’s experience part of the content from the following resource links.

Related Resource Links