How many voices have you let into your head in the last 24 hours? Most of us couldn’t even begin to count. The ‘voices’ driving the various pieces of stimulus we encounter in any given day are legion – think of every post; every headline; every caption, photo and podcast.
‘Solitude Deprivation’ is the brilliant phrase from Cal Newport to describe “A state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds.”
When I read that, I asked myself – If I am constantly receiving stimulus, what chance am I giving my mind and heart to reflect meaningfully?
The idea that I may sacrifice my best thoughts on the altar of shallow stimuli is genuinely frightening.
And it’s not just our capacity for original and insightful thought that is endangered by an imbalance between ‘receiving’ and ‘reflecting’. Many studies show a range of effects, from limiting our ability to focus when it matters, to decreased empathy. Nor is this a new struggle – information overload, as I’ve written before, is old news.
It does present itself to us today, however, in a manner which has been particularly optimised for irresistibility. Indeed, entire industries depend on you repeatedly choosing to ‘receive’ rather than ‘reflect’. As one of my favourite quotes puts it, “To be hooked up to the crowd all day is a very particular way to go through life”.
I believe we must break the spell of stimulus, or risk breaking our capacity for analysis.
This increasingly divisive world needs you to think deeply, critically and independently. So too do the new and unimaginable ethical dilemmas which will come our way with industry 4.0. But so too does your deepest, truest self, that has been created to forge a path that will never completely fit in with the voices around you. So too does that business or artwork you’ve thought vaguely of starting, but haven’t really given yourself space to map out.
Your best decisions, best relationships and best self all demand your best reflection.
And your best reflection requires that you step away from the stimulus, and let your brain breathe.