Think of a beautiful song that you enjoy.
Now, consider why you fancy that track. A large part in why you appreciate the music is because there is space between the notes.
Otherwise, it would be one long, unrelenting noise - something like a suffocating ambush on your ears. Our daily lives have evolved into a song without any space between the notes.
Noise has bled into the once private spaces of our lives. We check email while we go to the bathroom. We scroll Instagram while we lay next to our partners in bed. Phone calls that can wait, jilt the moment over breakfast. Sunday mornings are consumed with ads from our tablets and TV's. We manufacture emergencies at work that force us to break the promise that we'll be home at a decent hour.
We don't know how not to be busy. In fact, filling our days makes us feel productive. And so we busy ourselves. We are like Stanford ducks.
In The Happiness Track by Emma Seppala, PH.D., she quotes Carol Pertofsky, director of health and wellness at Stanford who explains the Stanford duck syndrome like this:
"On the surface, students look like peaceful ducks, serenely gliding along in the sun, contentedly basking in the splendor and grace of their success. However, if you look under the surface, there is a dark underside: the ducks legs are furiously pedaling as they struggle to stay afloat and to keep moving."
Does that sound familiar?
To be sure, working hard and championing personal goals is noble. This isn't an attempt to suggest that you shouldn't go to school either.
But maybe, instead of working hard to make life as busy as possible, we should be working hard to make life as productive as possible. To do this, we need to invest in daily solitude.
By doing so, we can have less informal, unnecessary craziness, freeing up time to let us pursue the things that matter most to us.
It's time to jettison the insubstantial busyness and escape the utterly overwhelming noise that has filled the vacuum of our lives.
Daily solitude offer benefits that are becoming too valuable to ignore. Less burnout, improved memory, enhanced creativity, and increased productivity are a few of them.
This is an intentional act; we must choose to create space in our days. I've found three practical ways to design solitude without losing touch with our modern day responsibilities.
Adopt a nightly routine
Having an alarm clock followed by a morning routine is common. But the quality of these mornings is determined by the quality of the night before them.
In other words, getting to bed on time at a consistent hour allows for us to wake energized and rested. It also yields an opportunity for silence.
If we set a nightly routine to get to bed at a regular hour, we can get up earlier without sacrificing the quantity or quality of sleep we get. For many of us, getting up earlier before the days' madness begins is the only time for solitude.
When you create this seclusion, you can use this time for prayer, writing your book, or going for a run through the park. Or whatever feeds your soul.
No emails. No calls. No noise. It's your sacred time.
Adopt a nightly routine that trains yourself to go to bed an hour earlier. The first step is to set a trigger to remind you that it's time to retire for the day. Set the alarm on your phone that goes off every evening to set this process in motion.
Shutting off all electronic devices (TV's, phones, tablets, and laptops) 45 minutes before slipping into bed is the second step. The blue light that these devices radiate disrupts your natural melatonin (the sleepy hormone) production.
Take a hot bath and then enjoy a cup of chamomile tea. Our body temperature naturally dips at night. The hot bath will raise your body temperature causing a rapid cool down which helps us feel relaxed and prepares us for sleep. Chamomile tea is long known for its mild sedative qualities and is a practical way to induce sleepiness.
If you're not accustomed to a nightly routine, this all might sound like cumbersome. But, think about it. We all have a morning routine to get ready for the day right? It's time to invest energy into our nightly routines. By doing so, we'll create space in our days which helps us be more engaged, creative and productive.
Make your smartphone a dumb phone
As a nation, we check our phones about 8 billion times per day. Individually, we check our phones about 46 times per day.
Because we can.
Our phones that we carry in our pockets today possess computing power that wasn't around a few decades ago.
Having a phone that can "do-it-all," is something like having a Ferrari in your garage and resisting the temptation to let the ponies run.
The best way to escape the black hole of scrolling is to make your smartphone a dumb phone.
During my Eurotrip, we only had access to the internet at places that had wi-fi. Before we left, we decided not to arrange our data packages to unlimited global service.
This meant that my phone rendered useless unless I could find a cafe with wi-fi. This removed the unrelenting temptation to check my phone for no substantive reason.
It felt like the leash was severed.
This made me think about how I can simulate a similar relationship with my phone once I returned home. I can disable email and notifications from my phone. I can delete apps from my phone.
By doing so, the activation energy and time it would take - finding the app and re-downloading it - would not be worth the effort if I wanted to check email for no good reason or see how many likes I didn't get on Facebook.
You can do this too. Make your smartphone a dumb phone and severe the electronic leash hidden in your pocket. By eliminating the possibility of mindlessly checking our phones, we allow ourselves to still use social media and email - but in a much more intentional fashion. This is a quick and practical way to create some space between you and your phone.
Schedule time to read every day
Reading demands your attention. If you're doing more than one thing when you're reading, you're only pretending to read.
There aren't many activities as practical as reading that thrust you into a moment of quiet. In a time where convergent thinking dominates our society, reading offers a clandestine ilk of solitude - an escape from the noise.
You can travel far places without leaving your seat when you engage in deep reading. Start small. Carve out ten minutes per day to dive into a book you're interested in reading. Fiction or non-fiction are both fair game. What matters is the practice of deep reading.
I've found that sipping an espresso while you read doesn't hurt either.
"Americans Check Their Phones 8 Billion Times Per Day." TIME.com, time.com/4147614/smartphone-usage-us-2015/.
"The Emergence of Solitude As a Constructive Domain of Experience in Early Adolescence - Larson - 1997 - Child Development - Wiley Online Library." Wiley Online Library, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8624.1997.tb01927.x/abstract.
"The Impact of Light from Computer Monitors on Melatonin Levels in College Students. - PubMed - NCBI." National Center for Biotechnology Information, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21552190.
"Night-time Sleep EEG Changes Following Body Heating in a Warm Bath. - PubMed - NCBI."National Center for Biotechnology Information, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2578367.
Seppala, Emma. The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success. 2016.
"What Great Artists Need: Solitude." The Atlantic, www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/02/what-great-artists-need-solitude/283585/.