Once upon a time, a workout was intrinsic to our work. In order to gather food, build shelter, or travel from one place to another, we had to use our bodies. Without scheduling it in our day, we were strengthening our muscles, burning fat, and gaining flexibility.
Then, we realized our minds could get that work done for us. Machines were invented and we didn’t have to physically demand so much from our bodies. It probably took a couple of generations for us to notice that with the relief of not having to physically work so hard to survive, we also lost the benefits.
Enter the exercise industry.
We eventually invented machines where we could run in place without going anywhere. We made more machines that mimic lifting giant heavy things without lifting anything at all because our muscles crave the resistance. Now, we schedule time in our days to go to the gym and workout, to go for a run.
We know that our bodies will give up on us if we do not give them the attention they require.
You see where this is going, right?
With all of the benefits to work, to play, to connect, and to share by means of the tiny worlds in our pocket, we have lost, among other things, the generous gifts of quiet.
In my favorite book of the year, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, the author tells the story of a NYTimes essayist who flees to an undisclosed offline location in order to become better at his job:
In his time away he quickly learned to appreciate that, “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets…it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done” (Tim Kreider).
“When he talks of getting work done, of course, he’s not referencing shallow tasks. For the most part, the more time you can spend immersed in shallow work the more of it that gets accomplished. As a writer and artist, however, Kreider is instead concerned with deep work–the serious efforts that produce things the world values. These efforts, he’s convinced, need the support of a mind regularly released to leisure” (Cal Newport).
When we lost quiet, we lost our ability to focus, to be present, to prioritize, to feel, to settle, to be deeply productive, to soak it all in.
And it is not just about time. We might think we only spent five minutes checking this or responding to that, but the place we activate in our brain for those few miniatures keeps us from accessing deeper places of restoration.
“If you interrupt your evening to check and respond to email, or put aside a few hours after dinner to catch up on an approaching deadline, you’re robbing your directed attention centers of the uninterrupted rest they need for restoration. Even if these work dashes consume only a small amount of time, they prevent you from reaching the levels of deeper relaxation in which attention restoration can occur” (Newport).
We don’t just exercise because we need something else to do with our free time. We exercise because of the benefits. Setting aside time each day for quiet (which is it’s own reward) is also one of the simplistic ways to decrease stress, increase relaxation, enhance relationships and be better at your job.
And it’s free, y’all! So, if you find yourself starting to think you can’t afford to set aside quiet time, in all seriousness, you can’t afford not to.
May you find quiet reservoirs today and soak in all of the benefits.