In October of last year, Doug Ulman, CEO of Pelotonia was asked for his favorite books and surprisingly, he mentioned a book called “Stranger in the Woods“. It’s the story of one the last hermits ever – Christopher Thomas Knight, who disappeared into the woods of Maine for 27 years and only interacted with society twice during that time.
The story is equal parts fascinating and insightful. The author, Michael Finkel, through a series of interviews and phone calls, documents Knight’s story, his eventual capture (for stealing food from a summer camp) and what he learned about purposefully choosing to leave the world behind. Throughout the story, we get brief glimpses into the mind of the ‘North Pond Hermit’ – what he realized about society, his own life, and the importance of silence.
If you’re not familiar with the Three Quotes series – we take three of the most impactful quotes from the books we’re reading and how these quotes might help unlock new ways we can think about our work life and home life.
One’s desire to be alone, biologists have found, is partially genetics and to some degree measurable. If you have low levels of the pituitary peptide oxytocin – sometimes called the master chemical of sociability – and high quantities of the hormones vasopressin, which may suppress your need for affection, you tend to require fewer interpersonal relationships.
In a world that becomes ever increasingly connected, there’s intense pressure to be part of the “culture of personality”. This is amplified even more so at work. We’re all supposed to participate in team activities, say the smart thing at meetings and all of us are victim to the open office design trend. It’s never been harder to be introverted in this modern workplace environment. But, the reality is that we are all predisposed by biology to be more or less social. Like all things, we can overcome this predisposition with training and deliberate practice. Some of us, however, are fighting a more uphill battle.
We don’t all fit into nice little boxes around core values – we’re much too complex for that. The best teams and organizations make sure that both introverts and extroverts have not only the environment they need to be their best, but they also provide processes and methods that allow introverts to contribute to the greater team. Small changes like allowing people to contribute their ideas electronically, not making decisions strictly in meetings and designing workplace activities for all personalities go along way towards making people feel at home in their work.
The importance of introversion has been recognized as one of the Big 5 personality traits that drive a lot of our behaviors. Many similar personality assessments also use introversion as one of their key variables because it’s so critical to understanding why we do the things we do. This is why programs like DISC and other courses designed to drive a deeper understanding of yourself are so critical for teams to start building self-awareness. Before we can look at the big picture, all of us must have an understanding of our own frames and behaviors.
Silence it appears is not the opposite of sound. It is another world altogether, literally offering a deeper level of thought, a journey to the bedrock of the self.
Silence is also a rare commodity these days. Think about your average day. We wake up to cell phones, do our morning routines filled with hustle and bustle, work in offices packed with conversation and noise and then drive home to be bombarded by the television or other people. We even fill every waking second with podcasts or music.
It’s almost like we’ve become afraid of silence.
The constant fight for your attention is real. The bombardment of stimulus is constantly vying for more and more of your focus. Silence is a mechanism or a vehicle to combat this constant fight for your attention. This is why programs such as mindfulness, stillness and deep work have become so popular. Our attention span is a limited resource and we need to be more careful where we spend those resources.
On top of this, the lack of silence affects our work performance. If silence offers a deeper level of thought – then work has become an exercise of jumping from puddle to puddle.
Call it what you want: deep work, flow state, razor focus – the reality is that most of us don’t spend enough time aligned with the most valuable work we need to get done. The top 2 sources of workplace distraction are chatty coworkers and general office noise:
What’s even worse, is that every time we’re interrupted we lose focus. Over time, our ability to focus on anything erodes. This is the real danger and the cost is real:
University of California Irvine researchers showed that the average time lost every time you get interrupted is 23 minutes and 12 seconds.
…after passing time in quiet, rural settings, subjects were calmer and more perceptive, less depressed and anxious, with improved cognition and a strong memory. Time amid the silence of nature, in other words, makes you smarter.
Forest bathing or nature bathing’s benefits are well documented. However, most of us spend more time than ever indoors. According to the EPA, the average American spends 93% of their time indoors.
Curiously, sometimes the best thing you can do when faced with a tough issue or a problem you can’t solve seems overly simple:
Take a long walk outside.
This continues to ViveTeams most repeated piece of advice to organizations that face stress and creative burnout. Sometimes it’s met with eye rolls or people who think just because an answer is simple, means it cannot be valuable.
It used to be common place to take a daily walk or an after dinner walk – but somewhere along the way, we’ve lost that habit. It’s a combination of being assaulted by the glorification of “busyness” and being so used to not integrating physical activity in our day-to-day lives that it sounds exhausting. The reality is that almost all of our lives and improved from simple, quiet outdoor walking. Give your mind, your body, and your creative capacity a boost by trying this simple habit.
And if you can’t – don’t worry, you can start even smaller.
The good news is that you can reap some of the benefits of the outdoors without going outside. There is evidence that quietly looking at pictures of nature can lower stress and improve creativity. So if it’s not possible to get outdoors during the day, proactively block off small times in your calendar to find some quiet and look at outdoor photography on your phone or computer.