As my wife, Mandy, likes to point out, I don’t do well with long silences. This is never truer than in a classroom setting such as the classes that I teach at Lipscomb or in the Bible class that we attend at Harpeth Hills. If I ask a question or–and this is even worse–the teacher asks a question and no one offers up a response, I start to get really antsy and want nothing more than to fill in the blank space. It’s not that I feel that I always have the right (or best) answer, it’s simply that I don’t tolerate the silence well.
I find this true in my professional life as well. I typically don’t like to only have one thing going at a time because I’m afraid that there will be lulls in the action and that I won’t have anything to do (something that occurs with ever increasing infrequency now a days). When working in my home office, I prefer to have some kind of background noise on to help keep me focused (at least that’s what I tell myself). I also enjoy waking up in the middle of the night with an idea and I keep paper and pen in my night stand to capture these revelations that are proof that I don’t like to let my mind shut down: even during sleep.
Why is this? What is the cause of this character flaw? Perhaps it’s a lack of patience. Maybe I fear discovering that I like mindless downtime and that, once discovered, I’ll have a hard time continuing to motivate myself to be as productive as I normally am. Maybe I just don’t like feeling awkward when a question is posed and no one wants to answer. Whatever the reason, it’s a response / habit I know that I need to learn to control.
Peter Bergman offers an incredibly interesting opinion as to what happens when we don’t allow ourselves to opportunity to do nothing:
It’s ironic because the less we live in the current moment, the more mistakes we’ll make in it and the more material we’ll have to stress about in the next moment. My biggest obstacle? Time. With so much to do, it’s counterintuitive to take time to sit and do nothing. Here’s the most interesting thing: sitting and doing nothing has made me significantly more efficient. 20 minutes of meditation helps me avoid hours of time lost in unproductive thought, unconstructive comments, and unstrategic actions.
Do you want one more example of the fact that I am completely wrapped up in this mindset (I almost said ‘hopelessly’ but I don’t think that’s the case)? I can’t even brush my teeth for two minutes without having a book or magazine ready to read at the same time. I can’t even practice good dental hygiene without engaging in multitasking!
Meditation may not be your cup of tea but I challenge you to try it sometime. It definitely takes practice and discipline but I think you’ll be surprised at the benefits. When I was much younger I was actively involved in the martial arts and we did a fair amount of meditation. Maybe you (and I) should try a mid-day nap? Whatever solution you come up with, I hope you find yourself more peaceful, productive, and generally happier with the results.
So, what should I do with the thought that doing nothing for limited amounts of time will actually make me more productive during the time when I’m actually working? I’m not sure yet: I feel that I need to research and think about all of the possibilities for a while. How about you?