There is a lot of “noise” swirling around us every day. I call it background noise – like music on the elevator or the buzz of chatter in a crowded room. It’s the hum of life – undercurrents bombarding your brain. From the inside out or from the outside in, there are countless messages competing for your attention. To function properly your brain must sort through all the “noise” to determine what is important and what is not. (That’s a really tough brain assignment.)
To cope, we learn to tune out, ignore or simply accept constant static on the line of our lives. We push things into the background and they become part of our “normal” operating system.
I confronted the background noise in my life recently. What a revealing experience that was! Revealing and liberating.
It was a normal day, but as it wore on I found myself feeling increasingly agitated and frustrated. Tension was tying big knots in my shoulders and I had an underlying sense of panic. That stopped me – literally in my tracks. What in the world was going on (back there)?
In that moment, I became intentionally aware of everything happening around me: A phone was ringing, politicians were arguing on a television in another room, there was the “ping” of an email arriving, just after the buzz of a text coming through, and that was just the outside “noise.”
The valuable discovery was an awareness of what was happening in my own head.
My mind was racing around, barely present to the task in front of me, as I leapt from one thing to the next in a whirlwind of activity.
When I really tuned in, there was a pretty elaborate production going on! My thoughts were bouncing around – each one triggering another string, like some bizarre Google search! My mind would race down one rabbit trail until hijacked by another random idea, and off it would go in a new direction. The anxiety I was feeling was the emotional response to my own background noise.
That was the day I began searching for and paying attention to what’s happening “back there.” It’s an interesting collection. Can you relate to any of these?
- The critical voice busy scolding, correcting, critiquing and comparing you to others. This voice can also sound like grown up peer pressure – an invisible bully on the playground of your life, telling you what you must do to fit in and be accepted.
- Self-limiting beliefs dragging you back to an outdated version of yourself, containing your enthusiasm and capping your potential.
- Worry cloaked in undefined anxiety or apprehension whispering bad news in your ear and robbing you of peace and possibility in real time.
- Inspirations looking for a tiny spark (or a little attention) to really take off.
- Random reminders causing you to sacrifice what is happening now for what will be happening next (or next week).
- Assumptions that want to push understanding out of the way and go to the front of the “conclusions line.”
Not an all-inclusive list for sure, but perhaps a fair representation of what might be going on behind the scenes. If you can relate, here are five steps you can take to manage the “noise” in your life.
1. Tune in, intentionally.
Stop where you are and notice what is pushing on you and pulling at you right now– from the outside. What messages are bouncing off of you, demanding your attention? What is rushing into your life from the outside, packaged in an urgent-high-priority-limited-opportunity-last-chance-don’t-miss-it wrapper?
While we can’t stop the flood of stimulus, we can learn to manage the flow. Managing it begins with being more mindful in the moment. From there, you can make conscious decisions about how, when and if you will respond.
The key to this step is intentionality. Give yourself permission to engage or disengage based on your goals objectives. To put that more bluntly: You don’t have to answer everything that rings.
2. Create the habit of checking in with you.
Pull what is running in the background forward and pay attention. Locate and label your under currents. Is it worry? Apprehension? Guilt? Blame? Fear? Hope? Creativity? Inspiration? Expectancy?
Intentionally pause and “check in” with yourself several times a day. You may be surprised by what you learn about yourself in these spontaneous appointments.
Questions like these help you dig below the surface and discover what is driving your attitudes, behaviors and results. They may also show you where you are “feeding a need” instead of satisfying it.
- What am I feeling?
- What do I need?
- How will I meet that need in a productive and healthy way?
3. Write it down!
Get it out of your head and down on paper. Journaling is a fantastic tool for checking in. If you are consistent, patterns will emerge. You will locate emotional triggers or keywords that launch unproductive reactions.
Nagging worries also lose much of their juice on paper. When you look them right in the eye, they aren’t giants after all. Many of them aren’t worthy of a second glance. Others need your attention and action, but they don’t get to run in the background, depleting you of the energy and creativity you need to address them.
Technology is fantastic and it can serve us well. How often do we end up serving it? Decide to disconnect every day!
That’s right. Turn it all off. (I promise it will be there when you return.) Perhaps we should all heed the announcement heard as the airplane doors close, “Power off all electronics. If it has an off button, push it now. Not airplane mode – shut it down for take off and landing.” Good advice for rising in the morning and lying down at night.
Disconnecting gives your brain a chance to refresh. It also invites you to reflect and process your thoughts and ideas.
5. Be conscious!
You have more control over how your brain works then you might imagine. It may sound crazy, but you can “talk” to your brain. When your mind begins to wander, drag it back to now. When the critical voice scolds, replace her words with empowering, affirming ones. When limiting beliefs try to steal your courage, remember who you are. And when inspiration raises her hand, reach for it and hold on tight.
Make it a point to apply these five steps into your every day life and take control of your “Background Noise” today.