This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, your survival guide to our crazy-busy, ever-connected modern world hosted by Dr. Edward Hallowell, ADHD expert. Dr. Hallowell discusses an article about how important it is to take time for yourself and reflection.
DR. HALLOWELL: Hi this is Dr. Ned Hallowell. Welcome to my podcast. Every once in a while, something will come up, where I want to talk directly to you with no guest, no other kinds of supports, and this is one of those times. We’ll do this now and then, where a topic strikes me with such an impact, that I want to simply talk directly to you.
The provocation for this particular episode, just between you and me, was an article in the New York Times on June 11th, an article called The End of Reflection. A fabulous article written by Teddy Wayne. It really struck a nerve in me. Truly the article is all about what the podcast is all about, trying to sound a warning bell that if you’re not careful, you’ll basically give up your inner life, you’ll basically give up without intending too, the capacity to think. You ask someone where do you do your best thinking, rarely do they say at work. The most common answer is in the shower. It’s the one place where you’re not going to be interrupted. It’s the one place and as soon as they have a waterproof iPhone, I’m sure that will be gone too.
We make jokes about it, the speed at which we’re living, and the number of data points that we’re asking our brains to process every day, but it’s not funny. What we’re doing again, without intending to, is we’re giving away our most uniquely human capacity, namely to think, to imagine, to develop an idea, to develop a relationship, to go deep. You see when you’re going fast, you can’t go deep.
Superficial Conversations and Elevator Pitches
What we’ve seen is this sort of superficialization of life, superficial conversations, superficial ideas, half-baked ideas, punch lines, sound bites, elevator pitches. You know I’ll come out with a new book, and someone will say to me, give me the elevator pitch. It drives me crazy. I want to say, if I could do an elevator pitch and cover the whole book, I wouldn’t have written the book. I didn’t just take an elevator pitch and pad it, and turn it into a book, I made it into a book because that’s how long it would take me to properly express the idea.
Yet we’re reducing so much of life to these sound bites, these stereotypes, these pigeon holes, red state/blue state, liberal/conservative. Instant judgments of people based on very little information. You call it profiling or call it stereotyping, whatever it is, it has a terrible dumbing down effect on human existence, and really making bland what ought to be a rich, complex, nuanced, subtle, soup called life and turning it into just one flavor, turning it into a blur, if you will, going so fast. People are in a hurry to get where? Nowhere, and yet they’re demanding speed, hurrying through life, not savoring moments.
The good news about this is that we can control it. It’s not like global warming or terrorism where we have to wait for governmental policies to change. This is something we can control in our own lives. It helps if the people around you join in.
Ten Percent Think Time
If you’re a family, or if you’re a business, it helps if you can work in a culture that allows for downtime, private moments. I’ll give you an example, Tim Armstrong, the CEO of AOL, who’s really turning that company around and bringing it back to the glory days. Tim Armstrong, one of the first things he did when he was named CEO, was he mandated what he calls ten percent think time. He requires all his executives to spend ten percent of their work week, just ten percent, thinking.
You say that’s a radical idea, it’s very radical idea. What they have to do is turn off their iPhone, turn off their computer, close their door, and think. Just think, not have a meeting, not have an agenda, not have a memo, just sit and think ten percent of their work week. Let’s say they work a sixty-hour work week, they’re people that work pretty hard. We’re talking six hours a week, six hours a week thinking.
How Much Time Do You Spend Thinking?
Now ask yourself, how much time do you spend thinking. I do a lot of driving so I’m thinking in the car. One of the benefits of driving, like I drive two and a half hours to do this podcast and two and a half hours home. I spend a lot of that time thinking. Thinking, reflecting, this is what deepens life.
The same in relationships, you want to make time with your spouse, with your friends, with your colleagues at work to think together, to reflect together. Where are we headed? Are we doing it right? What might we do differently? Then in romantic relationships to really continue to get to know each other, to be a student of each other. Ask, what did you think of what happened yesterday? What are you feeling toward me? Where are we right now? How are we growing? Are we growing? What’s changing? Taking stock with your spouse/partner, whoever it might be, your close friend, taking stock.
Take Time with No Agenda
I have a friend by the name of Peter Mintz, who I’ve been playing squash with on Tuesday afternoons for thirty-five years. We have the squash game, it’s actually every other Tuesday now. Then after the game we go out for a beer, and we talk. That Tuesday afternoon has become an absolute pillar of my emotional life, an absolute life saver. To be that close to him and to have that deep of a connection, where we reflect together.
We talk about what’s going on. We ponder, we’re both psychiatrists so we might talk about a case. We’re both parents, we might talk about our children. There’s plenty of common ground for us. We’ve been friends for so very, very long. We’re both human. We talk about what it’s like to be getting older. That time with no agenda, that time to free flow, that time to allow whatever happens to happen, whatever comes up to come up, that’s precious. That’s precious. Try it.
Go out in your backyard, if you have one, or go to a park and lie down on the grass on a nice day, and stare up at the clouds. Do that for maybe more than a minute or two. Do that for ten, fifteen minutes. Just see where your mind goes, just see what you come up with. Allow yourself agenda free time to reflect, to ponder, to wonder, to feel the force of life inside your veins, inside your head, underneath your back.
What Does it Feel Like To Be Alive?
What does it feel like to be alive? Try to feel it in every corpuscle and every millimeter of your body. I am alive. My brain as a sentient being is percolating along, coming up with images and ideas. You may think back to the lake where you used to spend summers. Or think ahead to the baseball game you want to take your son, or grandson, or granddaughter to, or you may think of a recipe. You may think philosophically of what the meaning of things are.
You see, time spent doing that necessarily deepens yourself, and necessarily deepens your relationships, necessarily deepens the work your company is doing, or your family is doing. If you’re rushing through it all, if you’re just downloading and sending off random, unimportant, data bytes, sound bites, you’re denying yourself the fullest part of life. You’re denying yourself the wonderful surprises, the unintended benefits of being alive. Don’t let this world seduce you into going so fast, doing so much, processing so many messages, that you essentially cease to be human, and become a kind of monotonous robotic person, going through the motions until you can motion no more.
Ask Yourself Questions
Take the time to live, to be alive, to reflect, to ponder, to connect with others, and with yourself, to probe into difficult questions, asking the questions that maybe you forgot to ask. It’s so long ago since you once asked them. Why are we here? What’s it all about? While those questions don’t have answers, it’s wonderful to propose possible answers. To use your imagination, to use the tool that you were born with, to do something more interesting and more advanced than data processing. Reclaim the wonderfully enjoyable, richly rewarding art of reflection.
Well, I’m Dr. Ned Hallowell, and that’s my thought for today. Thank you for joining me on my podcast. Distraction is produced by Collisions, the podcast division of CRN International. Collisions podcasts for curious people.
This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, “Stop Reducing Life to Sound Bites” Distraction is available on iTunes.