Do you ever feel exhausted after small talk, or a seemingly standard conversation?
Do you ever regret saying something because you spoke before thinking?
When was the last time you truly let yourself think?
My first year at university, I lived down the hall from a kid named Zeus, who spoke like a waterfall. He started talking before you were barely halfway through your sentence. It seemed like he thought of his responses the second you started to begin pronouncing yours.
He was very clever… and slightly annoying.
Then one day, while having a late-night chat with him, he said something that surprised me: “You know Simone, we Americans are not comfortable with silence. That’s why we say ‘like’ all the time, and we interrupt each other constantly.”
I was delighted at his recognition of a common flaw that he himself displayed so prominently. Realization is the first step to improvement! (Funnily enough, when I ran into him on the street of New York’s upper West Side one summer, he didn’t even pause to breathe as he told me he was “going to work, so crazy busy, omg, ciao!”. Hey, it’s hard to change!)
Nowadays, through technology we are constantly able to share things with people, even when we are technically alone. When we talk, we are often focused on preparing our responses more than listening to what our company is saying.
At first glance, you might wonder what the problem with this is. And in many ways, it is not such a huge problem. I like talkative people. They are entertaining, fun, bubbly. It would be quite the strange society if we all sat in absolute silence all the time.
But what if you are talking when you don’t really want to?
I believe many introverts have trained themselves to talk more due to social norms and expectations for various careers, yet it can actually be quite harmful. Let me share my own experience with this.
People don’t think I’m a quiet person, and they laugh when I tell them how shy – even uncomfortable – I feel in most social situations. They don’t believe me because I have become so good at creating an extroverted persona as it’s simply more practical when navigating the world on your own.
However, I have noticed for a long time now that some conversations leave me excruciatingly drained. Whether they happen in person or virtually, I found, time and time again, that there were people whom speaking to left me with surprisingly low energy, and not because of what they said – because of all that I had said.
During the month of Yoga Teacher Training in a south Indian Ashram, I finally realized that I often spoke because it was expected of me. That I didn’t want to speak as much as I did, but that it was like a reflex to talk. Kind of like eating that last cookie because it’s there, not because you really want it. Habit, and social conditioning.
One evening, a bunch of us were having a normal dinner-time talk in which I had no essential part. Yet I felt I needed to say something, since I was sitting right in the middle. What I said started a joking argument, yet I took it really personally. I got defensive and felt horrible over nothing. After dinner, I sat at the table in shock, having realized that the entire episode had been so trivial, and only sparked by a social obligation to speak.
So the next day, I went into silence for 24 hours. My friend gave me a little sticker badge she crafted with duct-tape that said “silence” and I mounted it to my shirt.
People were surprised. My Spanish friend even said “En silencio?? TUUU?!!” and laughed. That’s when I realized how much other peoples’ expectations of me to speak had been affecting my honestly desired level of speaking.
Those 24 hours of silence, I felt more calm and energetic than I could remember. I realized how much energy was drained through trivial conversation, how often we comment on things like the weather, the time of day, the smell of something – things that are so obvious and not really in need of being discussed, yet we say them to fill the silence. As I observed this around me, without partaking in it, something clicked.
Silence allows you to connect with the world on a very deep, profound, and personal level. By observing in silence, you learn, grow, and have time to think. Being one with my thoughts instead of thinking of ways to share them before they fully developed, connected me with a part of myself I had ignored for a very long time.
Of course, there are times when we speak nervously. If you, like me, have ever spoken to (unnecessarily) explain yourself, or can’t help blabbing when you’re around people you feel you need to impress in some way or are anxious around, I can only tell you it’s normal, human. It is incredibly hard to turn off the verbal sharing mode. However, the resolution to be silent, even for an afternoon, can open up a whole new world inside your beautiful, wild head, that only you have access to in those moments. It’s like a secret garden only you can enter, an intimate secret you share only with yourself.
Then when you are ready, whatever you outwardly share with others will be more thoughtful and profound, too.
Identify the people whose company allows you to share without force. And take note of when you are speaking because you have been conditioned to do so. Even if it means you share less with people – that is your absolute right. No one should expect you to be a certain way, and if you have become calmer than you used to be in the eyes of some, take it as a sign of growth and nurturing your internal world.
Try a morning, afternoon or even full day of silence. Demuéstrate cosas solo a ti mismo. Be one with your thoughts, and recharge your energies from the inside out.