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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

 A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

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“We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

“When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

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When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

“All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

Silence relieves stress and tension.

It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

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A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

“This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

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But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

Summation

Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Rebecca Beris

Rebecca is a wellness and lifestyle writer at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

How to Use the 5 Whys to Get to the Root Cause of Any Problem

How to Use the 5 Whys to Get to the Root Cause of Any Problem

Do you take long to solve career or business problems? It may be time to learn how to use the 5 Whys to make the process simpler.

Maybe you believe that you need to know 1000 techniques to solve problems faster. The truth is that there isn’t a single technique that can solve all your problems. But despite this reality, you can still solve most of your problems in an effective way.

How? By leveraging Sakichi Toyoda’s 5 Whys technique. Toyoda used this technique for the Toyota production system, but you can apply it to most of your problems[1]. So, stop trying to memorize dozens of techniques and get ready to work smarter!

What Is the 5 Whys Method?

With the 5 Whys technique, you have to ask 5 questions.

Simple, right? Whenever you’re facing a problem, ask what may have contributed to the current results. Then, continue asking 5 times, or until you reach the root cause.

The 5 Whys | Find the Root Cause of a Problem Fast

    How do you know that this technique works? Well, Toyota has successfully implemented this technique to improve their assembly line. Now imagine what it can do to help you solve common problems[2]!

    The 5 Whys process isn’t complex, but it’ll take time to get used to. If you’re like most, you tend to jump at finding solutions when solving problems. Instead, start by asking one question each time you’re facing a problem.

    It can be for anything minor such as being stuck in traffic. In this case, your first question would be why you didn’t avoid traffic. Ask a single question for all your problems, and continue adding more until you ask 5 by default.

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    Eventually, you’ll know when to ask the 5 Whys and find a root cause to most of your problems. But, you don’t always have to work alone. When you work with unfamiliar topics, work with team members to brainstorm answers.

    If you want to know how to be a great team player, check out this article.

    For example, if you’re troubleshooting a bad marketing campaign for your business, work with your marketing team to find a solution. As a business owner, you’ll wear many hats but won’t be able to find a root cause to most of your problems alone.

    How to Ask the 5 Whys Efficiently

    Before you start asking the 5 Whys, you need to prepare to get the best results. Here’s the flow process for solving a real-world problem:

    1. Get the Right Resources

    You don’t know what you don’t know. So, gather information through books and online resources before solving a problem. You’ll find yourself researching more often for topics you’re not familiar with.

    If you don’t prepare, you’ll limit yourself to an ineffective root cause.

    You can also surround yourself with people who specialize in certain areas. This way you can work together with your group to find the best root cause of a problem.

    Your goal here is to feel comfortable with the questions you’re working with. Avoid answering questions you’re unsure of because you’ll most likely end up with a bad root cause.

    2. Understand the Problem

    Before you solve any problem, it’s important to know the nature of the problem you’re solving. This will help you avoid finding an irrelevant root cause.

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    When you define the problem, you’ll also avoid confusion when working with teams. For example, when working in teams, often it’s easy to assume that everyone is working on the same problem. But this isn’t always the case and can cause teams working to solve two different problems.

    3. Ask Your First 5 Questions

    Once you’ve spent enough time preparing, ask your first question. Instead of giving quick answers, brainstorm which answers will bring the most value. Each question depends on its predecessor, so give meaningful answers.

    The rule of thumb here is to keep repeating why five times until you’ve found a potential root cause. Typically, 5 questions or less is enough to solve the most common problems, but don’t limit yourself to 5 questions if it’s genuinely necessary to ask more.

    Instead, keep asking questions until you can’t anymore.

    4. Find Your Root Cause

    The main goal for using the 5 Whys framework is to end up with a root cause for the issue you’re experiencing. You should come up with an answer that helps you understand when/why the problem occurs.

    It’s also used to address high-level issues so that you can track your progress afterward. By addressing high-level issues, you’ll solve problems quicker before addressing the root cause.

    An Example of the 5 Whys

    Learning about the 5 Whys framework is great, but having real-world examples is better. Here’s an example you can use as a template for when you’re solving real-world problems:

    Problem: Employers haven’t called me back for an interview for the past 3 months

    • Question 1: Why is my resume not getting noticed by employers?
      Because it’s too generic and not showing any special skills for the roles you’re applying to.
    • Question 2: Why is my resume too generic?
      Because I want it to appeal to many professions.
    • Question 3: Why do I want to apply to many professions?
      Because I want to increase my chances of getting hired.
    • Question4: Why would applying to several professions increase my odds at getting hired?
      Because I wouldn’t limit myself to available job openings at one specific profession.
    • Question 5: Why would I limit myself to job openings available?
      Because there is a high demand for my profession.

    In this scenario, you’d stop at question 5 because you’ve found a potential root cause.

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    Since there’s a lot of competition for your industry, your resume needs to stand out. Who do you think an employer will hire, a jack of all trades or an expert in their profession?

    Whenever you’re working with a problem, take time to brainstorm the best questions. That’s because it’ll impact the quality of the root cause you’ll end up with.

    When Do the 5 Whys Not Work?

    As you’ve seen, the 5 Whys isn’t complicated and can be used for many kinds of problems, but it takes a lot of effort to execute correctly. When done right, it can help you find the culprit to most of your common problems. The problem is that this technique isn’t suited for every situation.

    Unreplicable Results

    You won’t be able to replicate the same results. Think about it: you’re creating your own questions and answering them in a unique way. No one else would be able to replicate your results for the most part.

    This means that even two teams working in the same environment will come up with two separate answers.

    Limited by the Knowledge Available

    As mentioned before, gather enough information when solving an unknown problem. The problem is that you won’t always have the best resources available. Because of this, you’ll limit yourself to the quality of your answers.

    If you’re ever facing an unknown topic, try a different problem-solving technique.

    Focusing on a Single Root Cause

    The main goal behind using the 5 Whys is to come up with a single root cause. But all problems don’t always have a single solution. For example, a marketing campaign can have a best, good, and worst case scenario.

    These limitations don’t make the 5 Whys a bad technique to use. Instead, they let you know how to use this technique more effectively.

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    The 5 Whys works best for improving processes and solving simple problems, but it falls short when working with complex problems. That’s why you’ll need to know other alternatives.

    For example, a company’s low customer response rate may be due to several factors. In this case, you’d choose a technique that’s better suited to solve complex problems. Determine which problems you face the most to know which techniques will help you the most.

    The Bottom Line

    Imagine conquering issues most people give up on.

    People would look at you and assume that you know 1000 ways to solve a problem. The truth is that not much has changed since you’d struggled with solving problems.

    But you’re now using a proven system that’s made your life easier.

    You’re a problem-solving machine.

    If you don’t believe this can be your reality, you’re wrong. You have what it takes to solve your problems, but you’ll need to practice. Start by asking one question today as you face a problem.

    Then, keep doing the same until you’re asking several questions for each of your problems. You won’t master the 5 Whys analysis overnight, but, with enough practice, this technique will feel more natural.

    More Problem Solving Techniques

    Featured photo credit: Startaê Team via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: The Unimportance of Practically Everything
    [2] Harvard Business Review: The Five Whys for Start-Ups

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