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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

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Rebecca Beris

Rebecca is a wellness and lifestyle writer at Lifehack.

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Published on April 14, 2021

8 Surefire Problem-Solving Strategies That Always Work

8 Surefire Problem-Solving Strategies That Always Work

Whether you’re dealing with a creative block on a personal project or you’re facing challenges in the workplace, finding sustainable solutions to problems is an integral part of personal and professional growth. As the British-Australian philosopher Karl Popper once said, “all life is problem-solving.”

As important as problem-solving is to success, not all approaches are created equal. The best problem-solving strategies ensure both efficiency (finding a solution as quickly as possible, with the minimum number of barriers) and effectiveness (finding a solution that actually solves the problem long-term).

To accomplish both, you may need to try out some new ways of seeing and handling challenges. Here are 8 surefire problem-solving strategies that work, no matter what you’re struggling with.

1. Break It Down Into Smaller Pieces

Staring down a big problem can feel overwhelming, especially when the stakes are high. That sense of overwhelm doesn’t just cause you to feel on edge, but it also compromises your ability to work effectively. Studies show when the stress response is active, the part of the brain required for problem-solving tasks essentially shuts down.[1]

To ease that stress and enlist the much-needed logical part of your brain, try breaking the problem down into smaller, individual issues you feel more confident tackling. For example, if you’ve missed your revenue goal two quarters in a row, try to resist framing the problem as “we’re losing money.”

Instead, identify the individual problems contributing to the larger one—for example, marketing, supply chain, or communication issues that may be at play. Then, work—slowly but surely—to overcome barriers in each area, ideally, in order of importance. Not only will you feel less stressed in the process (which leads to smarter decision-making), but you’ll also feel more motivated to press on as you gain a sense of accomplishment, one step at a time.[2]

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2. Ask Someone Else for Input

I remember it clearly: I was sitting in my office, staring at the computer screen, trying to figure out where I went wrong in a line of code. Two hours in, and I wasn’t any closer to figuring out where I’d messed up (and, more importantly, how to fix it). Then, a colleague I’d planned to have lunch with came in. Almost instantaneously, she looked over my shoulder and saw the issue. I had to laugh—she hadn’t even been working on this project with me, but her fresh set of eyes solved my problem.

One of the most effective ways to reach a solution, faster? Don’t rely only on your own mind for an “aha” moment. Involving people who see the world differently than you—ideally, someone with a different skillset or from a different department—to chime in will help you more easily and quickly find the right approach.

3. Understand the Root Cause

Albert Einstein famously said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.”

It sounds like common sense, but it bears repeating—you can’t solve a problem unless you know what the issue actually is. Before you start mapping out potential solutions, ask yourself, “why did this problem occur in the first place?”

For example, imagine one department in your business is consistently not meeting its goals. That’s certainly a problem, but it may not be the problem. When you dig a little deeper, you might find a need for better communication or more training.

Ensuring you have a deep and accurate understanding of what’s causing the problem will save you time working toward a solution and prevent you from having to backtrack to find a better one.[3]

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4. Define Success

One of the most important things I’ve learned as an entrepreneur: start with a clear vision of success. Before I launched my business, I envisioned what people’s lives would be like if my product succeeded. I try to follow the same approach when I’m tackling challenges.

Begin the problem-solving process with a clear understanding of what “success” would look like when the problem is solved. How will your company and team function if this problem isn’t an issue anymore?

Once you see how you want things to be, you can work backward to find practical ways to achieve that vision. For example, if you’re consistently frustrated by low morale among your employees, imagine what a motivated, positive team would look like in everyday operations. What do you want to achieve, and how would it change the course of your business?

By picturing your ideal situation, you can more easily pinpoint the steps you need to take to make it happen—in this case, perhaps implementing team-building events, more paid vacation, and incentives for reaching goals.

5. Try Silent Brainstorming

Enlisting other people’s perspectives can be a good way to find the answer you’re looking for. But if you’re attempting to tackle a problem with others, keep in mind the dynamic of the group.

Think back to your last Zoom or in-person meeting. Whose ideas do you end up hearing or applying most often? If I kept a running tab, I’d guess my most outgoing, assertive team members “win” these brainstorming sessions most often—simply because they’re not afraid to speak up.

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If you’re hitting a wall in problem-solving, you’ll need to find a way to hear everyone’s voice. One way to do that is a silent brainstorming session. Invite team members to spend a designated amount of time coming up with solutions for the same problem. Then, have them share their approaches and ideas in front of the group, or individually with you.

When everybody has a chance to contribute equally—without the distraction of a lively discussion—you’ll be more likely to develop an effective problem-solving strategy and find the answer you’ve been looking for.

6. Imagine Someone Else’s Perspective

Can’t get a group together but feeling like you need someone else’s brain to solve the problem you’re struggling with? One of my favorite problem-solving strategies is to use someone else’s perspective to see all sides of a problem and potential solutions.

As you brainstorm, imagine you’re sitting at a table with different personality types and thinkers—for example, a critic, an optimist, an artist, and a data analyst. You can think of real people you know and imagine how they’d respond to the problem, or you can simply imagine people who think differently than you.

The idea is that by using your own creativity to adopt different perspectives on the same issue, you can more quickly reach an effective solution.

7. Decide What Won’t Work

Process of elimination can be a helpful tool when you’re trying to figure out how to overcome a challenge—mostly so you don’t waste time “reinventing the wheel.”

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Next time you come up against a problem at work, ask yourself (or someone else) if you or anyone else in the organization have encountered similar issues in the past. If so, what are the solutions people tried, and more importantly, did they work? If not, cross it off the list and keep brainstorming.

If the past solutions proved to be effective, then ask yourself one more question: “Do I have the resources to apply this solution in my current situation?” If the answer is “yes,” then you have a resource at hand—and you just saved yourself some time.[4]

8. Take Breaks

It might sound counterproductive to step away from a problem you’re trying to solve, but doing so can actually save you time and help you develop an even better solution.

Sometimes called the “wanderer technique,” taking breaks has long been shown in research to boost creativity and attention span.

When you’re focused on (and stressed about) a problem, your brain can grow fatigued, which prevents you from finding innovative ways to deal with the issue. On the other hand, when you step away and think about or do something else, your brain can wander. Given some stress-free time with your unconscious mind, you can make connections you wouldn’t have if you were staring at a screen or notebook.[5]

Final Thoughts

As common as it is to encounter challenges at work and in life, it can be frustrating to spend time finding solutions, especially if you’re not sure if the solutions will be effective. By approaching your problem-solving with a bit of strategy and intention, you can both save time and find better solutions. It’s a win-win!

Just follow these 8 surefire problem-solving strategies and you’ll have higher chances of overcoming obstacles in your journey to success.

More Problem-Solving Strategies for Overcoming Challenges

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

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