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7 Ways to Turn Down the Noise and Listen to What Matters

A man using his headphones to turn down the noise outside and listen to the silence inside.

Since releasing my book on August 1st, 2017, I’ve been struggling with conflicting impulses: the desire to connect with an audience, and the desire to be quiet. As I mentioned in this excerpt, the release of a new work can make us feel fragile, and that’s how I’ve been feeling.

It’s not such a bad thing. It got me thinking about the ways the world is constantly screaming at us, and how to turn down the noise so we can listen to what Julia Cameron calls the “still, small voice” inside. Here’s what I came up with.

1. Stop and reassess.

When I’m confused, overwhelmed and overloaded, it’s always a sign I need to stop, take a day off, and journal about the gaps between my current state and where I want to be.

A man writes in a journal to silence the noise in his head and get clear about what he wants.

From the “Studio 1” collection, Death to the Stock Photo.

A couple weeks after publishing my book, I realized it was time to rethink how I spent my days. For the moment, I’ve said most of what I have to say about creativity. It’s all in the book. I want to spend more time now writing fiction, reading, sparking inspiration against other creative minds, and just being. At the same time, I want to keep connecting with you, my readers.

All of which is to say things are going to change around here. I might post a little less regularly, and you’ll see more of my own short stories and art projects. You’ll also see more interviews with other artists, because although I’ve said most of what I’ve got to say about creativity, I never get tired of hearing what other artists have to say about it. There’s always more to learn.

My recent chat with novelist Holly Lisle is a case in point. I’ll keep her advice about perseverance and adaptability in mind as I continue to navigate the choppy waters of contemporary publishing.

2. Emails are a major source of noise. Read fewer of them.

If it’s not important, mark it as “read” without reading it, or, better yet, unsubscribe. I’ll admit it feels weird to say that while growing my own email list, but honesty and usefulness are my priorities here. My goal is to only send things that will assist you in your creative work, things that’ll help you panic less, not more. If I’m not doing that, please click “unsubscribe” on me, too.

3. Log into social media only for specific purposes and short, pre-defined amounts of time.

I know this advice appears in every time management article you’ll ever read, and in half the ones on mental health, too. It bears repeating. When we’re feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed, it can be more tempting than ever to seek validation from Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Usually, though, we only end up lonelier, sadder, and more over-saturated with empty news, ego-driven pronouncements, and unlived “wisdom.”

4. Commit to fewer tasks.

One of my main goals in life right now is to stop making lists like these:

A task list that's an example of what happens when too much noise interferes with the inner silence creativity requires.

My task list for the day after I drafted this article. I know. It’s terrible. I’ve since trimmed it substantially.

The best method I’ve found for organizing my days is the “Four Assignments” approach recommended by my friend Niki from zivotjehra.org. As you can see, I don’t always follow it perfectly, but when I do, it always works well.

5. Chill out about getting everything done.

This, at least, is something I’m getting a little better at. Do what you can, tackling tasks in order of importance, and when you’re too tired to be efficient anymore, stop working. Be OK with not completing all you’d hoped to complete.

6. Realize the entire machinery of our ad-based culture is constantly mobilizing to make you feel like a complete failure as a human being, and refuse to let it succeed.

Almost everything we read tells us we need to be more, do more, and have more. When we recognize these messages as lies and accept ourselves as already good enough, we immediately invite a sense of calm. Such recognition is an ongoing practice for me. I’m always better at it when I’ve had enough sleep.

Click to Tweet: The entire machinery of our ad-based culture is constantly mobilizing to make you feel like a failure. Refuse to let it succeed.

7. Feel free to ignore any and all advice you read in list-based blog posts, including this one.

Seriously. Bloggers have a habit of presenting ourselves as invulnerable experts, and of peddling “shoulds” like that’s what people need, when more often, what we need is simply silence, and to find it however we can.

What about you? How do you turn down the noise in your life so you can create what matters? Share your ideas in the comments. 

Featured image: from the “Studio 1” collection, Death to the Stock Photo.

PS: If you struggle to complete creative work, you might find my book useful. It’s called Creative Unblocking: Bypass Self-Doubt, Tap Your Genius, and Complete Your Best Work, and it’s an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide to the creative process. Click here to download the intro and first chapters for free.

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