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The Joy of Shutting Up

How much joy do you believe you could muster up right now? It’s a strange question and not one that many ponder. But come along with me for a minute. Let’s just assume that you could muster up a good 8 out of 10 joy. The kind of joy that makes you feel good to be alive, love the spring, and love people.

Now let’s just imagine you could turn that joy dial up to a 10. And at a 10, shit happens beyond your imagination. You connect with everyone in your life, but on different levels. You love deeply for many, with that number consistently growing, and you realize that love is completely expansive, never limited in supply….That kind of joy.

Now what if I told you I could quite easily help you turn that joy dial up to a 10? Would that be cool with you? Stupid question right?

It’s actually crazy simple – Just shut up! My apologies if I’ve confused you. Give me a little time to work this through.

You may have caught the immediate irony embedded in this post. Yes, it’s true that I speak for a living. And it’s also true that writing is a form of verbal expression as well. You might be crying hypocrite at this point and frankly I wouldn’t blame you. It’s a logical conclusion to reach.

But what if I told you that my life, both personally and professionally has become much richer, simply from making a concerted effort to shut up in my daily interactions? Would you believe me? It sounds way too simple right? Can something so basic actually have such a dramatic effect on the joy in your life? The answer is yes.

Now maybe I’ve taken things too far here. I might be hitting your gullibility nerve right about now. To be clear, I’m not suggesting you say nothing (although that might be kind of fun too). I’m simply suggesting you pull back on your constant desire to express your opinions……you know what they say about opinions right?

The reality is that a large percentage of the words that exit our mouths are driven by ego, whether you realize it or not. Nothing good ever comes from conversations born of and/or driven by ego. The conversation becomes more about posturing than communicating. And if this strikes you as wrong-minded, I’ll be blunt – you might be a consistent offender.

I’m also suggesting that the precious joy of connection comes from deep listening. I’ve heard a lot of commentary on what a gift it is to give a speaker your full, unwavering attention. This is undoubtedly true. But it’s actually a bigger gift to the listener. Here’s why:

Greater Non-Verbal Connection

Shutting up allows for much more connective non-verbal communication. Though there is no calculus behind the percentage, most academic papers attribute only 20% of human communication to verbal. The rest – quite obviously – is non-verbal. Words can be easily misspoken or misconstrued. Vocabulary is a complicated thing. Nonverbal cues are far purer. They are far more difficult to fake and they are felt rather than thought. Emotions are always more powerful than thoughts. Emotions make life worth living. I hope that never changes.

The Gift of Silence

Shutting up gives you the gift of silence. There is far too little silence in the world today. Doing and talking about doing rule the day. I understand the power of doing. I wouldn’t make a dime if I didn’t. But I also understand the power of non-doing. And others have taught me the tranquility of making friends with silence. Frankly, non-doing is far more powerful. If you believe that life is about becoming – not doing – there needs to be adequate periods of silence. It’s simply a universal law.

If you don’t quite get this, try taking away all stimulus (Yes, your phone included) and just sit for awhile. Maybe it’s in nature. Maybe it’s in your living room. See if you can turn your brain off! Unless you’re from a monastery in Tibet, I’ll bet you have trouble allowing your mind to go blank. Such is the affliction of our generation. As crazy as it sounds, there is an epidemic of incessant thinking that affects all of us. Ask yourself when the last time was that you truly enjoyed a moment – like a full body buzz of enjoying the moment without the need to do or say anything – and your answer might surprise you.

Amplifying Empathy

Shutting up let’s you feel other people. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts in life is to fully feel and empathize with another human. If you tear up as a result of another person’s plight, there’s a good chance you’re approaching the 9 or 10 on the joy dial. Moments of true connection between people happen when nothing at all is said. And the wacky thing is that this can actually happen in a business meeting. If you don’t believe me, that’s cool. But I’m not speaking from a theoretical perspective. I’ve experienced this. I facilitated a class today that was so incredibly connective that I told everyone in the class that I loved them….and I meant it. Like, seriously, I meant it.

Richer Learning

Shutting up let’s you learn from other people. I’m a teacher. It’s in my blood. But teachers also make the best students. Why? Because teachers appreciate the joy of learning…and the personal growth that stems from learning. For teachers, learning is a drug without side effects. Learning new things vaults you into another dimension, a place where disparate thoughts seem to come together to form a whole, a place where the world becomes magical – even cosmic – because of the understanding that comes with it.

Here’s the thing. You can learn far more when you’re listening rather than talking. It’s true that sometimes we can work through our own thoughts while we’re talking. But there is a greater likelihood that we can learn far more from the different perspectives and experiences of other people. This only happens from listening and being completely open to the U-turns our thoughts and opinions can take when being completely in tune with the energy field of another human being. To say that there’s an experiential richness in doing so might be the understatement of the decade.

Please do yourself a favour and try it! It’s not a stretch to believe that the entire world can be a much calmer, richer, more connective place without so much damn talking. JUST…SHUT…UP!

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Brent C. Wagner