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Separate the signal from the noise

by Shaun Kober
December 27th 2021

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” -  Blase Pascal

We live in a world that is constantly distracting us. And we allow it to. We conditio... More

yo, what is up guys, welcome back to the left transform podcast. I'm your host, Sean Cobra. During last week's episode, I spoke to Alex Delfina who is a serial fitness entrepreneur and business owner who has built multiple businesses from scratch across Australia and throughout Asia. And I spoke to him about his decline in mental and physical health whilst he was grinding, grinding, grinding. So um, what we talked about was him actually taking a step back from the business because it's important to know when to push, it's also important to know when to pull back something. He spoke about in terms of pulling back from the business, was finding solitude and creating space for stillness so he can sit and think and um not be involved in all of the stresses that come with business because you know, was adding massive amounts of stress to his life. So, um, we spoke about cultivating stillness and a space to generate quiet and take some stress off the mind off the body of the systems.

Now in today's episode, I'm gonna dive into a few of those things in a little bit more detail. It's gonna be a short sharp episode, but I've just recently finished a book called Stillness is the key by Ryan Holiday, otherwise known as the daily stoic on instagram, um great content, great resource. Um, I love stoic philosophy and you know, I love the principal or the philosophy of controlling only what you can control and not worrying too much about anything else. So I'm going to read a couple of chapters from the book, stillness is the key. Alright, so this chapter is called limit your imports and the quote at the top of the page is a wealth of information, creates a poverty of attention by Herbert Simon as a general napoleon made it his habit to delay responding to the mail. His Secretary was instructed to wait three weeks before opening any correspondence. When he finally did hear what was in the letter, napoleon loved to note how many supposedly important in quotation marks issues had simply resolved themselves and no longer required a reply.

While napoleon was certainly an e centric leader, he was never negligent in his duties or out of touch with his government or his soldiers, but in order to be active and aware of what actually mattered. He had to be selective about who and what kind of information got access to his brain. In a similar vein, he told messengers never to wake him with good news. Bad news on the other hand, that is to say, an unfolding crisis or an urgent development that negatively impacted his campaign. Was to be brought to him immediately aroused me instantly. He said. For them, there is not a moment to be lost. These were both brilliant accommodations to the reality of life for a busy person. There is way too much coming at us in order to think clearly it is essential that each of us figures out how to filter out the inconsequential from the essential. It's not enough to be inclined toward deep thought and sober analysis. A leader must create time and space for it in the modern world. This is not easy. In the 1990s, political scientists began to study what they called the CNN effect, breathless 24-hour media coverage makes it considerably harder for politicians and ceos to be anything but reactive, there's too much information.

Every trivial detail is magnified. Under the microscope, speculation is rampant and the mind is overwhelmed. The CNN effect is now a problem for everyone, not just presidents and generals. Each of us has access to more information than we could ever reasonably use. We tell ourselves that it's part of our job that we have to be on top of things. And so we give up precious time to news reports, meetings, and other forms of feedback. Even if we're not glued to a television, we're still surrounded by gossip and drama and other distractions. We must stop this. If you wish to improve Epictetus once said, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters, napoleon was content with being behind on his mail. Even if it upsets some people or if he missed out on some gossip because it meant that trivial problems had to resolve themselves without him. We need to cultivate a similar attitude, give things a little space. Don't consume news in real time, be A season or two behind on the latest trend or cultural phenomenon and don't let your inbox lord over your life. The important stuff will still be important.

By the time you get to it, the unimportant will have made its insignificance obvious or simply disappeared. Then with stillness rather than needless urgency or exhaustion, you'll be able to sit down and give what deserves consideration, your full attention. There is ego in trying to stay up on everything, whether it's an acclaimed television show, the newest industry, the smartest hot take or the hottest crisis in the Middle East africa Asia, the climate, the World Bank, the NATO summit ad Infinitum. There is ego in trying to appear the most Informed person in the room. The one with all the gossip. Who knows every single thing that's happening in everyone's life. Not only does this cost us our peace of mind, but there's a serious opportunity cost too. If we were still a more confident had the longer view, what truly meaningful subject could we dedicate our mental energy to. In Her diary in 19 42, Dorothy Day, the catholic nun and social activist admonished herself much the same. Turn off the radio she wrote, put away your daily paper, read one review of events and spend time reading books, spend time reading books.

That's what she meant. Books full of wisdom though, this too can be overdone the verse from john ferrier what wild desires, what restless torments sees the hapless man who feels the book disease. The point is, it's very difficult to think or act clearly to say nothing of being happy when we are drowning in information. It's why lawyers attempt to bury the other side in paper. It's why intelligence operatives flood the enemy with propaganda so they will lose the scent of the truth. It's not a coincidence that the goal of these tactics is casually referred to as analysis. Paralysis. Yet we do this to ourselves. A century and a half after napoleon, another great general and later head of State, Dwight D Eisenhower struggled to manage a torrent of facts and fiction that was thrown at him. His solution was strict adherence to the chain of command. When it came to information. No one was to hand him unopened mail. no one was to just throw half-export problems at him too much dependent on the stillness within that he needed to operate to allow such haphazard information flow. One of his innovations was to organize information and problems into what's now called the Eisenhower box, a matrix that orders our priorities by the ratio of urgency and importance, much of that was happening in the world or on the job Eisenhower found was urgent but not important.

Meanwhile, most of what was truly important was not remotely time sensitive, categorizing his imports, helped him organize his staff around what was important versus what seemed urgent, allowed them to be strategic rather than reactive a mile deep on what mattered rather than inch on too many things. Indeed, the first thing Great Chiefs of Staff do, whether it's for a general or a president or the ceo of a local bank is limit. The amount of people who have access to the boss, they become gatekeepers. No more drop ins, tidbits, stray reports so the boss can see the big picture. So the boss has time and room to think because if the boss doesn't well then nobody can. In his meditations, Marcus Aurelius says, ask yourself at every moment, is this necessary? Knowing what not to think about, what to ignore and not to do. It's your first and most important job and then it goes into a quote from thich Nhat han, I'm not sure if I pronounce that right before we can make deep changes in our lives. We have to look into our diet, our way of consuming.

We have to live in such a way that we stop consuming the things that poison us and intoxicate us. Then we will have the strength to allow the best in us to arise and will no longer be victims of anger or frustration. It's as true of food as it is of information. There's a great saying, garbage in garbage out. If you want good output, you have to watch over the inputs. This will take discipline. It will not be easy. This means fewer alerts and notifications. It means blocking incoming texts with the do not disturb function and funneling emails to sub folders. It means questioning that open door policy or even where you live. It means pushing away selfish people who bring needless drama into our lives. It means studying the world more philosophically. That is with a long term perspective rather than following The events. 2nd by second. The way you feel when you wake early in the morning and your mind is fresh and as yet unspoiled by the noise of the outside world. That space worth protecting. So too is the zone you lock into when you're really working well. Don't let intrusions bounce you out of it. Put up barriers, put up the proper tubing to direct what's urgent and unimportant to the right people walker.

Percy, one of the last great southern novelists has a powerful message in Lancelot, based on Percy's own struggle with idleness and addiction to entertainment in the book. The harried narrator walks outside of his Mississippi mansion and for the first time in years simply stops he steps outside his bubble and experiences the moment. Can a man stand alone, naked and at his ease wrist flex at his side like Michelangelo's David without assistance without diversion. In silence, he asks, Yes, it was possible to stand, nothing happened. I listened. There was no sound, no boats, no trucks, not even Cicadas. What if I didn't listen to the news? I didn't, nothing happened. I realized I'd been afraid of the silence. It is in this stillness that we can be present. And finally see the truth. It is in this stillness that we can hear the voice inside us. How different would the world look if people spend as much time listening to their conscience as they did to chattering broadcasts? If they could respond to the cause of their convictions as quickly as we answer the dings and rings of technology in our pockets.

All this noise, all this information, all these imports. We are afraid of the silence. We are afraid of looking stupid. We are afraid of missing out. We are afraid of being the bad guy who says, nope, not interested. We'd rather make ourselves miserable than make ourselves a priority than be our best selves, then be still and in charge of her own information. Diet. I've skipped ahead a couple of chapters to a chapter called cultivate Silence which layers upon the chapter I just read, cultivate silence. All profound things and emotions of things are proceeded and attended by silence. Silence is the general consecration of the Universe by Herman Melville. The fascination with silence began early in life for the composer john Cage in 1928 in a speech contest for Los Angeles High School, he tried to persuade his fellow students and the judges that America should institute a national day of quiet by observing silence. He told the audience that would finally be able to hear what other people think it was.

The beginning of Cage's lifelong exploration and experimentation with what it means to be quiet and the opportunities for listening, that this disciplined silence creates. Cage wandered. After high school, he toured europe, he studied painting, he taught music, he composed classical music. He was an avid observer. Born In 1915, in California, he was just old enough to remember what pre mechanized life was like, and as the century became modern and technology remade every industry and occupation. He began to notice just how loud everything had become wherever we are. What we hear is mostly noise, he would say when we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating to cage silence was not necessarily the absence of all sound. He Located the sound of a truck at 50 mph, static on the radio, the hum of an amplifier, the sound of water on water. Most of all. He appreciated the sounds that were missed or overwhelmed by our noisy lives. In 1951, he visited an acoustic chamber, I think that's how it's pronounced.

The most advanced soundproof room in the world at the time. Even there with his highly sensitive musicians ears, he heard sounds two sounds, one high and one low speaking with the engineer. Afterward, he was amazed to discover that the source of those sounds was his own nervous system and the pumping of his blood. How many of us have ever come close to this kind of quiet, reducing the noise and chatter around you to the degree that you can literally hear your own life. Can you imagine what you could do with that much silence? It was a reaction against unnecessary noise that inspired Cage's most famous creation. four minutes 33, which was originally conceived with the title Silent Prayer. Cage wanted to create a song identical to the popular music of the day. It would be the same length. It would be performed live and played on the radio. Like every other song. The only difference was that four minutes 33 would be a piece of uninterrupted silence. Some people saw this as an absurd joke. A do Campion stand up of what constitutes Music. In one sense, it was Cage thought it would be funny to sell the song in quotation marks, to muzak code to be played in elevators.

But it was also inspired by his lifelong study of zen philosophy, a philosophy that finds fullness in emptiness. The performance instructions for the song are themselves a beautiful contradiction in a situation provided with maximum amplification, performer disciplined action. In fact, four minutes 33 was never about achieving perfect silence. It's about what happens when you stop contributing to the noise. The song was first performed at Woodstock, new york by the pianist, David Tudor. There's no such thing as silence. Cage said of that first performance. What they thought was silent because they didn't know how to listen was full of accidental sounds. You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second raindrops began pattering the roof. And during the 3rd the people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out. We were given two ears and only one mouth. For a reason. The philosopher Zeno observed what you'll notice when you stop to listen can make all the difference in the world. Too much of our lives is defined by noise. Headphones, go in noise canceling headphones so that we can better hear noise screens on phones ringing.

The quiet metal womb of a Jumbo jet traveling at 600 mph is filled with nothing but people trying to avoid silence. They'd rather watch the same bad movies again and again or listen to some insane interview with annoying celebrity than stop and absorb what's happening around them. They'd rather close their mind than sit there and have to use it. Thought will not work except in silence thomas, Carlyle said. If we want to think better, we need to seize these moments of quiet. If we want more revelations, more insights or breakthroughs or new big ideas, we have to create more room for them. We have to step away from the comfort of noisy distractions and stimulations. We have to start listening in downtown Helsinki. There is a small building called the campy chapel. It's not a place of worship, strictly speaking, but it's as quiet as any cathedral quieter in fact, because there are no echoes, no organs, no enormous creaking doors. It is in fact a church of silence. It's open to anyone and everyone who is interested in a moment of quiet spirituality in a busy city you walk in there and there's just silence, glorious sacred silence.

The kind of silence that lets you really start hearing Randall stuntman who for decades has been the behind the scenes advisor from many of the biggest ceos and leaders on Wall Street once studied how several 100 senior executives and major corporations recharged in their downtime. The answers were things like sailing, long distance, cycling, listening quietly to classical music, scuba diving, riding motorcycles and fly fishing. All these activities he noticed had one thing in common and absence of voices. These were people with busy collaborative professions, People who made countless high stakes decisions in the course of a day, but a couple of hours without chatter without other people in their ear where they could simply think or not think they could recharge and find peace. They could be still, even if they were moving, they could finally here, even if over the sounds of a roaring river or the music of Vivaldi, each of us needs to cultivate those moments in our lives where we limit our imports and turn down the volumes that we can access a deeper awareness of what's going on around us in shutting up.

Even if for only a short period we can finally hear what the world has been trying to tell us or what we've been trying to tell ourselves. That quiet is so rare is a sign of its value sees it. We can't be afraid of silence as it has much to teach us seek it. The ticking of the hands of your watch is telling you how time is passing away never to return. Listen to it. Alright. And that brings us towards the tail end of this episode. Um I create stillness in my life. I cultivate that silence every morning. I do some mindfulness. Um some meditation, do some breath work. Um And I'll also do that even when I'm riding my motorbike, I'll try and create that stillness. Get into a flow state. I love scuba diving for the same reasons because it does kind of quiet the mind and put me in the moment. Um I'm not really big for New Year's resolutions. It's New Year's in a couple of days time or this week. So what I'd recommend doing is instead of setting um you know, a big audacious goal of I'm going to train every day for the next six months or every day this year or I'm going to stop eating shit.

I'm going to blah blah blah blah. Okay, what I'd recommend people doing if you are going to set a New Year's resolution simply find some space to create silence. Whether that's one minute, two minutes, three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, whatever it is, Okay, I've been using meditation um for a number of years. I've spoken about it numerous times on this podcast about how my team was ambushed in Afghanistan and I had to use some breath work to allow me to get to sleep at night. Okay, so that was like 10 years ago, 11 years ago. Um and you know, I found the benefit in that in Afghanistan never got taught any of those tools any of those skills. However, just simply focusing on my breath, allowed me to control and focus only on the things that within my control rather than things that were outside of my control. Um and that breath work. That meditation, that mindfulness um has had a massive impact in my life. So if you can cultivate um some time and some space to create silence and stillness in your life, that's going to allow you to then separate the signal from the noise because we live in this fucking noisy world where we're constantly looking for distractions.

And if you condition yourself to look for distractions, you're constantly going to find them. So if you want to remove the noise, then you need to create that stillness so that you can stop conditioning yourself to distractions and start conditioning yourself to finding that stillness and that's it for me today guys, hopefully enjoyed this episode and got some benefit from it. Um, I hope you had an amazing christmas and an awesome New Year's coming up. Any five star ratings and reviews are much appreciated. If you've got some benefit from this episode, please pass it off to friends and family and if you share it on your social media stories, make sure you tag me so that I can tag that and re share as well. Thanks guys, much, love peace.

Separate the signal from the noise
Separate the signal from the noise
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