This is an experiment I did a few months back.
For the last year or so I’ve been interested in reducing unnecessary stimulation and distractions. I’ve been curious to test out what I can and can’t go without. Which are the things that I authentically enjoy doing and which are the things that I think I enjoy (but really don’t) doing.
Everything that isn’t important can and will be scrapped to leave more time for that which actually does matter.
At the time of this experiment I believed music was one of those unimportant things, as I’d been listening to it almost daily for years and because many times I felt an urge to listen to some old nostalgic songs for no logical reason at all.
I believe that focus is one of the most important things in life. . .
. . .and by concerning oneself with a multitude of things every day leads to DISTRACTION and loss of focus. I believe it’s important to consciously choose what sort of stimulation I expose myself to (this is also why I think mainstream media and sports is a waste of time).
I decided to go a month without listening to music or engaging in any sort of multitasking, instead, I focused only on doing one thing at a time. One example of this was to eat without watching TV, sitting by the computer, reading, or using my cellphone.
The only times I listened to music was involuntarily when I was in the gym and when I was out to clubs. It couldn’t be avoided unless I’d walk around with earplugs, and that wasn’t going to happen. Earplugs are uncomfortable.
It’s the hardest in the beginning when you’re trying to change your behavior. You always face the most resistance during the beginning of an activity, before the brain has become accustomed to the new behavior. It took me about five days to get accustomed to study or read without the aid of any music.
At first it felt really difficult to focus without the music. The first 30 minutes were like torture because I could feel my mind constantly nagging. It was hard to sit still and focus, I wanted to move. What I really wanted was to reach a state of deep concentration and immersion, but my brain wasn’t cooperating. After about 30 minutes I’d reached a state of intense focus and no longer felt the urge for music.
When I was in the gym or exercising it was the exact same thing. But way stronger. I believe the reason as to why the urge for music and multitasking was stronger in the gym was because I’ve made music such a large part of my gym-ritual.
I came to think of how easy it is to be distracted and want to change the song when listening to my MP3 in the gym – and how it was no longer an option.
I’d have to accept the present situation and start to build my focus and intent from here, instead of jump-starting it by selecting a song that fit my current emotional state. Music is mood-dependent.
In the middle of the second week I noticed a lot of positive effects. I felt much more centered than before. I felt a deep sense of calm and that I was no longer as controlled by my addiction to external stimulation.
I started to really enjoy eating my food and doing nothing else. To listen or talk to someone else while eating seemed like a distraction that took away from my single-minded focus on eating.
(Ironically this later led me to eat huge meals that I ate slowly because I wanted to savor the experience to the fullest. For some reason, this attracted a lot of remarks from other people.)
I also noticed that my ability to focus and concentrate had improved. I no longer feared doing boring stuff to the same extent as before. My brain had lost some of its controlling influences over me.
This is when it started getting interesting.
Leading up from the second week into the first half of the third week I was feeling less bored and more internally driven. Which was exactly what I’d been hoping would happen before I began the experiment.
Then in the middle of the third week I began to get “withdrawal symptoms” similar to the ones I got in week one. I started feeling incredibly impatient while eating, working out, reading, writing, studying, or whatever I was doing. I wasn’t able to fully focus on the task at hand. I strongly wanted to listen to music as well. Maybe because it was forbidden.
I felt my introspective abilities had improved and I was more easily able to spot this impatient part of me whenever it started to react and wanted to be stimulated. I decided to ignore it every time.
After the third week I no longer felt any big ups or downs. It was a rather straightforward process from that point on and I continued the last days without facing any difficulties or strong urges to multitask or listen to music.
I could perceive a slight increase in my ability to be centered and content about the current situation and whatever task was at hand. My focus had been slightly improved, but not palpably. The deep sense of calmness as well as utter lack of boredom that I experienced for several days during week two peaked then and there. Those were the high points of the four weeks.
After the 30 days I listened to some music and it felt really powerful!
I found that after these 30 days I was completely unable to multitask. When I tried reading, writing, or studying while listening to music I was completely unable to concentrate fully.
I could either study well in silence, or I could enjoy listening to the song by itself. But not both at the same time.
This whole experience deepened my respect for the power that habits and addictions have over us, whether we know it or not. Usually we don’t.
Before starting this experiment I had a habit/addiction of listening to music while doing an activity. If I was without music I felt somewhat agitated and had some trouble concentrating optimally.
Now I don’t have that habit/addiction anymore, at least not to the same extent, and I can’t say I miss it.
I still believe that multitasking (sometimes including music) detracts from the experience that you get focusing fully on something and getting immersed in an activity.
The brain wants to be engaged and stimulated, but it falsely assumes that multitasking and engaging in more sources of stimulation will satisfy its “hunger”. . .
. . .but in truth it’s just the opposite. The only real deep stimulation comes from fully focusing on one or a few things at a time, rather than many different things.
My respect for the power of music has increased as well. Music is a powerful form of stimuli and should be treated as such. We ought to listen to it more sparingly and deliberately as opposed to listening to it of all the time and losing most of the positive effects.