I am juggling a number of projects at the moment, and it takes me forever to fall asleep at night. This has been going on for a couple of months now. My mind seems to fly in a thousand different directions at once. I suddenly remember emails that I have to send, or notes that I need to make ahead of a meeting the next day. My bedtime reading ritual has been replaced by scrolling my phone screen to check my emails one last time before I snooze.
No matter how much I try, I am unable to switch off the noise in my head. There is always something that pops up in my mind that I need to check before I sleep. Last week as I dashed to the emergency room, after suffering a severe lower back muscle spasm, and found myself checking my email as I waited for the doctor, I asked myself: “How did I end up here?” And then I realised, that something had changed. My phone had become the last thing I checked before I went to sleep, and the first thing I grabbed when I opened my eyes in the morning. In some instances, I was reaching for it when my eyes were still shut.
The fact that Skype was always turned on - in addition to my social media channels - and all six of my email addresses were logged in on my phone, played a huge part in encouraging me to constantly check them. On top of that, I carried two portable chargers, a notebook, and was always on the phone with a vendor, a client, or my team. Plus I always had some background music on when I was working, and the radio turned on in my car.
The doctor told me to stop working at a desk and stop exercising for a week until my lower back healed. Since then, I have not been driving my car, going to CrossFit to work out or even meeting up with my friends. I also do not like working from my bed, so the level of work that I engage in significantly reduced. And suddenly life became very quiet, and I realised how much I missed that, and missed hearing my own voice.
If you stop for a second, you will notice the amount of noise we consume on a daily basis is incredible. More than half of what pops up on our Twitter feed is irrelevant, and Instagram’s popular feed is not so different either.
To reduce the amount of noise in our lives, whether sounds or mental clutter, takes determination. Learning to prioritise the different types of noise and eliminating anything that is not beneficial is a step in the right direction.
I have started with my Twitter and Instagram accounts, and now only follow accounts that are relevant to me. The same applies to the blogs and news websites I follow. Instead of checking them throughout the day, I dedicate some time for them in the morning.
It is hard to detach completely and disciplining oneself is probably one of the hardest things to do, but I have taken small steps in the right direction. For instance, my phone does not accompany me to the dining table, and when I am out with friends, it stays in my handbag. I try to not turn on the radio in the morning especially during early drives, and I allow my mind to relax and be present in the moment. As a result, I am calm and my mind is able to think more creatively.
As we run our businesses and go about our daily routine, we can easily get distracted by other influences - something that could deter us from thinking creatively and hearing our own thoughts. Switching off the noise every once in a while is not only good for our health, but our businesses too.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer who manages her branding and marketing consultancy in Abu Dhabi. Twitter: @manar_alhinai