Silencing Mental Noise

by Amy Steinberg Published Jun 26, 2018 Last updated Jun 26, 2018

Mental noise – also called inner monologue – is a term used to describe the incessant chattering we hear all of the time in our brains, from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep (sometimes it can even prevent sleep!).

In today’s society, finding a quietness is difficult. There are even psychological reviews that discuss the effects of outside noise and whole body vibrations on things like cognition and performance, suggesting that the lack of silence can be counterproductive.

With the exception of those times when you have a song stuck in your head, this brain busyness is almost entirely made up of things that have already happened or things that have not happened yet.

What Is Mental Noise?

Experts in sports medicine say mental noise can be identified by:

  1. Repetitive thoughts like a tape that keeps playing the same tune.
  2. Reliving negative past situations or fears.
  3. Dwelling on the past or fearing the future.
  4. A compulsive inner monologue that disturbs peace and makes the mind busy.
  5. Never being present – Always thinking on something else, instead of what we are doing now.
  6. Constant analysis of our and other people’s situations, reactions and behavior.
  7. Almost all involuntary thinking and daydreaming are some sort of mental noise. This is often a constant background noise, which often intrudes into the foreground in the middle of everything we do.

Often, we allow ourselves to feel too much pressure by being critical or self-analyzing things we have done, not done, or plan to do. This creates an air of tension and is often associated with our busy chattering brains.

In the midst of all of this noise, it can be quite difficult to find a quiet place inside – an internal sanctuary – where we can just be with ourselves in a calm, nurturing and far more productive way.

First, though, we must become comfortable with silence.

What is Silence?

Experts suggest today our society has learned to be uncomfortable with silence due to a lifetime of stimulation from social media to television to smartphones. A sentiment that is echoed by Acoustic Ecologist, Gordon Hempton who says real quiet is a presence — not an absence of sound, but an absence of noise and that silence has become essential to a quality life.

Likewise, Indian Jesuit priest, Father Anthony de Mello has been quoted as saying, “Silence is not the absence of sound, but the absence of self.”

No matter what your philosophical views may be, certainly it is difficult to stay focused on the present when your mind is busy carrying your thoughts in dozens of other directions at any given time.

How to Equalize Your Busy Mind

If you want to know what a quiet mind feels like, here’s a little exercise shared in the book The Power of Now by author Eckhart Tolle. Ask yourself, “What is the next thought that will come to my mind?” For just a brief moment, your mind will be still and quiet. It is a compelling exercise that provides a real-time example of how it feels to have that chatter shut off.

There are other tips that can help you to stay present in the moment and avoid your attention being pulled in too many different directions.

Let Go

As mentioned, usually this internal monologue is one that focuses on what has happened, what hasn’t happened, or what could have happened. Things that have happened, are done. The results are in and there’s nothing you can do to change them. Let that go.

Things that have not yet happened, either will or won’t happen but you really can’t know until the time comes. It may seem cliche’ but go with the flow. We create undue stress by hoping something will happen or hoping something won’t happen. This actually trains the amygdala in our brain to be on constant alert!

Fortunately, this goes both ways and by changing your focus – by stopping the constant high-alertness we always seem to have – our brains literally transform, and we begin to stop worrying so much.

Laugh A Little

We have all heard that laughter is the best medicine but psychologists actually explain that laughing has numerous mental and physical health benefits and, among them, is the absence of the constant noise in our heads.

It’s difficult to worry and fret when you’re sharing a little chuckle or full-out laughing at something that tickled your funny bone. Try sharpening your sense of humor and attempt to view things in a more optimistic way.

Practice Breathing

Breathing is an almost magical way to silence the mind and you don’t have to be a Buddhist monk or exalted guru to practice it. Mindful breathing is a technique used to quiet the mind and become more centered and grounded in the present moment.

This is largely because your mind is pinpoint focused on one thing: your breath. UC Berkley’s Greater Good in Action program advocates mindful breathing and Northwestern Medicine scientists have discovered a direct link between breathing and cognitive function.

One specific breathing exercise that is quite effective is to breathe in for a count of four; hold for a count of four; exhale through the mouth for a count of four.

This exercise takes only a few moments and results in a calming of the mind.

When we have an incessant voice in our heads – which we all do – it helps to have the ability to quiet the mind. In the spaces of solitude, silence, and quiet where we are unable to hear the negative voice inside our minds, we are able to find inspiration, presence, and productivity.

Practicing the art of quieting the mind is not something that is hard to do. Remember when you are busy worrying about the past or the future, you are sabotaging any efforts for finding new possibilities. Free your mind at least once a day and allow yourself the quiet peace we all need.