Better Living Through Shutting Up
I have always talked a lot. Too much if you ask anyone who has ever known me or waited on my table or served me drinks or taken my blood pressure or scanned my groceries or sat next to me on a plane. I even “won” an “award” for my loquaciousness — voted “Most Talkative” by my senior class of over 600 students back in 1987. I was actually proud of that superlative at the time. It gave me something to talk about through summer and four years of college.
If I had a dime for every time somebody has told me to slow down, take a breath, chill out or shut up while I was talking, I’d have enough money to pay somebody an excellent salary to act interested while listening to me chatter on.
Ironically, I’ve always admired the strong, silent type. Growing up I idolized such quiet men of action as Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, and Caine from Kung Fu. While I continue to hold such men and others like them in high regard, I’ve never tried to emulate them. I never really saw the point. I’ve always felt that any attempt by me to restrain myself verbally would be an exercise in futility. Like trying to get a cricket to stop chirping.
But I recently was forced to ask myself (probably because nobody else was around) an important question: “How’s that working out for you?”
It’s not. Being overly verbose is starting to take its toll on me. I’m no longer okay with it being such a large part of my history and identity. Now that I’m in my early 40s, my talkativeness has, quite frankly, become exhausting. I’m just now starting to experience what anyone who has ever had to interact with me must have experienced immediately.
A lifetime of verbal diarrhea is causing dehydration of my soul. And since there’s no equivalent of Immodium or Kaopectate to treat my condition, I have decided to go naturopathic and simply force myself to shut the f-ck up.
I’m proud to announce I’m already making strides. I’ve started practicing yoga and, despite sucking at it, have been surprised to discover how much pleasure there is in being in a room full of people and not saying a word (other than “Namaste”) for over an hour.
I recently attended a dinner party at a friend’s house and vowed to myself beforehand that I would not make myself the center of attention, for a change. And I succeeded, at least to some extent. Several acquaintances did grow concerned over my lack of obnoxious outbursts and interruptions and asked if everything was okay, which got me on a roll.
I still have a looong way to go before anyone categorizes me as strong and silent, but I’m at least working on decreasing the chances of being instantly labeled as garrulous and insufferable. There certainly are many benefits and incentives driving my quest for quietude. I’ve already noticed that shutting up more frequently has enabled me to catch my breath, increase my circulation and decrease my anxiety. In addition, by not incessantly running off at the mouth or thinking about what to say next, I can actually absorb what’s being said by other people, many of whom I’ve found to be — now get this — even more interesting to me than I am. Who knew?
Now, don’t think I don’t realize the contradiction that is present here as I use an excessive amount of words to describe my foray into shutting up. I liken it to when children play The Quiet Game (“Let’s see who can be quite the longest — starting… now”). Almost immediately after the announcement that the game has commenced, there’s always at least one kid who feels compelled to interrupt the game in progress to express or explain something. They do so and then say, “Okay, starting… NOW,” and shut up again.
That’s me. I’m the kid who wants to play The Quiet Game but who keeps losing and resetting the timer to give himself another chance. I’ll get there. I’m not saying I’m attempting to achieve a year-long or month-long or even day-long vow of silence, but I’m confident I can become the kind of man who listens more than he speaks, breathes more than he blurts, and who, when he does choose to open his mouth, more often than not actually has something useful, insightful and thoughtful to impart.
Okay, starting… NOW.
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