Subtlety of Silence

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week Two, Q1

Silence “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

Younger and dumber, I was on the phone, sitting on a bench and looking at my feet. There happened to be some recently chewed gum on the hot, gator concrete. Still wet, the bubbly saliva glistened in the Florida sun. Ants picked up on the sweet smell. An army of them crawled all over the discarded treat. Wow. Nature is super interesting. I spit on the ants.

“Are you listening?!?” interrupted my shrill phone.

“Wait? What? Of course I’m listening.” My back straightened, head tilted, eyes looking to the back of my brain for an answer. “I think your phone cut out. What’d you say?”

“I JUST said that ‘I feel like you never listen to me!’ ” yelled my now ex-girlfriend.

Haha. Well, sometimes that stuff happens. But it’s true. I wasn’t listening. I was checked out. And it wasn’t isolated to her. There were times I barely listened to anyone. During conversations my brain silently contemplated what I was going to say next. I was more important. My wisdom will blow people away. A superior intellectual experience.

It sounds terrible because it is.

When I saw that this week was entitled “silence” it didn’t do much for me. As the week went on, the act of being silent was harder than imagined. After all, we talk. We talk a lot. We’re social animals. But in my effort to be heard I was not giving those I care most about my honest attention. I didn’t listen. To listen, I had to be silent. To be silent, I had to constantly remind myself to shut-up.

There were times I wanted to cut off my wife mid-sentence. Say something sarcastic. A quick quip. Move on to something else. “What’s for dinner?” I mentally had to remind myself to stop and listen. Repeatedly whispering “silence” in my head. If I forgot she would gesture her fingers in the “shut your mouth” motion. It’s an effective reminder.

At dinner one night I intently focused on a good friend. Active listening required effort. The effort yielded surprising results. There was a gush of emotion. Words waiting, burst out. He opened up: anxieties about life, the difficulty of saving for his wedding, the lack of joy at his job. Gone was the traditional “How ‘bout them Yankees?”

How did it take me so long to realize the importance of listening? A common courtesy to be quiet and attentive to those closest to us. Our friends our families, our loved ones. The impact of this week was far more subtle than the physical impact of Week One but maybe more important. I’m almost ashamed to write this because it forced me to be honest about myself. I have to apologize to my loved ones for the courtesy I did not give you. But today is a new day. I promise to be quiet and listen.

Temperance

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week One, Q1

Temperanceeat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”

Wow. This week knocked my socks off. I couldn’t believe it. As stated in the Week 1 email, the goal was simple: purge alcohol, caffeine and junk food.

In the past I’ve focused on one item. If I gave up drinking for a week, the impact wasn’t as noticeable. The other 2 vices kept me happy (or should I say “stable?”). Take away all 3 and it was a punch to the stomach.

Almost immediately, I began to notice that in times of stress my gut reaction was to reach for one of the prohibited items. Kids are insane in the morning – “God, I need some coffee.” Kids insane at dinner – “I need a glass of red.” Bored during the day – “Give me the fattest, greasiest sandwich you have.” These thoughts, these mental obstacles, eventually gave way to physical hurdles.

I like a large coffee in the morning and maybe a small coffee mid-afternoon. I do not consider myself addicted. Within 2 to 3 days both my wife and I started experiencing headaches late afternoon. To the point we both needed aspirin.

At around 730-800pm each night we were both exhausted. I mean falling asleep on the couch with the kids climbing from the ceiling exhausted. It was like we were slipped Ambien.

Irritability shot up in the beginning. Little things were extremely annoying (I did not mentally prepare for this). Plus, I began experiencing significant body aches that revealed themselves during Jiu Jitsu. It felt as if I had injured my back through my rib cage.

A quick Google search reveals these are common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. I found it shocking that I would be suffering withdrawal symptoms from a small coffee habit.

Now for the upsides:

  • My sleep vastly improved. Despite having an evening routine that normally results in a solid night sleep, the lack of caffeine (and/or alcohol) caused us to be unconscious at night. In bed by 9/930. Morning alarm goes off 2 minutes later.
  • After the initial upshot in irritability, it went down significantly. Periods that normally caused increased irritation (mornings/witching hour) were calmer. Emotional highs and lows were smoothed out. My wife commented on how nice it was when she came home late from work. Everyone was calm.

We all know the science behind cutting alcohol, fats and caffeine but I was still so surprised by the physical response. Guess you have to feel it to believe it.

In the end, I’m not going to completely drop any of these vices – that would be a lie. Some of my happiest memories have been over a glass of wine and a fatty steak. But this experiment has hammered home the importance of Temperance. I’ll continue to substitute more tea for coffee and limit the intake of alcohol. It also reminded me to be mindful of my habits. If you’d like to learn more about habits, I’d recommend “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” as the place to start. My wife and I used this book to help change sleep patterns, daily routines and more.

Before we begin

First, before we begin, a few words about this blog.

Not too long ago I was laid off. Don’t worry, the feeling was mutual. It was time to go. I volunteered and someone else got to keep their job – that simple. But it began a more complex journey.

Stepping out the door, on the last day, I took a breath… and that breath was great. An instant warmth and smile. The proverbial weight lifted. And coincidentally, without any change to routine, weight disappeared. The waist line was excited too. Body and mind happier.

We, my family and I, took some time off. Burned through savings. Drank too many daiquiris on the beach. Happy weight made an appearance. Sun tanned and warm. Things were great… but I couldn’t shake the feeling it was temporary. Burning through everything and running to the Caribbean? Certainly that’s a great Jimmy Buffet song but not sure it makes for a productive life.

Happiness was easy in that moment. Moments, like youth, pass. Trying to capture that time felt like folly. So how to become a better person? Grounded. Strong. Happy. Steadfast.

Things weren’t clicking. Maybe if I got a more engaging job? I don’t know, maybe I’d feel better? I was searching, and picked up a book that would normally be ignored: “How I Raised Myself Up from Failure to Success in Selling.”

The book has some good points but the best part was the introduction of Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues – of which I had never heard. In the book, the author committed 1 year to follow Ben’s 13 virtues. Seemed easy enough. So I borrowed the idea.

It seems silly in retrospect, but I didn’t grasp what I was doing. Now it makes sense. It’s a commitment to re-build your life and base that new life on virtue. Friends who know me well may laugh. But chasing toys, money, jobs wrought nothing but anxiety, depression and separation. Why stay on that path?

This choice is another path. A choice to become more mindful. A commitment of one year, one week at a time, to build a better self and construct happiness within.

Introduction

Welcome. Thanks for stopping by.

This blog is the result of a Podcast I made with a close friend of mine. The aim is to complete a year long challenge where each week I’ll record my thoughts after focusing on one of Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues.  You can read more about the idea here.

The ultimate goal is to create a self enforcing habit that builds a life grounded in virtue. Personally, I’ve found that a life chasing fleeting pleasures has only resulted in drowning anxiety. You?

I’m sure there will be setbacks and failings. So please, keep me honest and I’ll do my best to meet your expectations. But be sure you participate! Take your own journey – mold your world and start to build a better life.

Look forward to building this world together,

Patrick