Getting in tune with your sense of hearing
Throughout my life, I have found more inspiration and motivation through sound over any other external stimulation. Growing up, I was greatly influenced by my mother’s impaired hearing ability and often pondered what it would be like to live in a world without sound.
When I learned other senses are often heightened when one is diminished or lost, I considered what sense I could willingly surrender (you know, to save the world or, at least, my 3rd-grade teacher from certain doom with my newly acquired super-senses). I was completely overwhelmed by the thought of never again hearing. I became increasingly fixated on noticing sounds and filtering them in productive ways.
Needless to say, I’ve refined this skill as a parent and am something of an auditory ninja, nowadays. 😉
My appreciation for my sense of hearing lead me down a number of paths during my early years when fielding career possibilities. I combined my passion for music and theatre with American Sign Language to choreograph and instruct sign-drama performances for deaf children. Then I studied music therapy and applied my skills in clinical settings to help senior adults with dementia recover precious memories and motor skills through music.
I have continued to use my obsession with my sense of hearing to inspire my best work — from motivation to see a project through to inspiration for exploring new creative content ideas. Here are a few ways I turn to sound to find balance and stay inspired through my workday:
Tune into the right playlist to channel the right energy
I feel more motivated to sail through my task list when music is playing. That’s why I’ve created a number of playlists that inspire me and balance the dissonance in my day. Whether those distractions come from the actual cacophony outside my home office or the scattered thoughts pounding through my head, music helps me channel my energy more effectively.
There are times when my anxiety levels are higher than usual. On those days, it’s crucial I start out with lyrical melodies and soft acoustic instrumentation. I turn to a playlist consisting of music from artists like Iron and Wine, The Decemberists, Mandolin Orange, and Margot and the Nuclear So-Sos when I need to bring my energy down to focus on what is important.
Some days, I just need a good driving-tempo to energize me. Those are the days I dial into my playlist with artists such as The Black Keys and The White Stripes, or The Strumbellas, Hoots and Hellmouth, and Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats. I turn the volume up and find a dancy rhythm to pace my tasks.
Still, other days, I just need a touch of nostalgia to get my creative juices flowing. That’s when I tune into the music of my youth — some good old 90s alternative rock. Or, I kick back a few decades to the golden oldies of the 1950s and 60s and reminisce about cruising and grooving in my daddy’s vintage, midnight-blue Monte Carlo.
There are times when listening to music I know well enough to sing along to distracts me and other times when listening to ‘new’ music gets me too amped up to focus. Some days my typical ‘Work Jams’ playlist doesn’t sit quite right with my mood, so I create another list. It’s worth the extra time to determine what sound is going to inspire me to be most productive.
The great thing is, it’s easy to make a custom playlist to turn to for any occasion. Amazon, Spotify, and even YouTube offer countless suggestions for playlists that cater to every mood. It’s just important you identify how instrumentation, tempo, and the tenor of an artist’s voice affects your emotions.
Embrace the sound of silence
As much as music helps me order my day, there are times when the elusive sound of silence grounds me and declutters my mind so I can productively tap into my creative center.
I remember the first time I experienced true silence. I was deep underground, spelunking in Lancaster County, PA. Sitting in the belly of the cave, I felt the intense impression of the absence of whirling and buzzing and horns and vibrations — even the tweets and clicks and drips and chirps of nature — just pure, organic, virgin silence.
It’s a feeling I’ll never forget. And it’s one I search for when I can turn sound off for a few moments and just focus on the space between my breaths and heartbeats. It’s following these moments I get in touch with some of my deepest thoughts and creative inspiration.
Organic silence is one of the rarest forms of sound therapy. Just turning the volume of your day down can be enough to reset your response to external stimuli. In fact, silence is often used in occupational therapy to treat hyper-responsivity to extraneous sound. The reaction time for people with a typical response to sound stimulation is quick (and generally safe*). Just minutes of silence can help you refocus. *Some people find returning to normal levels of auditory stimulation following a period is therapeutic silence overwhelming.
Silent meditation is a form of meditation therapy that requires some practice. While most people have to learn to silence their inner-subconscious thoughts over time, there are benefits to just ‘turning down’ your day. Simply find a quiet space in your home or office to sit or lay down comfortably. Earplugs or sound-canceling headphones will enhance your experience. If you don’t have access to (or can’t wear) these accessories, silencing your cell phone and turning off any devices and appliances that could interrupt your focus will help.
Once you’ve created your sense of silence, you just have to close your eyes and direct your thoughts to nothing but your breathing. Each time you begin to wander in your mind, bring your attention back to your breaths until your meditation session has ended. Start with just 5 minutes a day whenever you feel you need to reset and see how it works for you!
Take inspiration from what you hear by ‘listening’
While hearing is a sense you can tap into to find creative inspiration, listening is the skill that will bring that sense to life. Practice careful listening to pick up on clues of what matters to the people around you. Don’t assume that every great idea has to come from an issue that directly relates to relevant topics in your market or industry. The most effective way to reach your readers is to speak to the issues they’re most passionate about.
Inspiration is whispering all around you. Your target audience…the potential clients of your clients…whoever you’re writing to — they are the parent at the bus stop, the casual acquaintance on Facebook, the thought-leader you follow on LinkedIn, the receptionist in your doctor’s office. The real people you encounter every day share their stories. You just need to listen.
For example, I notice when my friend shares a meme about her struggle to find a balance between breastfeeding and basic survival. I find inspiration. I pay attention when my children ask questions I never thought to ask and I look for a lesson in their curiosity and wonder. I find inspiration. I observe the bus driver as he calls each passenger by name and the way he comments on the weather as though it’s not just a thing people say. I find inspiration.
Long ago, I carried around a pad and pencil to jot down notes about the things I heard people say day-to-day. I accumulated countless quotes that found their way into poetry, songs, and short stories. Others inspired me to research how the world-at-large felt about or solved various problems, pushing me to learn facts and skills outside my typical areas of interest. While I now keep most of these notes on my phone, I still have a notepad and pen on my desk where I scribble titles of songs or lyrics I hear, comments from calls that make me feel more personally connected to a client, and silly or insightful quotes from my kids.
The point is, there is inspiration all around you. You just have to find it in the beats and in the space between, in the sound of laughter and the quiet conversations, and in the way someone says your name. Just listen.