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5 Neurological Reasons to Keep Your Mouth Shut

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Can you name the cultures that value quiet the most?

Clue: It’s not Western culture. In fact, it’s Asian and Nordic cultures that emphasize silence in all its forms…

Comfortable social and familiar silence, respectful listening silence, personal and restorative silence. All of the silences. 

Quiet time isn’t allotted for in many Westernized cultures. Partially, that’s because we’re really social –  New Zealand leads the way, followed by Australia, Canada, and the U.S. 

We’re chatty. But more than that, we’re not raised to be comfortable in interstitial silences, let alone intentional silences. 

The TV’s on. The radio’s on. We’re listening to music. We’re jawing from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep. (And actually, excessive talking can cause jaw pain and discomfort if you really can’t stop yourself.)

In Taoism, and many other Eastern and reflective religions and belief systems, silence is treasured. 

Consider this assertion made in the Daodejing: “One who knows does not speak; [and] one who speaks does not know.” In the same tome, the master “acts without doing anything/teaches without saying anything.”

We know that the brain doesn’t love noise. But it’s equally important to the brain that you spend less time talking and more time listening. 

There are at least five reasons why… but we’ll just look at five today.

The Brain Metabolizes New Knowledge

When you’re not talking, the brain is actually working pretty hard. In a state of “rest”, the brain can engage in self-reflection. This is as opposed to self-recognition, self-esteem, or formulating the concept of the self. 

Instead of trying to make decisions about who we are, we can simply organize the information we’ve accrued during our talking consciousness. 

By not talking, you allow your brain the uninhibited allocation of energy it needs to sort and process your thoughts and feelings. Your brain sends them to different areas of itself, stores them, and can use them much more easily later. 

You Won’t Say Anything You Fret About Later

Chattering constantly, it’s pretty easy to say things that you:

  1. Don’t mean…
  2. Haven’t fully thought through…
  3. Won’t feel reflect your true position after more thought.

In other ways, the less you say, the more you mean what you do say.

Thinking more and talking less is absolutely advisable. In this case, that’s because you free up the temporal lobe (and in the case of speaking to someone you’re not comfortable with, your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) which would be engaged while you were speaking.

In other words, not talking literally allows deeper thoughts to form.

Your Brain Creates New Brain Cells

According to a 2013 study, silence – including not speaking – for a minimum of two hours per day encouraged cell regeneration in the hippocampus.

This region of the brain is associated with memory, emotion, and learning. 

Degenerative brain disorders – meaning disorders in which neurons don’t regenerate as much as neurotypical brains – could be hugely improved by practicing not talking. 

More neurons are associated with greater neuroplasticity, stronger cognitive function, and an easier learning experience. 

You Spend More Time Developing Your Opinions

If you’re not talking, you should be listening.

We live in the information age. For the first time in human history, you can have a thought and share it with the world in the same instant. There’s no time for reflection, analysis, context awareness, reformulating, etc. 

When you think more before you speak, you engage more parts of your brain – thus, strengthening them.

You use memories, current events, trends, learned knowledge, empathy, and more. All of those functions come from different areas of the brain. 

Gratitude is Prioritized Over Wanting

What are you saying most of the time? While your mouth is moving, what is coming out? What is it that drives us to make our communication constant?

At the base of it… what most of our words share in common… 

Is want. We’re trying to verbalize desires. What we want for dinner, what we want to do next week, what we wish would’ve happened in this interaction, what we want you to do for us, what we want to watch on TV, what we want to do once we get to the gym and what we want the rest of our evening to look like…

Eliminating some of our talking forces us to live where we are. When we live there, we want less. Where we are turns out to be sufficient after all.

There’s a reason nuns, monks of all stripes, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, and all kinds of other spiritual people participate in voluntary acts of silence.

Give your tongue-wagging a break.

It’ll make your brain grow.

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