“The signal is the truth. The noise is what distracts us from the truth.” - Nate Silver
There is a measure of sound quality in audio systems called the signal-to-noise ratio. It is a measure of wanted vs. unwanted sound output. The ratio is key because you cannot just turn up the “signal” with the volume dial. The signal and noise are paired together, married, making the ratio a true measure of an audio system’s quality.
Come to think of it, signal-to-noise ratio is also a great measure of Life quality.
As Henry David Thoreau wisely said, “Amid a world of noisy, shallow actors it is noble to stand aside and say, 'I will simply be.” But it is not so simple. There is the distraction of our hustling and busy world or the information overload from our phones. There is the static of our past, our family values or the low hum of the culture around us. This din can muffle the signal that matters, like our authenticity, that longs to cut through the crap and be heard.
We’re not just victims of noise, however, we sometimes add to the racket with our muddled thoughts or behaviors.
One great example is the intellectualizing we do around our dreams and goals. We love to make talkative noise when we really need to STFU and just DO. We like to talk things through, run scenarios, have coffee and chat about them, make mind maps, get a life coach...when what we really need to do is ACT. Actions will always speak louder than words. Action is the perfect metaphorical match to signal.
Another way we make our own noise pollution is by prioritizing the unessential. What matters most to us, on a deeper, internal and authentic level (the signal), gets drowned out by the noise of the stuff, the busyness, the unneeded commitments -- all things we allow to distract when we need to let them go.
Then there’s the noise of choosing an immediately gratifying behavior over one that pays off long term. Fake urgency surrounds us and breeds anxiety. How can you write a book when you have to do the laundry; how can you work out when you have to make dinner for your family? It’s more satisfying to address the noise and cross things off a list.
We must never forget that we can tune into our truth. There is no better time to find your signal than the present. After all, our lives last an average of 4056 weeks and if you’re reading this, yours is probably already a ¼ over. That’s the real urgency.
So, here are a few ways to actively listen and discern your signal:
Quiet your mind - There’s much external chaos in life that you cannot control. What you can control is your perception of it, so make space for silent contemplation and focus.
Listen with Openness - We often hear and see a limited range of what is and what can be. We come to experiences with a set view and close ourselves off to really hearing what is being presented to us -- by other people, the universe or ourselves. Leave the channel wide open and seek understanding.
Filter - If you openly take it in, you must also work to filter what matters. As you seek to understand all that comes in, sit with stillness and listen. Work to discern what need to tune into. What is the signal coming through, or trying to come through, in your life? Only you can know. Only you can hear it.
If you use mindfulness and wisdom to hear what matters, your can discern the signal daily. Let it cut through the crap and the noise.