Unplug your headphones and hear yourself think

Unplug your headphones (and hear yourself think)

When I need to run an errand, I collect a couple of things to throw into my purse. My wallet. Keys. The lipstick I just applied (and might want to reapply later on). Phone. And my headphones. Because it’s nice to listen to a bit of music while you’re walking around, right? I had a conversation which made me think of a reason to unplug your headphones once in a while. I tested it, and discovered a couple of great benefits, which I’d like to share with you.


About six months ago I was talking to a friend of mine. He and his wife came to visit – a belated housewarming – as we moved from the city to the countryside a while prior. I spoke enthusiastically about being away from the hustle and the bustle of the city, and the advantages of living close to the woods. Proudly I exclaimed how I had picked up hiking, and that I had undertaken my first 22 kilometer trek that summer.

“I got myself a good pair of walking shoes, I put on Runkeeper and I just go for it. Sure it takes a bite out of your day, but as a freelancer that is easily compensated.” He nodded approvingly, as he too works from home. I continued with fervor: “And to make use of your time, you can always put on an audio book, you know, when you’re not listening to some music to keep the pace up!”

He nodded once again, but not with the same approval as before.

“Or you could just walk in silence”.

His remark wasn’t as snarky as it might sound now; it was simply a statement. One that got me thinking. He smiled encouragingly (or maybe I just imagined that bit) and we were both pulled into the conversation of our company. But I took that comment, and put it on the back-burner of my mind.

“Or you could just walk in silence.”


Unplug your headphones?

Modern technology allows us to be online, stay up to date, work and multitask where ever we go. And with the rise of society’s smartphone usage it’s been criticized numerous times. There are countless articles about the strain of always being connected, not to mention the impact social media has on us. Once you realize mechanically refreshing your facebook timeline won’t bring you any joy, it’s easier to keep your phone in your pocket.

But let’s take one of my hikes as an example. I actually take one of those to deliberately get away from my work and e-mails. I don’t check my timelines while I’m chugging down a bottle of water (you know, when I manage to remind myself), and the one or two pictures I might take only get uploaded to my instagram later that evening.

Yet I felt compelled to “do something useful” with my time. I felt the five hours I spent walking could be used more effectively by listening to audio books. Because those hours were long, and although enjoyable, they felt pretty unfruitful compared to the rest of my day. If I wasn’t able to work, I felt I should at least spend some of that time to learn a thing or two! And walking a long distance like that without music… It sounded near impossible – if not boring.

In practice, I feel similarly about leaving my music home when I have to run an errand. Pick up a couple of things from the store. Use the train or other public transportation. And I bet a lot of people do too.


The advantages of hearing yourself think

But after that conversation with my friend, I decided to give it a try. And who would have guessed: It was bliss. I felt I could finally hear  my thoughts, rather than have them muted by music or letting them be replaced by new material.

I also noticed It also helped me get familiar with my surroundings. During my hikes I started to notice more and more animals around me (because naturally your headphones drown out every noise, from busy woodpeckers to the rustling of leaves when a field mouse runs in hiding). But also during my visits to town I realized I was picking up more interesting, inspiring snippets that I previously missed out on. Even during solitary lunches in restaurants and cafés, I began to pick up the most interesting tatters of conversation*.

* Only yesterday I heard an elderly woman muse to her friend that her daughter was having a wild time in Amsterdam, with “that young man painting her nails”, followed by a dreamy sigh. I couldn’t help but smile as these women sounded so old-fashioned and naive to me – like they felt this girl was living in a cheeky romance novel. You can’t dream this shit up.  

Only when you allow your thoughts to roam free, you’re able to put them into order. Rather than tucking them away to deal with at a later moment, you’re able to investigate them more closely. Decide how you feel about particular topics that occupy your mind, and deal with them accordingly. I soon started to realize hiking was a perfect time to do exactly that. But you can easily take time to arrange your thoughts during your daily commute, or even in line at the grocery store.

Does that mean I keep my headphones at home from now on? Certainly not! I love supporting a dreary day with a bit of up-beat music. And during a rather long but boring bike-ride, I listened to the rest of my Miracle Morning audio book without regrets. But I do very deliberately make a choice to use them, rather than plugging my headphones in as soon as I leave the door. Because I feel that the time where you usually walk outside with your headphones on, is the perfect moment to spend a little time with your thoughts.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Julie Rybarczyk March 26, 2018 at 15:18

    Great thoughts, Nathalie! I will continue to hold that phrase in mind as well: “Or you could just walk in silence.” I love where you went with it. xo

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