What happens when you give up headphones for a week?

When lawyer Michael Shammas experimented with not wearing headphones, he found himself reconnecting with his inner monologue.
(Shutterstock / Jaromir Chalabala)

Headphones are everywhere. Coffee shops, public transit, the gym — once-communal auditory environments are now filled with people in their own sound bubbles. We plug in our headphones to isolate ourselves from the outside world.

But, as we block out our external surroundings with music and podcasts, we're also drowning out the voice inside our head. 

Michael Shammas spent several years working in a corporate law firm, tethered to his phone, with headphones firmly planted in his ears. He said that prompted him to make a change.

"I wanted to kind of just give myself a break and just try to reset my entire brain: not listen to audiobooks, not listen to podcasts. Just go a week without headphones," he told Spark host Nora Young.

Shammas unplugged for a week, abandoning the comfort of his audio bubble, to see what he could learn from reconnecting with his inner monologue. 

"When I started not wearing headphones, the first challenge was: your inner monologue starts up again. And getting used to not having the thoughts from some podcaster or newscaster or author filling your head, but getting comfortable with your own thoughts.

That was very fulfilling, because I think sometimes we use technology to drive out thoughts that are probably telling us something about where we should go or what we should do. It almost helped me centre myself."

During his experiment, Shammas found that, by relying on technology to distract ourselves from the voice inside our heads, we may be losing the ability to control our thoughts. 

"Learning how to have an anxiety-provoking thought and then deal with it is important. If you think about what you're anxious about, then often you can find a way to take an action and do something about whatever is giving you anxiety. Whereas if you're listening to a podcast to obliterate the anxiety-provoking thought, you're not going to take any action to resolve anything."

I think sometimes we use technology to drive out thoughts that are probably telling us something about where we should go or what we should do.- Michael Shammas

For people who might also think they might be using their headphones to isolate themselves from their inner thoughts, Shammas offers up this advice: 

"If you haven't picked up a book for a while, like an actual physical book or a Kindle, just sit down and focus on one task.

Immerse yourself in the book and notice how that feels different from doing your laundry or cooking and listening to the book with your headphones on."


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