Silencing the Background Noise of Life


There are only really three things you do in any given day:

  1. Things you enjoy
  2. Things that improve your life
  3. Everything else

My guess is, like most people, the majority of your time is spent on the third, “everything else” category. But should it be?

Fun, Growth and the Background Noise in Life

The main two reasons I see for doing anything are either the activity is intrinsically enjoyable or fulfilling, or the activity leads to some improvement in my life or the world which will eventually make my life more enjoyable or fulfilling.

Of course, I’m ignoring selfless acts of altruism, but I’d say normally when we help someone else out, the activity makes us either feel fulfilled or the activity fosters some sort of self-improvement. I rarely see anyone deliberately making a selfless time investment if they feel no added fulfillment or growth as a result.

The question is: why, then, do people spend so much time on everything else?

One reason is that they have to. I have to clean regularly, or I’ll end up living in my own filth. That doesn’t mean I necessarily enjoy cleaning. Ditto for vacuuming providing a massive wave of self-improvement.

Another reason is that they’re committed to doing them. A few years ago I ran a Toastmasters club, which I had to sustain even after I stopped enjoying the meetings or noticing improvement in my life.

These things form the background noise in life; all the activity that needs to be done, which provides neither enjoyment nor any eventual escape. It’s my belief that truly successful people understand how to silence as much of this noise as possible.

Silencing the Noise

The ideal life would have as little background noise as possible. Every task would be thoroughly enjoyed, it would productively contribute to a better future, or both.

Perfection’s impossible, and I’m guessing most of the readers here are still somewhere along the road to complete silence. But that doesn’t mean figuring out where the background noise is coming from and silencing as much as possible wouldn’t have positive side effects.

You could:

  • Learn to enjoy. Learning to cook can turn it from a necessity to a source of enjoyment, for example.
  • Unsubscribe from ongoing commitments.
  • Outsource.
  • Replace with a more enjoyable task (or a more productive one).
  • Automate the process.
  • Tweak the activity to make it more engaging.

Living in Noise is Often a Choice

Ultimately, a lot of the background noise in life has nothing to do with tasks you’re committed to or must complete to sustain your existence. Instead they’re ways to create busyness.

We invent rules, obligations and commitments because it’s easier than actually committing to what we care about most. Generating noise because the silence is uncomfortable.

Image by jfpickard

  • Jason

    A major problem for me at the moment is having too many interests. I often try to be a jack-of-all-trades and end up being overwhelmed. My plan is to develop this silence through simplicity and focusing only on a couple of things I’m REALLY interested in. But MAN it’s hard!! I want to learn to skydive, play my guitar, write books, travel, do university, find some time to exercise, etc…. it’s going to be the death of me!

  • Adam Sicinski

    You’re absolutely right Scott. For a long time I was literally scattered in my thinking and actions. I was distracted with everything but what was most important. The main reason for this was that I allowed myself to be influenced by other people, by their behaviors, actions and motivations. It wasn’t until I started to pay attention to my own wants and desires that things began to take shape — I found my own passion and purpose, which I am living today.

    At times even today, it’s easy to get distracted and lose focus. During moments like this I have to remind myself of the bigger picture and the journey I have began. Only then do I begin to ground myself in what’s most important.

  • Jonah Cerulean

    Come to think of it, this is really similar to Cal Newport’s philosophy of “Do Less” and “Do Them Better” which for a college student is really great advice. But It’s just that you can never be sure what commitments will work towards your favor until you try them out.

  • Wendy Irene

    I agree. Less is more, especially noise! Have a good day 🙂

  • Marcus Sheridan, The Sales Lio

    Great topic Scott. Learning to say ‘no'(at the right times) is one of the greatest keys to life in our quest for balance and spiritual living. Thanks for the thoughts…

  • Scott Young


    You can often experiment without commitment.


  • Stanley Lee

    Experimentation w/ commitment could get you into a dangerous situation of riding a hamster wheel, not being able to escape a prolonged rut.

  • Lisa

    I remember having real passion in one thing… but I was always cautious… so I din follow that path.
    “because it’s easier than actually committing to what we care about most”.
    I realize that it was a natural tendency and fear (now i know!) “what if I fail? this is all I’ve got”..that’s how I ended up doing everything else. because of fear! fear!

  • Travis

    I think one of the keys is to evaluate a new commitment before it’s officially taking up space in your life. I always ask, “Will this new commitment still allow me to achieve my top goals?”
    Very often, the answer is no, the activity would make things unnecessarily complicated. So “no” is my answer.

    I’ve been overloaded enough times in life to become very mindful about what I allow to sneak into that “background noise.”

    Good post.

  • Preeti @ Heart and Mind


    When we spend most of they doing things that are false important and false urgent (like many deadline), we feel un-fulfilled and bored, there is catch 22 happens to relieve that stress, we spend time doing brain dead work such as watching TV, or flipping channels, or mindless internet to sooth the boredom. It is a vicious cycle.

    When we do things that are important in our own life and values, we eat right, we exercise and do things better for us and others.

  • Thomas

    I’ve taken to taking long morning walks not too long ago, and recently I’ve been thinking about this very topic.

    We spend all our time chasing money and success, but what use is it if all we do with our time is chase money and success? There’s no end-game to success, or to money. Not ever.

    Life is more than that, and spending every waking moment doing instead of enjoying is a quick way to pass time before landing in a grave, but it’s hardly what I would call a life.

    Cut out the noise indeed. There is entirely too much of it.

  • Alex |

    This post rings very true.

    In an age where we are encouraged to multi-task at super-human levels, we usually end up spending little time on many tasks, watering down our results.

    Spending more time on fewer things has worked wonders in my experience.

    Alex Work

  • Thank-you for this article. I also feel much of daily life is pointless noise. I’ll be applying these 3 questions to decipher the important from the mayhem. Fabulous blog also.

  • Meditations and Mangoes

    Thank-you for this article. I also feel much of daily life is pointless noise. I’ll be applying these 3 questions to decipher the important from the mayhem. Fabulous blog also.