By John Langhorne / Guest Column
In a meeting discussing the effects of the digital age on communications, a friend and colleague stated, “reflection is the process that allows us to convert information into knowledge.” This wise comment markedly altered the tone of the conversation.
The following Sunday, the New York Times had a provocative article on the front cover of the Review section titled “The End of Reflection” (http://nyti.ms/28KCcJl). In the article the author noted that in his day there used to be many moments “occupied by thinking and observing my surroundings.” These have disappeared and have been replaced by the immediate availability of vast amounts of information and entertainment.
He mentions the only place these quiet moments are possible for him is in the shower, and he introduces the idea of “mentally sequestered rumination” or contemplative thinking or reflection. He wonders if such a process is disappearing under the immediacy of information technology.
As a psychologist, I believe that reading is one of the behaviors that helps us learn how to think. I have also observed that those who read widely and often, write well. People can say just about anything, and they do, but writing requires a much more rigorous level of thinking. When you read a document that has been thoughtfully written, you are looking into the person’s mind.
This article is an example. From the time of the idea to the submission to the editor usually is about 10 or more days. During that time, I work on the article every day. The end product is much better than the first draft. This is an example of iteration and is how most of us learn to improve our performance. The essence of iteration is try it, use it, analyze it and fix it, repeat until satisfactory. Clearly this is not a fast process. Thus the heavy use of technology for communication degrades the opportunity for iteration. Incidentally iteration is a slightly sophisticated way of describing learning by doing.
In general, communication and the thinking that produces effective solutions, observations or actions can profit from a period of quiescence. Over the years I have advised many clients to “sleep on it.” After doing so, most report that the issues were clearer and the results better.
Neuropsychological research has shown that we have an active stage of sleep where some very important active processing is ongoing. The latest hypothesis is the brain is clearing out all the noise is has received thought the day. People deprived of such REM sleep tend to function less well the next day. A good night’s sleep with several cycles of dreaming is always valuable to our performance.
There seems to be a powerful relationship between writing, reflection and deep thinking. My own experience suggests the presence of a thoughtful, well-written document seems to fuel reflection and causes me to dig deeper cognitively thus producing a more insightful result. There is also evidence that most of us can benefit from some private time to ourselves. Check out the behavior of parents with very young children.
Susan Cain, in her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” suggests we have misinterpreted and downgraded the value of introversion. She further suggests that many of the great thinkers of the world were people who enjoyed the solitary nature of reflection. For an interesting TED video go to http://bit.ly/1hZBYjs.
My intent with this confluence of ideas is to make you aware of changes in your behavior patterns driven by the increased speed of interactions. I suggest a strategy to counteract these effects: spending more time in your head.
John Langhorne is owner and principal of Langhorne Associates, www.langhorneassociates.com. His most recent book, “Beyond IQ: Practical Steps to Find the Best You,” is available digitally at Amazon.