I’ve been reading some statistics online (yes, I’m a huge nerd), and according to various sources, the average American receives anywhere between 250 and 3,000 advertising messages each day. I agree with the author of the summary linked above that at the higher end of this estimate, whoever was counting the messages must’ve included everything from labels on products at the grocery store to the clothes worn by everyone we pass on the street.
Even if the estimates are a little extreme, however, think about all the messages we get every day from our environment, even beyond advertising. Maybe in the morning we’ll flip through a newspaper or magazine, full of advertisements and articles alike, often designed more to get our attention than to keep us informed. On our commute, we get radio news, content and commercials; and we pass by countless billboards, signs, and bumper stickers before we get where we’re going. There are even ads at the gas pump and in the fast food drive-thru.
On the job, many workers are bombarded by professional and non-professional e-mails: those directed to us personally, those sent to a company group, notes from friends, advertising e-mails from vendors, and posts to informational listservs. If we surf the web at lunch, we get even more advertisements and information – either from the sites we visit or the flashing ads along the header and the side panels. And according to the Internet Retailer, those of us with computers at home also spend an average of 10.5 hours a month surfing at home.
Of course, that’s when we’re not watching television. According to the Television Bureau of Advertising, in 2007 the average man in the US spent about 4.5 hours per day watching TV, while the average woman spent just over 5 hours per day. During that time, we’re bombarded with commercial messages; but even during the content portion, we’re flooded with information. Whether it’s ‘reality’ shows, sensationalized news, riveting action shows, or programs that encourage us to look and be different than we are (think about the number of home and image makeover shows on air at any given time of day) – that’s a lot of stimulation.
And very little of it encourages us to unwind and sit quietly with our own thoughts. This morning I was reading a blog post called “Don’t Believe Everything you Think,” by a fellow Atlanta therapist, who makes some great points about our internal cognitive distortions and the sheer speed at which our brains generate thoughts — not all of which are trustworthy.
Add to that the vast quantities of messages we get from the environment: what to think, what to buy, how to look and act… and it’s no wonder so many of us are feeling stressed out! Not only are we presented with increidible amounts of information, but we seem to be internalizing lots of that information without even noticing. It’s hard to tell at the end of the day which thoughts are rational or right; and sometimes it’s even hard to tell which ones are actually mine!
That’s why there is so much value in taking time out to quiet the mind and relax (which, by the way, is not the same as vegging out in front of the TV). My clients always roll their eyes when I suggest yoga or meditation as a way of reducing their anxiety, precisely because of all the stressors and stimulation we ingest each day. We’re so accustomed to this high level of stimulation that “quiet time” often translates internally to “useless time.” We think that if we are not entertained or productive for every second, then we are somehow wasting time.
But it’s actually the opposite. By taking time out each day to sit quietly with our thoughts (and eventually, to be able to clear our minds entirely for a while), we are wiping clean some of the clutter in our overworked brains and giving ourselves room to decide which ideas we want to keep, and which are better cast aside permanently. After incorporating silent reflection, calming exercises or meditation into their lives, most clients report feeling more centered and are able to approach old challenges with a new perspective.
There’s no real advantage to taking life at 90 miles an hour. In fact, sometimes slowing down gives us an opportunity to take a better road, one that we hadn’t noticed before. And maybe this one will have fewer billboards.