A person sits in a small, room, all alone. “Hey,” they shout. “Hey,” echoes back. “What’s your name?” they ask. The questions bounces back and they answer. This goes on for quite some time. Questions and statements quickly turning into a deep conversation. One person, sitting alone, in a room.
Seems crazy? Maybe even a little odd or humorous? Well, it shouldn’t, because you do it all the time. We all do in fact. And before you protest, tell me, when was the last time you had a conversation with yourself? Within the last few minutes I’d bet. Question and answers, all in your mind. Welcome to your very own echo chamber.
The mind is an incredible tool, that helps us gather our thoughts, think things through and prepares us for what lies ahead. But sometimes, ok, a lot of times, the mind can take over, kind of like a runaway train. We’ve all been there. The Buddhist teachings call this Monkey Mind, because it’s all over the place. Saint John of the Cross called it, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” Whatever you call it, it’s not pretty, it’s not productive, but it’s a part of life.
I have always owned my own businesses, many of them startups, and I have become very familiar, never comfortable, with this state of mind. You tend to focus on the past, question decisions and wonder, “if only,” or what if?” Or you might fixate on the future and wonder what might or might not happen. “Will the deal go through?” “Can I make payroll?” “Can I pay my mortgage?” The past and the future weigh down your present, until you feel stuck.
When you find yourself in a heated argument, a fear filled spiral, or an anxiety-induced panic attack, and you’re the only one in the room, take a series of deep breaths. Your body will start to relax, and your mind will begin to slow down. When your body relaxes, your mind tends to follows.
Similarly, in business, a company or a department will call a meeting and “get to work.” They create amazing products and campaigns that they truly love. And then they launch and then they fail. Turns out no one wanted what they created. But how can that be? Every ‘80s montage movie tells us that if we work really hard, in a really short period of time, everything will work out! Well, the product may have been awesome, maybe even revolutionary, but it wasn’t what people wanted. Unless you ask and test, and ask again, you will never know what works.
Whether an individual, a group or even a company, the way to avoid the echo chamber trap is to get out there and talk to friends, family, clients, customers or whatever the case may be. When we talk to others, we gain perspective and insight and expand our view. We’re no longer limited, or trapped, by our own thoughts and beliefs.
It takes courage to let others know our thoughts and fears. We worry what they will think of us. We are afraid they may agree with us. But perhaps worse of all, what if they suggest we change! Open the echo chamber, and step out. It’s not easy but in open and honest conversation and communication, we share our fears, lessen our anxieties and ease our burdens, both real and imagined. Only then can we move forward, stronger, more confident, and maybe with more sleep and less of a headache.