Twenty-Four Hours, Zero Words

Is it possible to go an entire day without talking at all?  I had always wondered that.

Last weekend, I went to the CrossFit California regionals in Del Mar.  I screamed my lungs out cheering for Team Invictus, the gym where I trained two months last fall.  They triumphantly battled to come away with a second-place finish, handily sending them to the CrossFit Games in July.  What an amazing event and accomplishment!

When I arrived back in Wisconsin, my voice got more and more hoarse.  I was having trouble communicating with people because barely any sound came out.  Since I had actually contemplated not speaking for an entire day for the past year, this was the perfect opportunity to give my crazy experiment a shot.

On a whim, I decided before bed that I wouldn’t say anything the next day.  The ground rules also stated that I wouldn’t make any sounds other than laughter.  Depriving myself of one of life’s greatest activities didn’t seem like a good idea.  I would allow myself to nod or shake my head and write on paper.  E-mail and text were also fair game, but phone calls were a no-no.  Since I spend about 75 minutes per day on my cell, this freed up a lot of time, but also made it impossible to accomplish many things too.

2016-05-17 10.02.16

This is the card that I carried around with me everywhere.  I figured this would make me seem less creepy, and quickly explain why I was acting like a weirdo.

Some people assumed I would wall myself up in my house and not do anything for the day.  Psssssshhhh, that’s boring as hell, and not very challenging.  No way, this would be a regular day for me.

I ended up taking my girlfriend to the airport, getting stabbed at a physical therapy appointment, attending a networking lunch with angel investors, having 90-minute one-on-one meeting with my staff, seeing my gym in Sussex, eating at Noodles, going through a car wash, and grocery shopping at two stores.  BOOM!

My girlfriend Lyndsay seemed a little hesitant to embrace the idea of no talking since I had just gotten back from a two-week trip to CA less than 12 hours beforehand.  She joked that Uber could take her to the airport in the morning instead of me.  There’s a little truth behind every joke, right?  Nevertheless, I got her to the airport with plenty of time to spare, and wrote her some positive wishes in my college ruled notebook as she dashed off to her flight.  So far, so good.

At the physical therapy appointment, my therapist ceaselessly tried to get me to talk the entire session while he dry needled me.  He contends that I muttered the F word as he skewered my calf with his instruments of pain, but it was just me griping in agony.  “I can say that I had a patient who only said one word to me the entire appointment – f**k.”  Haha, well played, Dr. Mike.

The networking lunch was a bit more interesting.  Obviously the entire point of the event was for me to get to know other people, but that’s kind of difficult when you have to scrawl out sentences with your purple gel pen as everyone else changes the subject every 20 seconds.  I got a few weird looks as I handed my card to everyone at the lunch table, and a couple people immediately wrote me off as zero value add to their midday experience. Sorry finance dudes, maybe I should have made a spreadsheet that showed why this experience would be NPV positive to your life.  I didn’t contribute much to any of the conversations because they moved too quickly, but I listened well and paid close attention.  A few others were supportive and engaging, and one person wished me luck as I bolted down the stairs to my next event of the day.

I wasn’t sure how my one-on-one briefing would go without talking.  One of the reasons why I meet face-to-face with my staff is because it’s more personal, and they can see and hear the inflection in my voice and body language.  The topic of conversation was actually a serious one, too.

I did my best to play up my emotions and facial expressions during the meeting so that Claire, my Anytime Fitness Sussex manager, could feel more meaning behind the words scribbled in front of her in my notebook.  I was relieved to hear that she seriously considered my proposition, and we also “discussed” a few other touchy topics.  It was actually helpful that I had plenty of time to think about my responses as I was writing. Grrrrreat success!

I have to admit that the title of my post is a little misleading.  My only slip ups of the day came when I was doing a workout with Claire at Anytime Fitness Sussex.  She was teaching me hip thrusts, a relatively new exercise to me. Since my brain is just super efficient at diverting blood to my muscles while I’m exercising, I accidentally muttered “OK” to her as she was instructing me.  Curses!  That’s not the way this day was supposed to go!  I also slipped up two more times while we were doing a cardio workout.  Fail!

I thought going an entire day without talking was going to be extremely difficult.  I actually found it to be pretty easy once I got my system down and made the card pictured above.  I was really surprised that not a single person reacted negatively when I showed it to them. Most smiled and said something to the effect of, “Oh, that’s interesting,” or, “That’s cool!” Lots of people wished me good luck, too.

I think one thing that helped me was that I paid very close attention to how I presented myself to people when I approached them.  I was sure to have open body language and smile every time.  While this might sound obvious, I realized that I probably don’t do this nearly as much in everyday life as I did during my experiment.  That’s on my list of things to permanently change tomorrow.

At the end of the day, I had plowed through 19 single-sided pages in my college ruled notebook.  These weren’t perfectly spaced and written pages, but at least you get an idea of how much I had to write to communicate.   I was even trying to shorten things up throughout the day, too.

One thing that we definitely take for granted is the immediacy of verbal speech.  Want to interrupt someone with your idea?  It happens milliseconds later.  Throw in your opinion about a topic?  You’re a quick moment away from that.  Not having that speed of communication was painful.  I valued verbal correspondence for its brevity before today, but now it’s even more evident how much I rely on it.  Ditching the phone was almost as bad – there are certain things that simply require a phone call, not this texting back and forth time-wasting crap.

I liked this experiment so much that I would consider trying it for a longer period of time just to see how it would affect my life.  How about a month?  Maybe I could do that and write a book about it.  I’d encourage you to try a day without talking.  It will probably bring a lot of things to light you never considered before!

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4 thoughts on “Twenty-Four Hours, Zero Words

  1. What’s up, Rob?! This was a great morning read. You should check out the story of John Francis (I think he has a TED talk out there). The guy traveled the states coast-to-coast for 17 years without speaking. Among other things, he managed to obtain 3 degrees from 3 different universities during his vow of silence, including a PhD from Madison.

    • Hey Antoine, good to hear from you man! I will have to check that guy out. I want to say that I did hear about him a long time ago, which is probably what prompted me to get this idea in my head. 17 years is way too long! Hope you are doing well man.

  2. I agree, you should write a book, I’ve missed reading these and all of the Rob-ism’s that come with them! We have a lot to catch up on, crazy, amazing guy.

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