Except for seeing the Harlem Globetrotters when I was a kid (and I’m not sure that counts), I have only been to one professional basketball game in my life. I have, on the other hand, never missed a home game of my daughter’s basketballWe all know that noise can be a distraction team. Here’s what I noticed. In the professional game, when a player from the visiting team was making foul shots, lights were flashing throughout the stadium instructing the fans to boo and make pandemonium in order to try to distract the player from being able to concentrate. When my daughter’s team plays, the audience knows that there is no sportsmanship in trying to throw people off their game, and so when a player from either team is making foul shots, there is dead silence.

We all know that noise can be a distraction. Casinos overload you with noise and lights to distract you from the fact that you are losing money and to help you lose track of time. Noise is manipulative. Stores pipe in music to evoke specific emotions targeted to affect and alter your shopping choices. When the noise is negative (as much is these days), it’s far more destructive than being distracting or manipulative; it blocks us from hearing the positive, thereby distorting our reality and stunting our potential.

You Have an Incoming Call ...

The first word of the Torah portion, Vayikra, literally means “And He called ... ” Who was the caller? G‑d, of course. Who was the listener? Moses. What was going on? G‑d was talking to Moses about the procedures for offering the various sacrifices in the Tabernacle. Moses wasn’t having a private audience with G‑d, however. Rashi, the famous medieval commentator, points out that other people were standing around, and so how was it that no one else was able to hear the voice of G‑d? Or at least eavesdrop on the conversation?

Despite their physical proximity, G‑d was only calling Moses so only Moses was able to hear G‑d’s instructions.

Static on the Line

In our own lives, G‑d sometimes “calls” us or sends us messages. Sometimes, though, there is so much “noise everywhere,” so much distortion and interference that we aren’t attuned to G‑d’s message and it’s hard to pick up a clear signal. What can we do about it? Let’s start on a practical level and look at “noise reduction” in our lives. In one of my favorite “go-to” books, Before Happiness (a fantastic instruction manual for creating positive reality based on cognitive, intellectual and emotional resources), Shawn Achor discusses how noise is more than just a mere distortion in that it blocks out the very signals that can point us towards positive growth.

In order to reduce noise, we need to do three things:

1.Stop Our Addiction to Noise

The world is a huge noisemaker. It throws billions and billions of bits of information at us per second. While our senses can receive a lot of that data, our conscious brains can only process about 40 bits per second. Out of myriads of possibility, we choose which infinitesimal slice of data we wish to perceive, from which we construct our versions of reality. Says Achor:

“We can choose either to hear negative, flawed, or irrelevant information or to absorb information that will help us to accomplish our goals. But because the amount we hear is limited, there is a trade-off; the more negative information we take in, the less positive signal we can hear, and vice versa.”

We only have a narrow bandwidth to work with. When we listen to gossip and negative judgments, when we glue ourselves to the nightly news or obsessively check our email, Facebook, etc., we are using up and cluttering that tiny little bandwidth of reality. If we can only utilize 40 bits per second, what do we really want to use them for?

The good news is that studies in positive psychology and neuroscience have demonstrated that even a 5 percent reduction in noise significantly improves our chances of picking up positive signals.

2. Cancel the Internal Noise

It’s not just the noise that’s “out there.” Have you listened to your own thoughts lately? You know that “voice”—the one that wears you down with its constant pessimism, self-doubt and negativity. It’s even more harmful than external noise because we don’t evaluate or challenge its validity, and the effect of this voice is that it has the potential to kill our positive potential. And so it basically undermines our very reason for being. We all know about the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Words create worlds. They have the power to create or destroy us and those around us.

Learning strategies for reducing this internal noise, therefore, is critically important and will result in huge payoffs in all areas of your life. Try replacing patterns of negative thinking with these three thoughts:

  • I will keep my worry in proportion to the likelihood of the event.
  • I will not ruin 10,000 days to be right on a handful.
  • I will not equate worrying with being loving or responsible.

3. Recognize the Signal

Signal is information that is true and reliable and alerts you to the opportunities, possibilities, and resources that will help you reach your fullest potential.”

How can we hear the voice of G‑dliness today, which is trying to help us reach our spiritual potential? There was a famous incident when Elijah the ProphetHow can we hear the voice of G‑dliness today? encountered G‑d in the desert. All of a sudden, a powerful wind shattered the mountains, but “G‑d is not in the wind.” Then there was an earthquake, and “G‑d is not in the earthquake.” Then there was a fire, and again, “God is not in the fire.” What emerged after the fire, however, was a still, thin sound.

The echo of G‑d’s voice that put the world into existence, that spoke at Mount Sinai and which spoke to Moses, reverberates to this day. And that is where G‑d is to be found, if we can hear it.

Anger disconnects people, and so they yell to be heard “over the distance.” Love, on the other hand, brings us close—so close that the barest whisper is loud enough for us to hear the words of our beloved. The “small thin sound” is all around us and even within us.

Learn to distinguish between “noise” and “signal.” Understand that destructive noise spotlights the negative, obfuscates the positive and kills your potential. Stop the noise as much as you can. Choose your inner thoughts. Quiet your brain and your soul. Be present and open to the miracle embedded in every single moment. “And He called” means that G‑d called and is still calling us. It’s up to us to tune in to the signal and to listen.

Internalize & Actualize:

  1. What external noise do you allow into your head that you can eliminate? Think about the time you spend online, listening to gossip or other unproductive and negative noise that is taking up precious space in your head. List a few things that you can immediately reduce.
  2. What internal noise is bringing negativity into your reality? What can you eliminate that will help you stay and feel more positive?
  3. When you listen carefully, what healthy and loving messages are being directed to you, either from others or from yourself, that you can pay attention to when you block out the other distracting internal and external noise? What messages do you want to hear that you may have been missing out on? List them below and then try this week to “listen louder” to tap into that signal that is trying to connect.