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Turning Down the Volume of 2020

I don’t think there has been a year noisier than in 2020.  I mean, you name it, whether it was our screens blaring the impending apocalypse, the mind-piercing high frequency that the American election took on, UFOs, pandemics, and I mean geez, Kobe died.  There was no shortage of grabs for your mental bandwidth.

I know many are probably looking forward to literally burning their 2020 wall calendar as the clock ticks over to 2021 this December. However, let’s all remember what dates on the calendar are and what they are not. 

COVID won’t evaporate at midnight on Dec 31. Politics won’t magically become a civil and intelligent discourse. And, ugh, masks might still be an annoying little thing.  So, how do we insulate against the aftershocks of a seismic year?

Blaise Pascal famously said: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

In 2020, we certainly had some time to sit and ponder.  Hopefully, we were able to squeeze the most out of the balm of silence that this year of quarantine has held out on the offer to us.

An opportunity to assess what we anchor to. To put on trial the quality of how we spend our time.  Maybe we’ve even used the time to dip into some long put-off aspirations.

I know that 2020 has taken a serious toll on many people, families and communities, our own included. I’m not looking to downplay the cosmic nut-kick that has caused serious heartache and struggle. 

What I am hoping for all of us is something more along the lines of what I think Mr. Pascal meant.

That the difference in the harvest between one person’s time and another’s is the amount of intentional cultivation applied to that ticking clock. Reflection followed by application. Not always the other way around.

I think he was also suggesting that all progress — personal, family, physical, political and social, starts with ourselves; that the state of a society is the cumulative average of the state of the individual. If we are well, our families are well; then society will follow suit.

Personal well-being is realized in small steps, but as we know, is no small thing. I would argue that it is also not something that can ever be rightly enjoyed without intentional cultivation of silence.

Of course, I don’t mean just the mere absence of noise, but a real unplugging from inputs in order to give the mind time to catch up, process and re-anchor to personal priorities.

Nassim Taleb said beautifully: “If true wealth consists in worriless sleeping, clear conscience, reciprocal gratitude, absence of envy, good appetite, muscle strength, physical energy, frequent laughs, no meals alone, no gym class, some physical labour (or hobby), good bowel movements, no meeting rooms, and periodic surprises, then it is largely subtractive.”

That means getting rid of things instead of piling more on.

Fewer subscriptions. Less food. Not as many podcasts, articles or news stories. Deleting apps, accounts and other sources of noise. One or two fewer resolutions, plans and information sources.  Less, less, less. 

Now, I’m not advocating for ceasing our own personal growth but suggesting that the quality of all our pursuits would deeply improve based on the rigorous and even ruthless selection of these chosen thoughts and projects; a selection process that is possible only with periods of undistracted concentration.


“The greatest things are accomplished in silence—not in the clamor and distraction of superficial eventfulness, but in the deep clarity of inner vision; in the almost imperceptible start of decision, in quiet overcoming and hidden sacrifice.”
—Romano Guardini


2020 was a nuclear blast for the mind. We all seemed to be overfed yet undernourished. Invasively overstimulated but left spinning, confused and irritated.

Ryan Holiday said: “Stillness is what aims the archer’s arrow. It inspires new ideas. It sharpens perspective and illuminates connections.”

I think, after this year, we could all use a few new ideas, a stable and grounded perspective and most definitely, after all this social isolation, the tonic of good human connections.

I hope 2020 doesn’t become of you, the seed of resentment or the cheap scapegoat that it seems made out to be. Time is time. Situations are fruitful in the measure that we cultivate them.  From unplugging to unsubscribing, here’s to tilling the mental soil in preparation for a productive, still, and plentiful 2021.


“The mind is an important and sacred place.  Keep it clean and clear.”
–Ryan Holiday


Anthony Hoffman is a Fort McMurray firefighter and a regular contributor for Your McMurray Magazine with his opinion column The City that Raised Me.


Photo: YMM Contributor Anthony Hoffman offers advice to rethink personal productivity for 2021 by getting rid of things instead of piling on more. Photo by Anthony Hoffman.