Want To Be More Productive? You’d Better Listen Up
Let’s try a little experiment. Set a timer on your phone for 30 seconds and sit there for the duration with a clear mind, not thinking of anything.
Chances are you can’t do it. Likely you were thinking about that email you need to send, the thing you forgot to do earlier, or that barbed comment a co-worker made that’s stuck on loop in your head.
According to recent studies, the average human brain has more than 6,000 thoughts in a single day. Rather than helping us to think and act fast at work, this constant treadmill can exhaust us, and makes it difficult to give your full attention to any one task, damaging our productivity.
Helping people to quieten their own minds has become a billion-dollar industry in the last few years, with countless apps and services entering the market to help people train to become more “mindful”, a therapeutic technique that helps you focus on the present moment while calmly acknowledging—but not getting caught up in—your thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness app Calm, a market leader, is valued at over US$2 billion.
Hong Kong entrepreneur, musician and mindfulness practitioner Aymeric Vollant was always interested in how sounds affect the body and mind, and can help people become more mindful. His curiosity piqued by a growing body of research on the impact of sound on our wellbeing, he started to experiment with what he calls “immersive sounds”, taking participants on “sound journeys” that can help alter mood and state of consciousness.
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When Vollant opened the newest branch of his boutique wellness and yoga studio Ikigai in Hong Kong’s Central district earlier this year, with co-founder Gianni Melwani, his proprietary mindfulness training technique, Immersive Sounds Sessions, was one of the first classes on the roster.
We speak to Vollant to find out how sounds can make us more mindful and, ultimately, more productive, stronger leaders.
What is an immersive sounds session? What is its purpose?
It's a mindfulness exercise. It's a mindfulness session where we invite people to train their ability to be more mindful. In one way, being more mindful helps us to give a little break to our brain to allow it to properly rest. In another way, it can also help us to be more focused on whatever it is that we are doing, so we can potentially become more productive.
How does an immersive sounds session differ from a gong bath and other sound healing techniques?
The approach is different. There are two different approaches when it comes to the effect of sound on the body in the mind. On one side you have the more physical approach, where sound is referred to as frequency and those frequencies have special effects, like you have this concept from physics that says that everything vibrates and when two things are right next to one another, those things tend to synchronise. So sound healing techniques like gong baths apply this concept—it will feed your brain with certain frequencies in order for your brain to synchronise with this frequency and induce a certain level of consciousness, like being more calm, for example.
The other angle is the way we interact with sounds in our daily life. For example, we all more or less have the same feeling of stress when we are in the middle of a traffic jam and cars around start to honk. And we feel more at peace when we are next to the water, for example. It is this angle that I take for the immersive sounds sessions, where we bring people onto a sound journey. The sound journey is always made of nature, sounds of cities and musical elements. I invite people to bring their full awareness to what they can hear, and to try to feel and analyse the way they feel when they hear those different sounds.
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Can you describe a typical session?
The setting is similar to a meditation class, where people are sitting down or laying down on mats. The main tool of the session is headphones. The reason we do it with headphones and not speakers is so we can use binaural sounds, which give a proper immersive effect. Binaural means with two ears, so binaural recordings are sounds that are recorded in the same way as our brains listen to the real world. They help us to hear things with more depth—to hear “3D”.
People put on headphones and from there I bring them on a journey. I make the sounds that I collect and record myself into a 30-minute session. And from there we travel to different city and natural environments.
How did you come up with this concept of immersive sounds?
I have been interested in sounds for a long time. My background is in events. As a DJ I would travel around at my humble level, and over the years my tastes moved towards more ambient and soundscape sounds. I then started to record sounds myself outside; this is when it triggered something in me and it got me interested in how sound affects our bodies and minds. When we launched Ikigai, I wanted to find a way to share this practice with others.
Most people think that mindfulness is about slowing down. Actually, it's about speeding up
How do people experience an immersive sounds session differently?
In many different ways. Most surprising was one student who had an out-of-body experience. That was a bit extreme. But that's one end of the spectrum, it can really bring you into a different state. Most of the time, people react differently depending on whether they are listening to the sounds of nature or the sounds of the city; most people feel stressed when listening to the city noises and relaxed when listening to nature. But for some people it’s totally opposite.
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How can immersive sounds sessions change how we think?
One key point is it helps to make people more aware of the sounds around us. There is a lot of work being done on raising awareness of how our bodies react to sounds. Most of us don’t even think about that. Most of us agree that eating fresh food makes us healthy and eating junk food makes us less healthy. The same principle applies to sound, but people aren’t fully aware of that at the moment. If we give what we hear the same level of consideration we give what we eat, then we can take control of how we feel—and we can change our emotions and thoughts just by bringing ourselves into sound environments that correspond to the state of consciousness we want to be in.
What are the applications of that?
One clear benefit is how people can use sound in their daily life to relax, or if you want to get energised as well, sound can help with that. Also, it's not easy to just focus on sounds for 30 minutes, but just to train and to intentionally bring awareness to sounds, to paying attention to the sounds we hear, can be one way to really anchor ourselves to the present moment.
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What’s the benefit to productivity? How does doing immersive sound sessions over time make you more productive?
Doing immersive sounds sessions, like any other mindfulness practises, can help improve your productivity over time. There is a misconception: people see mindfulness as something that it is maybe spiritual or that it's something private that we do when we are at home alone. And most people think that it's about slowing down. Actually, it's about speeding up. It's about building the muscle in our brain, our attention muscle, that will allow us to be on task with everything we are doing.
In one way, being mindful is for sure a way to be more relaxed and at peace. But actually it’s also a good way to become more productive, because if we are able to really fully focus on what we are doing right now, instead of thinking about the next task I need to do, the next email I need to send—if we can really focus on one thing at a time then our productivity will just skyrocket.
How can mindfulness help make people better leaders?
It's similar logic. If you are more mindful of the things around you then you are less egotistical and don’t think only about yourself. By focusing more on what surrounds you, you will be able to see what your surroundings need from you, rather than what you need. Mindfulness can also help your thought processes. When a leader is tackling strategy, it helps you be able to picture the situation fully for what it is, and remove emotions from that. That will help you make better decisions. Plus, a number of sound-based therapies have been proven to improve memory too, because you are giving your brain the rest it needs, so you can process information a little deeper.
See honourees in the Wellness category of the Gen.T List 2020.