1 Big Idea to Think About

  • We all have an inner voice within that can guide us by telling us what not to do. When we are attuned with this voice, we can find clarity about what to pursue and what to remove from our lives.

1 Way You Can Apply This

  • Choose one of the suggestions for tuning into your daemon from the episode.
    • Block out a 30-minute timeframe for silence and reflection
    • Spend time in nature without any technological distractions
    • Journal with a paper and pen
    • Practice deep listening

1 Question to Ask

  • What is one experience where I heard my daemon and had to make a decision about whether to follow it or not? What happened when I followed it, and what happened when I didn’t?

Key Moments From the Show 

  • Learning to listen and follow your inner voice (2:37)
  • Even in noisy circumstances, there is still room to hear our inner voices (6:51)
  • Socrates and the Daemon (11:09)
  • How to follow your own Daemon (12:25)

Links and Resources You’ll Love from the Episode

Greg McKeown:

Welcome back, everybody. I’m your host, Greg McKeown, and I am here with you on this journey to learn how to be able to design a life that really matters. This is part four in a multi-part series about the relentless elimination of noise. 

Have you noticed that the noise is increasing everywhere? Have you felt that ridiculous increase of volume, the number of voices telling you what to do, what to worry about, what your life should be, could be, has to be, shouldn’t have been? Have you noticed that? The more you listen to all of those incessant, loud, persuasive voices out there, the less able you are to listen to the voices of the people closest to you, the people who, in fact, matter most to you, including listening to the voice within you. By the end of this episode, you’ll have a concrete rule and tools for how to increase the volume of that voice within and decrease or eliminate those voices, all that noise that is without. Let’s get to it.

For the last few years, I’ve been building a whole system to help you to be able to actually live a life that really matters. Of course, I wrote Essentialism for that purpose and Effortless to be able to make it easier to do the things that matter most, but also the 1-Minute Wednesday newsletter plus this podcast arriving Tuesdays and Thursdays, as well as the Essentialism Academy that you can go and sign up first essentialism.com. All of these are an invitation from your future self, let’s say, to help you to design a life that is full of what’s essential and has pushed out the non-essential to its proper place. I would invite you to participate in all of the above that seems relevant and helpful for you.

Some time ago, I was totally trapped in the airport. I could not get out; no plane could fly out. We got into our plane, in fact, and spent an hour on the runway, but then disappointed as we all were, the plane returned to the gate. People were getting irritated; people were getting frustrated. Storm Ida was upon us. There was rain coming in everywhere, rain right through the ceiling of the airport, making massive puddles in unexpected places. I managed to book a room at a hotel that you could see from the airport. It was just there, just barely out of reach, a 10-minute walk or bus ride under normal circumstances, but these were not normal circumstances. 

The police had closed the roads coming into the airport. They had closed the highways. The only transportation still running was the AirTran, but I wanted to get to the hotel, and it was, as I mentioned, just 10 minutes away, and I had two really early morning virtual keynote events to do where I’d be speaking to large gatherings. So my aim was to get a decent night’s sleep and not just for my own convenience. 

With the AirTran still working, I was able to take it to terminal two, which was the closest to the hotel, but I wasn’t able to get out of the station because water was just coming down, flowing down the inside of the train cubicles. Water made one huge puddle all across that station, so I had to stay on the AirTran as we got to terminal three, and there it was the same story, then onto the end of the line where the car rentals were. So I leave the AirTran, and I walk to the car rental. It’s pouring down everywhere. Can I rent a car? No. But I’m persistent, and one of the employees offers, well, it’s just a 10-minute walk down that one road. He showed me exactly the road to take in order to get to the hotel.

It was still raining quite heavily, but otherwise seemed quite calm, and I rationalized that being wet was no problem. As soon as I got to the hotel room, I took a few steps towards the direction of the road, and I heard a voice in my head, not audibly, but clearly do not do this. I heard it, but I did not stop walking. I took perhaps four or five more steps. Then I heard it even more clearly, do not do this. So I stopped, and I retraced my steps. Then I retraced my ride on the AirTran all the way back to the original terminal for the flight. The waiting went on for hours. That flight wasn’t officially canceled until the early hours of the morning, perhaps around 3:00 AM. People who had been holding on as if for dear life that the flight that they could see that had a captain and a whole team of people inside of it would eventually leave, and when it didn’t, the travelers and the employees went from being tense to completely losing their minds.

All of them were exhausted, their past reason, and it was among the more erratic, emotionally fraught circumstances I had ever been in, at least in an airport. The moment it was canceled, I left this place. Nothing good was going to come about being surrounded by people in this state of exhausted emotional angst, frustration, and anger, and by this time, the storm had passed sufficiently that the shuttles were running again and calmly without any problems whatsoever, so I took one to the hotel. There were people there sleeping in the foyer of the hotel, and I was able to make my way peacefully to an even more peaceful room. 

What did I learn from this experience? I learned that even in noisy circumstances, there’s still a voice that can speak to us, clarity if we’ll listen to it. There I was, consumed with all that noise in my own head, all the things I wanted. I want to get to that hotel, I want to get to that room, and I want to do it now. All the voices around me, frustrated, murmuring, exhausted. Amidst all of that noise, the noise, the literal noise of the storm, there was another voice, and that voice did not tell me what to do, but it told me what not to do. 

What about you? Have you ever sensed an inner voice within you, different than your own opinion, different than the voice of what you want? Have you ever been warned not to do something? What happened when you followed it? What happened when you didn’t? 

Socrates, the ancient Athenian philosopher, often spoke of a guiding voice. He termed a Damian or a Daemon. This was not a deity or divine entity in the traditional sense but rather a personal spirit or inner voice that would advise him specifically on what not to do.

So unlike the modern conceptions of a conscience that may guide us toward positive actions. Socrates’ Daemon strictly warned against actions that would be detrimental. Interestingly, it never directed him to do something, only to refrain. For instance, Socrates was considering a particular course of action. If the Daemon remained silent, he took it as affirmation, but if it spoke, he would stop in his tracks. The presence of this guiding voice, though alien to some of his contemporaries, was deeply influential in his decision-making, which makes sense to me because decision itself means to cut or to kill. That is to stop like me, although not like me, because I didn’t follow that warning immediately, but did eventually stop it and go back to the place of greater safety in the airport. 

Is it possible for us to tune in to such a Daemon? Well, I think the good news is that we have it. It’s already there. Surely you have had it in your life. Think of when you haven’t followed it. The biggest mistakes of my whole life have been when I didn’t follow it, where I overruled it and continued in the path I wanted to go on. 

One thing you can do is to create some solitude and silence. Reflect on your life right now. Do you have a few minutes? Could you increase it to half an hour or to an hour per day? Could you increase it to a day a week? Regularly spending time alone in silence, free from external distractions, can amplify the inner voice to increase our ability to filter out the static. You could get yourself in nature just away from the urban noise. Leave the phone at home. It can help us to connect deeply with the voice inside that I think is always there but is so much quieter and more subtle than these in-your-face devices, screens, graphics, notifications, and more. 

Paper and pen journaling. Writing without a set agenda can allow deeper intuitions and understandings to surface so that we can connect the dots between what’s going on. Deep listening, where we listen without an intent to respond. Just open, empathetic, and nonjudgmental reception. It is extraordinary to me how true it is that when I listen like that, not only do I attune myself to what’s going on deeply inside of another person, there is this immediate personal benefit that I am somehow more attuned to that deep Daemon voice within. 

But most important of all of these suggestions by a country mile is that when that voice says, do not do this, do not do this. You don’t have to justify that to anyone. You don’t have to explain it, and you don’t have to explain it away. Trust that voice when it says, do not do this, do not do this. In this way, we can push out the most damaging noise of all. This is surely a critical element in the relentless elimination of noise.

What is one thing that stood out to you today? What is one thing that you heard inside of you? Was there anything you heard today that you should not do? Is there one person that you can share this episode with so that you can continue this conversation now that the episode has come to an end? 

For all of you who have written reviews on Apple Podcasts, thank you. If you haven’t done that already, you have the chance to get free access to the Essentialism Academy simply by writing a review, posting it there, and letting us know about it. Go to gregmckeown.com/essential for more details. Thank you, and I’ll see you next time.