What is signal and what is noise?
I barely passed statistics in College. My brain has always seemed to have a rather difficult time with math, science, and computation. While all of us have a bit of each spheres, I am definitely pretty far towards the right side on the left-right brain continuum - Give me an art project or a presentation to make and I am good to go! But give me a complex math equation, and I am pretty helpless. So when my friend mentioned the book The Signal And The Noise to me recently, I was a bit intimidated by these statistical terms.
In statistics, the concept of ‘signal’ indicates a measurement of interest or pure data, whereas the concept of ‘noise’ is a measurement of random errors, which superimposes itself on the signal. Signal and noise are quantified by a ‘Signal to Noise Ratio’ (SNR). That is, the higher the ratio, the better the strength of the signal. With a higher ratio, the easier it is to extract information and therefore better the result. Think of a transistor radio and tuning in to your favorite radio station – when you don’t exactly tune in to your station you are faced with lots of unwanted ‘noise.’
Beyond the scientific application, signal and noise are not just engineering or statistics concepts; they are metaphors for our lives. Signal and noise represent the ability to tune in to yourself. Regardless of which end of the right-left brain continuum you’re on, all of us possess the ability to disseminate between signal and noise in our own lives. However, such self-awareness is easier said than done. The New York Times recently ran a piece titled “The End of Reflection.” In an era dominated by the Smartphone, social media, and sound bites, The Times concluded that introspection is nearly impossible. According to their opinion, the ‘noise’ has won.
To simply be alone with your thoughts can be both exhilarating and terrifying, but without introspection, authenticity is elusive. To that end, finding quiet time each day is perhaps the most important thing you can do. The journey in fitness is almost universally thought of as an outward expression with an exterior result. But the real journey in fitness is the journey inward, for that’s where the ‘signal’ lies. Finding even 5 minutes a day to get in touch with your body and mind can help ground you and strengthen your signal.
It’s tempting to think that The New York Times is right and we’re all doomed for the narcissistic tendencies that apparently hold sway nowadays. But even more than ego and self-importance, humans are hard wired for connection, love, and virtue. Ironically, it’s the perceived lack of those qualities that drives the self-absorbed mantra that seems prevalent. Noise is everywhere and many seem lost in it. But there is a remedy. In order to right the ship, we collectively need more reflection, vulnerably, empathy, and humility. More than anything, we must possess the willingness to listen to ourselves and find stillness amongst the chaos.
In that way exercise and fitness present the perfect practice. For many, exercise is hard, chaotic, loud, and noisy. But your fitness and physicality is also an opportunity for self-connection and reflection. Your body reflects the state of your mind and your mind reflects the state of your body. It’s a matter of tapping in to the signal. Instead of being distracted from yourself while you exercise, see your exercise a daily opportunity to be at one with yourself. The only way through the noise is to find and strengthen the signal.