Make me Deaf
February 29, 2012 9:03 PM   Subscribe

How can I effectively deafen myself

I am a graduate student who suffers from acute distractability from voices/ people talking As of now, I have tried earbuds and music with noise reducing headphones to limited effect both separately and together. Covering my ears with my fingers has helped some but is not a long term solution.

How can I effectively deafen myself to get work done?
posted by Query to Human Relations (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried white noise? I use a free white noise app on my iPhone - I've only used it for sleeping, to cover the sounds of people snoring, and it's fantastic for that. The one I use lets you combine up to three sounds at whatever volume you like (my favorite is a mix of rain, fan and wind sounds); the combination of different frequencies and patterns masks other noise very effectively.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:09 PM on February 29, 2012

Earplugs? I bought a pack of 12 from Walmart for around $3, and they work fabulously.
posted by oxfordcomma at 9:09 PM on February 29, 2012

The foam in-ear earplugs are the only things that work for me. Get the 33db-rated ones or higher. I wear them to work and sleep, sometimes more than 18 hours a day. Make sure you use them optimally: squeeze the in-ear end into a long, thin shape and put that as far into your ear as it will go without danger. Then hold the earplug there for a few seconds until it expands enough to fill the ear canal. It'll keep expanding for another 20 seconds or so and you'll hear sounds around you dulling.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:11 PM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yeah, you step up into some of the kind of ear plugs they sell at gun shops and you will have a hard time hearing anything. They are also not uncomfortable.

It's probably horrible, but I sometimes wet my plugs slightly to slide them way in.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:12 PM on February 29, 2012

If for some reason earplugs aren't an option (I know I find them uncomfortable), perhaps the hardcore earmuffs made to block out sound? (Not endorsing that brand, just an example.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:13 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I do pyrotechnic work that involves large explosions 2-3' from my head, I wear foam in-ear plugs and top them with muff style hearing protectors. With this setup on, I can barely hear someone standing next to me and yelling.
posted by mollymayhem at 9:25 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you are doing relatively low-concentration work (or even just dealing with email or whatever), do so in a highly distracting environment (busy cafe, or something), and learn how to ignore the outside world; most of what happens outside of your personal cranium is overrated and ignoring it is an important skill. Gradually work up to doing high-concentration stuff in a distracting environment. Deafening yourself should be viewed as a kind of methadone of inattention, useful for current acute problems but undesirable as a long-term crutch.
posted by kengraham at 9:46 PM on February 29, 2012 [10 favorites]

I'm with Mo Nickels on this one. I use low-pressure, uncorded foam earplugs to sleep, and at work when I need to achieve "power focus" :-) The low-pressure style are extremely comfortable and they work great. Here are the ones I use, 200 pairs for 20 bucks, incredible deal. I tried many different styles and quality levels, and these are the best so far.

Totally do not agree that using earplugs is any sort of crutch - being distracted by outside stimuli is completely normal and human - our ears are there to alert us to danger, and they do a great job of it. You're not going to be able to turn off your physiology unless you're a yogi.
posted by facetious at 10:28 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Instead of ear buds, try in ear headphones. They are in essence earplugs with speakers in them. The isolation of having earplugs is great, and you can have music or white noise or whatever going at a reasonable volume, and the combination of the two means you won't hear anything unless someone is yelling at you.
posted by markblasco at 11:44 PM on February 29, 2012

I agree in-ear headphones are surprisingly effective. If you wore them underneath noise-cancelling headphones you might actually get silence, which neither alone will deliver.

If you're going for earplugs, I recommend wax ones if you can get them. A former room-mate had them and I can testify that it was possible to put my mouth within an inch of his ear and shout "FOR CHRIST'S SAKE STOP SNORING!" as loud as my lungs would allow, without producing the least result.
posted by Segundus at 1:27 AM on March 1, 2012

I use earbuds playing white noise with those firing range earmuffs that needs more cowbell linked on top of them. In-ear earplugs + firing range earmuffs will also work, but if you're like me the sound of your own breathing will start to kind of freak you out.

The white noise works really well for me and I really can't work with conversation or talking or music with lyrics nearby, either. A single, quiet cellphone user in the library all the way across the building is usually enough to wreck my concentration, but the earmuffs + earbuds with white noise thing does the trick for me on a grad student budget.
posted by Arethusa at 3:42 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

The style of earphone called "canalphones" are much more effective at blocking noise than over-ear. They have differently sized tips to fit different ears.

I've found Simply Noise to be good even when played "under" music or streaming radio. Plus, you can hear anyone actually talking to you through it. Rainy Mood is another great one that loops the sound of a thunderstorm.

Now, the problem with using music/noise to cancel distractions is that, well, it only works if the earphones are on. I have a problem where I take them off, then leave them off, whenever I get distracted. Plus, I hate having my back to people walking by. So, you need to attack visual distractions as well and keep yourself from removing your audio protective barrier, as well as implementing something to get you back on track when you get distracted.

A good way to do that is to use something like the Pomodoro timer in your browser - train in that when you remove headphones, you also set some sort of timer, set to 5-10 minutes, to remind you when to resume. There are also apps for your phone, if you have that with you. When these breaks come up, also check whether you have basic needs (bathroom, thirst, hunger, loneliness, stress) that need to be met that are pushing you to distraction.

Good luck!
posted by bookdragoness at 5:46 AM on March 1, 2012

I might add that these days, I use some over-ear headphones that are easier to remove/put on quickly than my ultra-blocking Shure SE215 canalphones. I also only remove one ear if I can help it when people need something from me.
posted by bookdragoness at 5:48 AM on March 1, 2012

If earplugs bother you/hurt, but you want to try to use them, buy the children's size. I use them and cut them shorter as well, and that changed everything.
posted by Vaike at 9:52 AM on March 1, 2012

Kengraham, I have to say your advice is a rather dull refusal to accept what is a natural condition for a lot of people. We are sensitive to noise (and, in my case, light). Training ourselves out of it isn't always an option because that distraction by subtle change and the surrounding stimuli is due to the very acuity that makes us good at our work.

It seems to me that people who claim to be able to work with distractions or loud music are like the people who claim to be good multitaskers. Given the same job and the same experience at doing it, I can get it done better and faster and have time to enjoy my music and a beer while they're still trying to finish.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:59 AM on March 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Mod note: Folks, this needs to not turn into an argument about the nature of Ask Metafilter. If there's something that needs discussing, go ahead and make a post about it on Metatalk and discuss it there.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:43 AM on March 1, 2012

To add -- I have tried to do what kengraham suggests for years without success. Years. Years of frustration and feeling broken. Some brains just don't seem wired that way -- and it is especially bad for me since I'm a grad student too and the stuff I am concentrating on is mathy and can get quite involved. I certainly wouldn't expect others to bend to my weird brain, and maybe the OP's brain is different, but you know -- if I could just suck it up and power through the distractions, I wouldn't be wearing ridiculous gigantic firing range headphones in the library.
posted by Arethusa at 12:14 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

To clarify my post, I am not advocating "just sucking it up". I am suggesting a method of slow adjustment, that may work for some and not for others. Namely, what has worked for me is dividing tasks into those that can be done in the presence of distraction, and those that require more serious concentration. I force myself, often, to do little easy things in highly distracting environments. By "little and easy", I mean things that can be accomplished with a small fraction of my available attention, while using the rest of my energy to (consciously) ignore what's going on around me. For me, and perhaps for others, this built certain ignoring-muscles so that, gradually, I could admit more complex tasks into my "distracting environment repetoire".

There is nothing ridiculous about giant firing-range headphones, or any other measures the OP might consider taking. I have used some of these for serious tasks for which I cannot spare effort needed to tune out distractions. I'm also a fan of foam earplugs and finding a very small private room with no internet access in which to work at night, but these things are not always readily available or effective, and I need to concentrate anyway.

The reason I suggested something other than a variation on earplugs was that, in my experience, life eventually gets complicated enough that it can become very hard to establish a work environment that is distraction-free often enough to be reliable, if most of one's work requires a lot of concentration. I merely suggested that overcoming distractibility, to whatever extent possible, might be a more durable solution in the face of a conflict between the need to concentrate well and often and uncontrollabe factors that would otherwise make this difficult.
posted by kengraham at 12:29 PM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ok, this is probably really weird, but I did a lot of studying in a nearby cemetery when I was in college. Usually nobody was there. Of course, you do have to deal with nature noise, wind, and sunburn that way, but I liked it a lot more than going to the library.
posted by hishtafel at 6:36 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Graphic design stuff   |   Help me find this demo video Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.