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listen up!: 5 ways to be a better listener

AttentionSource

 

I know that listening is super important when it comes to creating strong, lasting relationships, but despite realizing the importance of listening, it's never been my strong suit. I have a lot to say and lots of ideas running around in my head, which sometimes makes it difficult for me to focus on listening to other people. I also tend to be pretty quick when it comes to comprehending what someone is saying so I often want to move the conversation along before they've even had a chance to finish, which, as you can imagine, isn't the most attractive quality in a listener. Over the years, I've gotten better at listening and even though I wouldn't consider myself a patient person in general, I've become at least a little more patient when it comes to listening to what others have to say.

That being said, I still think I have a lot of work to do when it comes to becoming a good listener and since I believe this is an essential skill for creating positive and present relationships, I've given some thought to what it really means to be a good listener. When I think of a good listener, I think of someone who is completely engaged in the conversation, someone who is present and not obviously thinking about what to say next. I think of someone who you really want to talk to because, after talking to him or her, you feel really good, like you really had a chance to speak and be heard. As much as I'd like to be defined as a good listener, I don't think I'm quite there yet. However, I do think I have some pretty solid ideas on how to take my listening skills to the next level...

 

STAY FULLY PRESENT. 

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to listening is staying fully in the moment. Instead of thinking about what to say next or indulging in thoughts completely unrelated to the conversation, a good listener is 100% in the moment, engaged in what the other person is saying. It's common for the mind to wander away from the present when listening (at least for me!), but you can challenge these straying thoughts by creating some sort of mantra to keep your attention focused on the person you're listening to. It can be as simple as "tune in" or "be here now," but having a stay-in-the-now mantra seems like a great way to keep your attention on the present.   

 

LIMIT DISTRACTIONS. 

Life is filled with distractions, but being a good listener means limiting these distractions as much as possible. For example, one great way to limit distractions is to put your phone away while talking to someone so you're not tempted to look at it (or it doesn't tempt you with it's notifications). If you're not in person, it's helpful to sit away from the computer or TV so you're not distracted from listening. For some people, good listening might require a quiet environment without a lot of people. (I know I get very distracted when I'm sitting outside on a busy street while trying to listen. So many people to watch!) It's probably not always possible to limit all distractions, but a lot of them can removed to make listening easier.

 

BE OKAY WITH SILENCE. 

As Alfred Brendel wrote, "The word 'listen' has the same letters as the word 'silent.'" Embracing silence is one of the great skills of a good listener. You might find it hard to allow moments of silence in a conversation (I'm not very comfortable with it myself), but sometimes silence is a good thing. It allows the other person to gather his or her thoughts and continue speaking. And it also allows you a chance to process what's being said (so long as you keep your mind focused on that and not on the awkwardness of a silent moment...). Sometimes some of the most important insights are gained in moments of silences so it's a great thing to become comfortable with in order be a better listener. 

 

ASK IN-DEPTH QUESTIONS. 

Instead of asking yes-or-no or one-word-answer questions, try asking something that will require someone to give you more info. For example, if you're asking someone about his or her work day, try asking, "What project are you working on this week?" rather than "How was your day?" Not only will questions of this nature get the conversation flowing in a more interesting way, but they also show a deeper level of interest in whatever you're inquiring about. You can ask almost anyone "How was your day?" but you generally ask more specific, in-depth questions when you're interested in a more in-depth response. Even in-depth questions might receive single word responses, but often the responses will provide more information, which you can use as you continue to listen. 

 

PAY ATTENTION TO CUES. 

Listening isn't only about the words being said. A good listener knows that body language and tone can sometimes tell you more about what's being said than the actual words do. While being a good listener definitely requires paying attention to words, it's just as important to pay attention to how other people are responding physically and through tone. If someone has her arms cross and is speaking curtly when asked about how her day was, a good listener will likely change the subject or ask if something is wrong. Sometimes the cues aren't so obvious so it's helpful to pay close attention, on a day-to-day basis, to the body language and tone of those we speak with frequently. The more aware of the "normal" body language and tone, the more likely you'll be to notice when something is off, making you a more effective listener. 

 

For some, listening comes easily. Those who are patient, who stay effortlessly in the present, who prefer to think rather than speak, generally have little trouble absorbing what others are saying and tend to be great listeners. For the rest of us, well... it takes practice. It's such a basic skill that it seems like it should come easily, but it can be surprisingly difficult sometimes. This week I challenge you (and me!) to try to step up your listening game and have at least one conversation where you know the other person will walk away thinking, "Wow. I really felt listened to!" Listening can be hard work, but it's essential for creating the kinds of relationships that serve as a foundation for a positive, present life. 

 

Stay Positive Book Cover

 

Staying positive and present is essential for being a good listener, but it's not always easy to do. Inspire yourself to stay positive with inspiration from my book Stay Positive: Daily Reminders from Positively Present. Featuring twelve monthly themes, Stay Positive provides 365 daily doses of insight for making the most of every day. You can purchase a paperback copy here or download a digital version here. To learn more about the book (and watch the book trailer video!), visit StayPositive365.com


positively present picks: september 26, 2014

LAPhoto Source

 

image from www.positivelypresent.com

“Three things cannot be hidden:
the sun, the moon, and the truth."

Buddha

 

image from www.positivelypresent.com

Book Trailer! : check out the trailer for my upcoming book :)

Easy Ways to Stay in the Moment : my interview with Victor Schueller

20 Ways to Start Loving Yourself : you deserve your love

Halloween Happiness : it's almost the best time of year...

10 Ways to Motivate When You're Feeling Uninspired

Desktop + iPhone Downloads : fun freebies from Free People

A Beginner's Guide to Trying New Things : a get-started guide

4 Ways to Detox Your Body : so you can have a fresh start this fall

Protect Your Magic : I'd like one of each please!

25 Questions for Identifying + Managing Anxiety : really helpful!

Habits Interview : some really great thoughts on habits here

10 Foreign Words We Need in English : I absolutely love #10!

Slow Down, Take Time : a reminder to slow things down

 

image from www.positivelypresent.com

Check out this week's
Positively Present playlist on YouTube
 

"Summer Is Over" — Jon McLaughlin
"September" — St. Lucia
"Sweater Weather" — Max & Alyson Stoner
"Why I Had to Go" — Bishop Allen
"California" — Mason Jennings
"Here We Go" — Alex & Sierra
"I Think I Like You" — sirenXX
"Warrior Heart" — Yael Meyer
"Smoke & Mirrors" — Ivy & Gold
"Hollywood" — RAC ft. Penguin Prison
"I Wanna Dance with Somebody" — Ben Rector
"Big Jet Plane" — Angus & Julia Stone
 

Blamestorming
Rob Kendall

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
Jan-Philipp Sendker


perhappiness: 6 ways to embrace the unknown

Perhappiness2

Here's the thing: I really don't like uncertainty. Even though I know, deep down in my heart, that nothing is 100% certain, I prefer feeling as if I know what's going to happen next so I can plan and prepare. (That's the Type A in me, I suppose!) But the thing is, life isn't like that. It's not always clear what's going to happen next and, for someone like me, that can be really scary. And lately, after facing some major life changes, I've found myself facing the unknown a lot. Both in my personal and professional life, there a lot of situations that don't have clear definitions and that's both terrifying and exciting.  

The thing about the unknown is anything can happen, which means anything can happen. If you like to know what the outcome will be, as I do, this is often more terrifying than exciting. I've been trying to embrace the exciting aspects of the unknown scenarios in my life, but it's been a struggle. I find my mind wandering more and more toward negative, all-or-nothing thinking (as in, all the things that could potentially go wrong...). Clearly not a positively present way to be. 

So when I came across the word "perhappiness" (via this) last week, it stopped me in my tracks. I'd never heard the word before but it perfectly embodied what I've been experiencing: the potential for all sorts of happiness to come my way coupled with the uncertainty of whether or not situations would result in happiness. The state of perhappiness is a wonderful — and scary — place to be. There's so much possibility coupled with so much uncertainty. The duality of perhappiness makes it the kind of situation that can quickly become negative or positive, depending on how you choose to see it.

Though it's tempting to veer into negative territory (all the things that could go wrong!), the great thing about the unknown is that it's unknown, which means you can think about it however you want to think about it. Even though I can't control the outcome of the various perhappiness situations in my life, I can control how I choose to perceive them, and I'm doing what I can do push my mind away from the negative and toward the positive. Here are some of the best ways I can think of to embrace the unknown . . . 

 

PAY ATTENTION TO THIS MOMENT. 

When I find my mind filling up with anxious thoughts, I remind myself to stay in the moment. It can be really hard to do sometimes (the mind can be a powerful thing!), but when I direct my attention to what's happening in the present, it becomes much easier to go with the flow and allow perhappiness to run the course it's meant to run. When I'm having a particularly tough time staying in the moment, I focus on my five senses and pay attention to what I can see, touch, taste, hear, and feel. Doing this takes me out of my mind and brings me back into the now. 

 

AVOID "WHAT-IF" RUMINATIONS. 

One of the most difficult aspects of perhappiness is not knowing the outcome, which can result in a lot of time spent wondering, "What if..." Being the kind of person who likes to plan ahead and feel prepared, my mind frequently wanders into "what if" territory. By trying to imagine what could happen, I feel (incorrectly) that I have some sort of control over an uncertain situation. However, ruminating on what could happen only creates more stress and anxiety. And, as I've learned from experience, most of these imagined scenarios never happen (or, if they do, they don't ever play out the way my mind thinks they will), making thinking about them a waste of time and energy.

 

DON'T PROJECT THE PAST ON THE NOW.

In order to assert some control over uncertain situations, I'll often try to relate the present situation to a similar situation I've experienced in the past in order to have a better guess at how it will play out. This, however, is not a good idea. For one, it keeps my attention riveted toward the past (which makes it hard to stay present!). And, for another, it denies the reality of the current situation and it's potential to play out in an entirely new way. While some situations in life are similar (and we do benefit from the wisdom that can come with experience), projecting the past on perhappiness won't make it easier to cope with. 

 

CHOOSE CURIOSITY OVER FEAR.

As exciting as perhappiness can be, for those who like to be prepared, it's actually pretty scary not to know what's coming next. Lately I've been facing a lot of fear and in order to combat it, I've been doing my best to choose curiosity over fear. Instead of stressing about what could be, I try to accept what's happen right now and open my mind to being curious about it. While being curious and open-minded, I find that my fear lessens because I'm viewing the situation from a different (and more positive) point of view. In addition, I try to be not only curious about the situation itself, but also about how it makes me feel. 

 

EMBRACE THE FUN OF NOT KNOWING. 

Just like choosing curiosity, embracing the fun of the unknown is a great way to tackle the fear that comes with perhappiness. Even those who like to have a plan in place (like me!) can recognize the excitement and fun elements of not knowing exactly what's coming next. Instead of focusing on how the unknown is a scary thing, I have been spending more and more time focusing on how the unknown as the potential for all sorts of greatness (and happiness!). 

 

USE IT TO FIND WHAT YOU WANT.

One of the most wonderful things about perhappiness is that it provides an opportunity to really think about what you want (in the situation and in life in general). When you're in a place of limbo — between what is and what could be — you're in a great place to really think about what you want the outcome to be and why you want that to be the outcome. When you think about the best case scenario and how it impacts the various aspects of your life, you have a chance to really get in touch with what matters most to you. No matter how the situation ends up playing out, you'll always have the wisdom gained from contemplating what you want. 

 

Finding-Self-Cover

Another great way cope with perhappiness is to reconnect with yourself and gain a better understanding of who you are. You can discover more about yourself and what matters to you by downloading a copy of Finding Yourself: A Soul-Searching Workbook for Surprising Self Discovery. Filled with inspiration, questions, and activities to get you thinking about what it means to be you, Finding Yourself is a must for learning more about who you are and about what matters most to you. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your very own soul-searching copy here.