I listen for a living. Over the years, I’ve developed my ability to listen into what people say and – sometimes more importantly – what they don’t say. My ability to listen closely to my clients is a big part of how I help them get the results they seek.
Really listening to what people say has changed my life in many ways. Over time, I’ve witnessed many unique experiences, feelings, and thoughts behind a person’s individual perspective. This has strengthened my compassion and broadened my world-view.
This week I’d like to explore the art of listening and how it can change your life for the better.
Learning to Listen Can Change Your Life
Listening is central to creating relationship. When you deeply listen to what someone says, they feel cared about and understood. People who feel cared about and understood will undoubtably change your life for the better. However, the real impact of listening is how it changes you.
During our lifetime, we hit a million instances of misunderstanding. In fact, most of us spend a lot of time feeling misunderstood. Regardless of how much each of us might try, it’s virtually impossible to easily navigate the myriad of perspectives contained in each person with total understanding.
This is why it feels so good when we come across someone who is willing to really listen to us. When a person listens to what we say, they show us they care. They demonstrate their desire to know what we think and feel. They want to understand. Their willingness to be present to our thoughts and feelings encourages our loyalty. The payoff is that we’re much more likely to go to bat for someone who has worked hard to understand what we’re all about.
But, truth be told, there is a greater benefit to listening well. When we learn to listen, we stop – or at the very least decrease – the amount of misunderstanding there is in the world. The simple act of listening contributes to everyone’s overall sense of connectedness and wellbeing. Here’s how this happens –
We learn to see other points of view:
Each of us live in a bit of a bubble. Even the most reflective of us spend the majority of our time reinforcing our established beliefs. If we do not try to see things through other people’s eyes, well, we just don’t. In the best case scenario, this entrenchment in our own perspective leads to misunderstanding. In the worse case scenario, this mode of myopic thinking contributes to things like hate-crimes and wars. Yet, our ability to see other people’s points of view can have powerful and lasting effects. It can inspire innovation and change the course of cultures.
We develop our ability to empathize:
To “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” is a standard piece of wisdom for a really good reason. While seeing another’s point of view can be helpful for creating intellectual understanding, empathizing helps us feel into the emotional factors that guide other’s beliefs. Empathy forms a “human” bond. It allows us to disagree and still relate to other person’s emotional experience. This increases our desire to find solutions that benefit both parties.
We stop the cycle of reaction:
When we chose not to listen, understand or empathize, we’re likely to get caught up in reactivity. In these moments, we will inevitably disagree or get triggered by another person’s actions. If we don’t stop to listen or try to promote mutual understanding, we’re likely to react to what is being said versus responding to it. This makes matters exponentially worse. Listening helps us break the cycle of reaction and creates new outcomes.
We see our limitations:
If we have enough ego-resilience, we can deal with being wrong and we recognize that we are limited – just like everyone else is. Listening to others and suspending our judgments can help us recognize our own limitations and support us to grow and change in positive ways. The very first limitation that listening is likely to reveal is our need to be right. In order to listen well we need to put aside this need. Instead, we must chose to truly hear what the other person is saying.
We see our contributions to misunderstanding:
We often unconsciously do things that perpetuate misunderstanding Our default patterns can go unnoticed if we don’t listen to other people’s perception of us. By deeply listening to others, we can start to see how we have contributed to the challenges at hand.
So, if you want to change the world, you can start by getting quiet and listening to the people around you. Begin to let what others say and how they say it challenge or even change your limited ways of being in the world. And, by doing this, you may open up the potential for all of us to co-exist more peacefully.
When I went to high school my teachers had it backwards. Instead of helping their students to develop the right thinking necessary to solve a problem, they simply encouraged them to have the right answer to a problem. Their answer-based rather than thought-based focus of education amplified my weaknesses and not my strengths. In turn, my observations of my teachers’ motivations were less than welcome.
So, I got out of high school with the belief that I just wasn’t smart. I had no idea what do with myself because I had no idea what my strengths actually were.
After making the choice to explore what I loved, because, well, why the hell not… I learned that I had some strengths that never before seemed like strengths. Ever since this point, my life has been infinitely more fulfilling.
This week’s article is devoted to helping you clarify what your personal strengths are and how you can use them more often in your life and work.
Discover and Use Your Personal Strengths
Many people have the experience of getting a good chunk of the way through their life without really knowing what their strengths are. Because of this, they can feel inadequate, unable to take risks, or just plain unsatisfied. This is especially true for people whose strengths are not clearly defined by our academic and work institutions.
It would be great if as children we were educated about how to see our own innate strengths and brilliance and if our education encouraged us to use these skills. However, this is rarely the case.
The following is a list of questions that will help you get clear on what your strengths are as well as some suggestions about how you can use your strengths to create more success and fulfillment in your life.
What do you love to do?
You’ve heard it before. If you want to be happy do what you love to do. Yet, an often overlooked fact is that what you love to do is also a reflection of your strengths. In other words, because you love to do it you’re likely to do it better. So, if you’re unclear about what your strengths are – do what you love to do.
What do others say about you?
We get feedback from others throughout our lives. This feedback can be very similar at times. We might hear the same things over and over whether they be good or bad. If you’ve heard others say things about you that you like, they’re most likely pointing out your strengths. If you’ve heard things you don’t like, then I suggest that you try to reframe what you’ve heard to be more positive. For example, if others have called you flakey, a positive twist on this would be that you demonstrate spontaneity. If you can’t remember what people have said about you, ask some of the people you trust most in your life what they see as your strengths and why they see them as strengths.
What are you particularly good at?
Sometimes we do something so well that we take it for granted and don’t recognize it as our strength. We often think: “how could this be a strength if it is so easy for me to do?” Yet, our strengths make things easy for us to do. So, pay attention to which things seem effortless and ask other people how they feel about doing them. See how effortless – or effortful – these things are to them. By doing this you will gain a greater appreciation of your strengths.
What do you feel great after doing?
Doing what we love and know we do well leaves us feeling GREAT. A sure sign that you’re using your strengths is that you feel energized after doing something. Once you recognize where and when you feel this energized feeling, you might notice that there is potential for you to feel it more often. To do this, stay with how you feel after doing something you love. Notice what small changes you can make to other things you’re doing that might help you sustain that energized feeling.
What do you do differently?
If you zig when others zag, you might be looking at a strength of yours. Sometimes our strengths have us doing things differently from the masses. So, if you find yourself playing Bach to other people’s three chord wonder then take a moment to figure out why. Since marching to your own beat can be frowned upon by others at times, make sure to give yourself ample latitude to see the value in what you’re bringing forward.
Who do you admire?
If you get totally stumped about your strengths, one of the best things to do is to think about people you admire and why you admire them. This exercise gets us out of our own way. We don’t have to think about our own strengths, we can just think about who we admire and why we admire them. Take this information and see how you can find those qualities in yourself. Even if they haven’t been nurtured, they are likely to be strengths that you possess.
You can also take a quiz like Personal Strengths quiz on Penn Universities Authentic Happiness page https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/ to help you discover your strengths.
Once you start to see your strengths you can take any activity – or part of your life – and see how you can use a particular strength to improve your satisfaction and your results. For example, how might I use my strength of spontaneity to strengthen my relationship?
Note from Kate:
I see it happen every summer. The best laid plans get put aside and forgotten. What seemed so important in the Spring suddenly becomes less so as we make time to go to the beach or take a vacation.
The truth is, though, we need this time to relax. It’s part of what helps us stay on track with our goals and makes our goals meaningful.
Yet, finding time for relaxation doesn’t need to hold us back from staying motivated in other areas of our life. This article is dedicated to finding and keeping our motivation in all seasons.
Finding and Keeping Your Motivation
Motivation is, quite simply, the reason you do something. You can be motivated because you want a certain outcome or reward. Or you can be motivated by your desire to avoid something unpleasant.
But why is it that sometimes people think that they really want something yet don’t seem to do what it takes to get it? What happened to their “motivation”?
Some of the reasons that people don’t follow through on their goals are:
If this is going on, how do we kick-start our motivation?
If you have a habit of compartmentalizing, you might draw arbitrary lines in your life or mind. Because of this, you might lose total focus on one area of your life while focusing on the other. If this is an issue for you, it’s important to do things to bridge the divide. This might look like keeping your goals all in one place where you can see them, creating ways of working and thinking that benefit multiple areas of your life at once, or using a coach to help you keep what’s important in focus.
On the heels of compartmentalization is denial. We can deny how not taking action effects us or we can deny that we ever made the goal in the first place. One of the ways to deal with denial is to turn up the volume on the feelings associated with not doing what we said we wanted to do. We might ask ourselves: Is it really true that not reaching this goal is fine with me?
Many people with ADHD also struggle with motivation. They get distracted. One thing leads to other things and before you know it you’re way off track. Often times, you have a difficult time figuring out what foot to put first. Maybe you’ve gotten so used to getting off track that you just plain give up on getting started. If this the case, ADHD self-help books can be a great resources to help you jump-start your motivation.
If you’ve ever stopped yourself from doing something or dreaming something because of fear, you know how crippling it can feel. In fact, many of the other contributors to losing your motivation are related to fear. The best thing you can do when you sense your fear is holding you back is to find out why you’re afraid and then support yourself through the fear.
Sometimes the reason you don’t have motivation to do something is that what you thought you wanted isn’t actually what you want. It can be challenging to know if this is the case, but one of the most surefire ways to figure this out is to work on the other reasons for loss of motivation first. Then, if you still are not feeling motivated, it’s time to ask yourself if you really want what you set as your goal after all.
Once you’re motivated, how do you keep your motivation? You can:
It’s easy to lose motivation on big projects – especially ones that don’t yield immediate results. It’s important to mark your progress along the way and acknowledge your small successes to keep yourself feeling motivated toward the next phase of your goal.
While I often find negative consequences to be demotivating, they do work to keep people on track sometimes. If there’s something that you want to avoid, remind yourself that your current actions are leading you away from that.
Like acknowledging your progress each step of the way, giving yourself rewards for accomplishing your goals will help you keep your motivation up.
If you let your goals get stale, your focus and motivation might wander. What seemed like an exciting goal 10 years ago might be of little interest now. Often, the lifespan of a goal is much shorter. Make time to create and evaluate your goals on a regular basis.
If reaching your goal means you have to do a lot of things you really don’t like, it might make sense to delegate out your tasks to people who want to do them rather than trying to muscle through on your own.
And finally, it’s really important to make sure that you keep up on your personal development. By doing so you clear out backlogs of emotional residue that keep you from moving forward with ease.
Note from Kate
I make a point of paying attention to anyone who appears graceful under fire. There is so much to learn from people who are able to stay positive in difficult situations. I’m not talking about people who use positive thinking as a way to skirt or deny difficulty. I’m talking about people who are able to deeply accept the reality of a difficult situation and make the choice to move in the most positive direction available.
This week I offer a story from my life that gave me serious practice in accepting the reality of a difficult situation and remaining positive in the face of it.
Staying Positive in the Harder Times
One year ago, a former client decided that she did not want to pay after taking my whole program and even writing a positive testimonial. She filed a complaint against me with the licensing board saying that I had coerced her into taking the program.
This was a fantastic act of vengeance. The licensing board does not require those who file a complaint to submit proof of misconduct or payment for the investigation. Once filed, the complaint must be investigated. The person being investigated – also known as the licensee – must then prove their innocence through excessive documentation and often with expensive legal support. Further, the licensee cannot seek repayment because it can be interpreted as retaliation.
A couple weeks ago, the board dismissed the claim. Their investigation proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the complaint was an act of a desperate person trying not to pay. I’ve finally completed the extensive paperwork that I needed to file to end this investigation and it has made me wonder:
What was it that helped me make it though this challenging experience with relative ease?
It’s one thing to be positive when everything is going OK. It’s another thing to keep a positive attitude when the going gets tough.
To be honest, when this complaint was first filed I panicked. I felt like my survival was put in jeopardy. I watched my mind race to find a solution. I got angry. I felt like a victim. I felt guilty. I wanted to hide. I went right into the heart of negativity. My response was so extreme that when I took a step back and observed myself I realized – it’s REALLY unhealthy to feel like this. I needed to do something. So I asked myself: Kate, what do you really know?
What I know is that it’s not about what happens in life – it’s about how you deal with it. And, how you deal with it makes a huge impact on the outcome.
Put It in Perspective
I remember reading this book right before I had my son called “How to Raise Capable People.” In the book, the author said that if no real negative outcome came out of a child’s request, then you should let them do it. So, for example, if your child wants to go outside without a coat, let them. If they eventually get cold, they’ll put a coat on. This had a profound impact on me. I started looking at situations in my life to see whether a situation truly had a negative impact or if I imagined that the impact would be negative.
When my former client filed a complaint against me, I immediately perceived that my livelihood was threatened. I thought about whether or not this was true and it turns out that it wasn’t. I had held onto my license for the benefit of a couple clients. Yet, in reality all of my work was outside the medical model. Even if I was found guilty, the licensing board’s decision would not directly effect my business. Once I put the situation in perspective, I was able to remove a layer of stress and begin to respond proactively.
But, what if this hadn’t been the case. What if the outcome of the investigation had a really horrible impact on some aspect of my life? In this case, I would want an accurate view of the potential consequences so that I could explore what I could do to limit the negative impact. I could even re-frame my thinking to see the positive things that might result from this forced change of direction.
When navigating a difficult situation, the most important thing is to stay in the clearest and truest part of yourself. At its best, personal development work helps you tune into and connect with a deeper part of yourself. In this deeper part, you see things for what they truly are. When we are connected to this part of ourselves we know that even if things are difficult now, everything will ultimately be OK. We’re able to remember that things that look bad in one light, might actually look good in another light.
This clarity is important because it helps us make the best possible choice in a difficult situation and not react out of fear. When we stay with our clarity, our perspective broadens. In fact, we see our possibilities for solution expand rather than contract.
Practice Compassion and Forgiveness
While I dealt with this issue throughout this year, I went through times where I was angry. However, I knew that indulging my desire to blame would not serve me. In fact, every moment that I spent angry or blaming others kept me embroiled in a situation that was the opposite of what I wanted to create in my life.
Staying positive does a great deal to stop the cycle of harm. The bottom line is that hurt people do hurtful things. We all harbor stories about how other people have wronged us. Yet, a glimpse from their perspective might make their actions more understandable. We can hold onto our stories to insure that we feel in the right. Or we can let go of our stories and offer compassion and forgiveness for those who have wronged us. Ultimately, the latter creates a much happier and more positive life.