The Power of Active Listening
How many times have you had the same conversation over and over and over again? There’s that one person who constantly feels the need to tell you their story, their hardships, their accomplishments, or what they said to the Comcast guy when he was late for their appointment….even though you have heard this story SO MANY TIMES! Whether it be with your spouse, children, coworkers, bosses, or maybe the guy at the gas station, we often find ourselves stuck in these cycles of endless conversation. It’s easy in these situations to get frustrated and cast our aggravations on the other person. We ask things like, “Why don’t they get it? We keep having this conversation!”, or “How many times is he going to tell me this? He’s like a broken record!” Think about one of those situations in your own life. Get a clear picture of it in your head. Imagine the words being spoken, see the other persons face. Start to feel the reaction in your body. Is your jaw clenching? Maybe your shoulders are beginning to creep up towards your ears? Are you crossing your arms? Do you feel tired, bored, or drained?
Now, let’s switch gears for a minute. Think of a time when YOU have been the one feeling like you have to say the same thing over and over again. Maybe it’s reminding your kids to put their clothes in the hamper, nagging your spouse to help around the house without being asked, telling the story of that time you scored the game-winning touchdown…..in high school…..25 years ago. Yep…we ALL do it. Now try to pay attention to where it may be coming from. Dig deep here. Why do you tell this story? How does it make you feel? What’s your role in the story? Are you the victim, hero, martyr? What is it that makes you constantly go here? Likely, you will come to the conclusion that, no matter how many times you are repeating yourself, you don’t feel as if you are being heard, appreciated or validated in whatever it is you are trying to express.
There is a big difference between listening and ACTIVELY listening. We live in an age where it is not only easy, but NORMAL, to be bombarded by distractions everywhere we turn. The smartphone pings one of several tones…you race to discover if it was an email, text, Facebook, Instagram, or voicemail notification. (Actually, it was WordPress letting you know I just posted another RADICAL blog post, but I digress). The point is, there are so many reasons NOT to focus on the person right in front of us, that why would we feel like we are being heard? The sad thing here is that, as a society, we are losing focus on how important communication is, and in losing this focus, we are beginning to lack understanding of just how powerful listening can be.
When we create a space where someone feels truly listened to, the possibilities are endless. When we hold a place for honest expression, stories begin to lose importance, because they no longer define the person telling them. The story teller no longer feels the need to identify so strongly with these memories, habits, or routines which may have been holding them back. Feeling truly heard, we are able to move on to better stories. Imagine this…think back on a conflict in your life where you felt like your voice was not being heard. Maybe you are fighting with your significant other, and it feels as though everything you say is being turned around. Finally, you bow out of the conversation defeated, realizing that you are getting nowhere. You feel a sense of hopelessness, perhaps some anxiety and frustration. You call a friend, or your mom, or you sit down next to your dog, and they LISTEN! THEY TRULY LISTEN! Like, let you have the floor, freak the BEEP out, say everything and anything you need to say without interjecting, forming opinions, or offering unsolicited advice, cry, scream, punch a pillow…whatever it is, without judgment. How do you feel? A rush of relief? A little silly for getting so heated? Validation? Whatever you are feeling, I can almost guarantee you when your significant other walks back into the room, the thing you were discussing so feverishly will have lost a lot of importance, because you no longer feel that burning desire to be heard.
Sometimes we just need to be heard, without being labeled as right or wrong. It’s that simple.
I’m not suggesting that we need to enable our friends and loved ones who are stuck in these patterns, but am merely offering that perhaps if you truly listen to what they are saying, you might hear something entirely different underneath. Are there those who are married to their stories? Unfortunately yes, there are, but you don’t have to engage with those people. However, if you are experiencing these cycles with people you love, than chances are there is just something not being said, or something not being heard. Listen up, and you may be surprised at what you find. The coolest part about this, is the more that we begin to incorporate it in our lives, the less we will find ourselves caught in these cyclical conversations, because people will feel as though we heard them the first time.
So, how can you bring this into your life? Take the next 24 hours and observe your habits in conversation. Notice if you are fidgeting, thinking about other things, fixated on an ant climbing up the wall behind the other persons head (I know…I’ve done it too). Are you able to make eye contact? Can you keep your thoughts directed on what the other person is saying? Just observe yourself without judgement and begin to acknowledge how you might incorporate more positive interaction with those around you, and make THAT your practice for the following 24 hours. Make a diligent effort to be a better listener and see what happens. Take notes…write down any differences you notice in how others interact with you. Share your results in the comments section below. I’m excited to see if anything changes for you.
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Find Joy in the Little Things
I woke up early this morning….really, really, really early, and for some reason I just could not go back to sleep. Typically this would annoy me, but I paused for a moment and listened into the sound of absolute silence throughout my house. I took a breath, threw back the covers, and decided to shift my mental state and take advantage of this rare moment where my house was actually calm and quiet. I tiptoed out to the living room, quietly closing bedroom doors as I passed, snuggled up on the couch under a blanket, and took some time to journal and read. By the time my daughter (pictured above in her own beautiful expression of pure joy as she played on a beach in Maine) finally came out with the breaking of the morning sun, I was feeling completely relaxed and ready to start the day.
This is what finding joy in the little things means to me. All it takes is that split second decision to change our mindset and choose to find a positive in whatever annoyance, boring task, challenge, unexpected situation, or unwelcome person shows up in our lives. Do you know what I found? As my morning progresses, I have been able to find joy in all sorts of other little things without even having to try, because making the decision to start the day off that way has set the tone and intention for the rest of it. I found myself willing to sit an extra ten minutes this morning snuggling with my kids and asking them how their sleep was, as opposed to jumping up and rushing around. I found myself watching their sweet, sleepy expressions more closely as they described to me the contents of their dreams. I found myself giggling uncontrollably as my giant dogs tore out into the yard, exhilarated that the air was actually COOL this morning (always a big shocker when you live in Florida and are recovering from another brutally hot summer). At the grocery store, I was so happy with every item I put in my cart, realizing how lucky I am to be able to provide my family with nourishing food. I felt amazingly accomplished walking back into the house, laden down with grocery bags, knowing that the rest of the day is open to so many brilliant possibilities. And even now, I find myself thankful for the opportunity to share these experiences with you…and I also find myself eager to post this so I can see where else I might find joy today.
Buddha said, “Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so let us all be thankful.” If we could all live by these words, how different our society would be! If we were able to fill up on hope, possibility, curiosity, thankfulness, and little joys, even in the face of adversity…fear and hatred would be eliminated. We don’t have to force others to feel this way, but we do have an obligation as part of our human family, to start with ourselves and begin to pay attention to where we are putting our energy. Where could you start today to see joy in the mundane, the aggravation, or the challenge? It’s still early in the day…press the reset button if you need to and start living from that place now. Happy Sunday!
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Let Yourself Dream BIG…
If I could give you one piece of advice today, the title of this blog post sums it up. Let yourself dream BIG! I’m not talking kind of big, or a little big, or big just to the point where it feels attainable….I’m talking REAL BIG! Envision your life exactly the way you would ideally love for it to be, and actually allow yourself to marinate in it for a bit. Set a timer, lay down somewhere super comfy, close your eyes, and see it all up close and personal. Imagine it as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Walk through the corridors of your mansion on the water, feel the wind blowing through your hair as you race down an abandoned road with the top down in your new convertible, smell the decadent meals being prepared for you from your gourmet kitchen, gaze into the eyes of your soul mate as they happily gaze back, climb to the top of a mountain and listen to the sounds of nature and solitude, feel the burn of the warm sand on your back as you relax beneath a cloudless, blue sky with the sounds of the ocean crashing on the shore. Let yourself be fully present to all of these sensations, and make time to do it EVERY DAY!
I know where your mind might be going right now…yep, I’m onto you. “Here she goes…she’s read too many damn New Age books and thinks that doing all this is going to miraculously manifest all of these things into my life. Well, it sounds like bullshit to me.” Well guess what? I have some good news…it sounds like bullshit to me too…and miraculous manifestation is NOT what I’m suggesting. Does that stuff work? I’m sure it probably does for some, but for the rest of us, it probably takes a little more determination, flexibility, hard work, and bravery to achieve real tangible results. So what IS the point of all of this daydreaming?
Daydreaming is what’s going to keep your soul alive and bursting with creativity as you move through the challenges, speed bumps, and even the little victories, that will inevitably appear as you continue on your life path. The fact is, making your dreams come true WILL take effort on your part, but that doesn’t mean that it has to suck. Taking the time to reconnect to the grandiose vision of your perfect life that you have in your head, reignites the spark and fuels the fire of whatever end result excites you. It also keeps you open to the possibilities that truly exist. Success, happiness, peace, balance, health, vitality, prosperity…these are not things solely available to those born to privilege or to gurus, wise men, or other spiritually enlightened beings. These gifts are available to each of us, although our path to achieving them will look different across the board. If somebody handed you a present with your name on it, would you say, “No thanks, I’m cool.” or would you eagerly grab the present, rip the paper off it, throw back the damn lid and WOO HOO with delight at the sparkly ball of possibility that sat inside? Yeah, that’s what I thought. I’d politely refuse too…..NOT!
So what’s the next step? Maybe all this daydreaming stuff still feels a little weird to you. Maybe you are a little curious. Hell, maybe you’re not even reading this anymore because you are laying on your bed with your eyes closed and a big, silly-ass grin on your face! Wherever you are, it’s the perfect place to start. Grab a journal, answer the questions I’ve listed below, and start creating this vision for yourself. Go BIG…remember, we’re talking REAL BIG! MTV Cribs BIG, Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous BIG, Harlequin romance novels BIG….they are your dreams….OWN THEM. You have them for a reason! Are you ready? Good! Remember to get as specific and detailed as you can. Grab a pen and write this down:
In my ideal vision of my life:
What does my romantic life look like?
Where am I living?
What am I doing for work?
How much money am I making?
Who am I friends with?
Where/when/how often am I vacationing?
What are some risks I am taking or ways I am challenging myself?
How am I giving back to others?
What does my spiritual practice look like?
Okay, this is a good start….now KEEP GOING! Write so much your hand hurts and your heart is pounding from all of the excitement you’ve generated. And then read it back to yourself, add anything else you might want to add, and read it again. Read it every day. Dream it every night. Make it your mantra. And start taking REAL steps towards making it happen EVERY SINGLE DAY! That will be different for each of us, but choose just ONE thing. Maybe you are looking for a new relationship, so each week you commit to going on one date, or putting yourself in one place that would be good to meet your ideal mate, or going to get yourself a makeover so you feel amazing and bold and ready to knock ’em dead.
We are all rock stars in our own rights. YOU have the key to your happiness. You won’t find it anywhere else. Dream big and open some doors!