“As iron is eaten by rust, so are the envious consumed by envy.” – Antisthenes
Envy is the emotion that all of us experience from time to time. It is an emotional state we get into when others get what we want or it can stem from comparisons in belongings, personality traits, physical appearances, relationships and or achievements. Regardless of the personal or professional climate, people at all levels are vulnerable to envy. Feelings of envy can also happen in domains of work, family and friendship negatively impacting our emotional health, productivity levels, relationships, teamwork, and creative abilities.
So Why do we feel envy?
Envy is like most of our other emotions, it comes from within and causes lot of unhappiness and resentment. It’s important to remember, though, that you don’t feel envy when as much when someone achieves great success in a different life pursuit. But you feel envy when someone who is of roughly the same background, abilities, age, location, life situation or achieves something similar to your goal in your field of choice. When you compare yourself to others, you mostly compare in extrinsic qualities or things like fame, status or wealth rather than intrinsic values like meaning or purpose. This is the reason, your initial response will often be one of envy when you compare. Being surpassed by another’s ability makes you feel insecure about your concept of who you are.
Also, when you are constantly exposed to stories of success which makes them seem so close within your reach. This makes you crave for the same opportunities and achievement they appear to have. Feelings of envy also arise when someone achieves something that you have always wanted to achieve, or when someone you don’t like succeeds or when someone manages to get something and you think that he or she doesn’t deserve it.
Why is envy harmful to your productivity?
“Our envy always lasts longer than the happiness of those we envy.” – Franois de la Rochefoucauld
Even though enviousness makes you lead your life in constant hope to have more. It can never lead to better outcomes like the way you can with intrinsic motivation.
Envying others and worrying about others’ successes will make you blind to your own potential, strengths and to the weaknesses of rivals. Sometimes, we make ourselves feel better by belittling the accomplishments of the person we resent and tend to distance and disconnect ourselves. Such envious emotions leads to missed opportunities, unproductive behaviour and professional inefficiency. Ignoring other people’s ideas or dismissing the value of others’ qualities due to envy makes it difficult for you to learn and collaborate.
Envy also increases your insecurity, self-doubt, and lowers your self-esteem. Most of all, when you become so fixated on envy, you start to neglect or sabotage your own efforts or performance. When others successes bother you, you become ruminative and lose focus on your priorities. Envy interferes with your ability to think and act and instead of working on attaining what is important to you, it focuses your energy on what you lack.
Envious feelings are difficult to manage if you try to conceal and deny as the repressed feelings inevitably surface. Also with envy, the gap is between what you have and what the other person has or it may be that the other has something you want to have but don’t have thereby making you feel of inferior.
So, How to deal with your envy constructively?
You can recognise your potentially, destructive thoughts and behaviours by being honest with yourself when you feel envy and try to respond to it constructively. Instead of allowing the emotion to linger and derail, you can try and interpret it as a signal for what it is and what is that you actually want to achieve and can turn them into more positive and productive ones to set and achieve your goals. Envy is mostly about relative status compared with someone else’s, hence you need to know how to transform your envy to help you achieve what you want. And also freeing yourself from the control of envy liberates you from unrealistic and counterproductive desires. And you can make progress in the areas you want to grow.
Here are few ways to deal with your envy in a more productive and positive manner.
Understand your envy
When you identify with your envy, don’t ignore or conceal it but at the same time don’t continue feeding it. Instead try to understand what’s really behind the envy. Envy can tell you a lot about what you want. The key is to understand the circumstances and qualities in others that trigger your envy. Ask yourself what is that you are most insecure about. Witnessing someone else’s success can highlight your own insecurities and perceived failures. Once you understand the WHY, the feeling will have much less control over you. Not doing things that you want to be doing is when envy has a perfect breeding ground. Through understanding, you can use it as an opportunity to see the gap between what you are doing right now and what you still aspire to do in the future and what are the other areas you can improve.
Get to your core self-concept
Getting to the essence of your self-concept helps you connect to your core values, your needs, and things that are most important to you. Most often we include things such as money, abilities, physical appearance or status as part of our self-concept. When you evaluate yourself lower than how you evaluate those around you in comparison to these things, you may see it as a threat to who you are and experience envy. Gain clarity on your core values and instead of comparing yourself with others, measure your past self with present self. Reminding yourself of your strengths, past accomplishments and your core values, you can fix your mental self-image and thereby remove any feelings of insecurity you might be feeling. There is no reason for you to envy what others have when those things don’t align with your core values.
Shift your focus to gratitude
Being intentionally grateful can help you put greater emphasis on what you have rather than what you do not have that is causing you to be envious. Gratitude creates feelings of connectedness to a bigger purpose and increases feelings of empathy rather than envy. Make a list of things you are thankful for, no matter how small they are. Shifting your focus to positive life events or the small everyday occurrences can help you not to take what you have for granted. When you compare yourself with others and label the outcomes of your comparison as good or bad, you tend to lower your self-worth. Instead be grateful of your uniqueness, talents and abilities and remind yourself that no body has it all. Rather than fixating on what you don’t have, make gratitude your strategy to replace each envious thought with a moment of gratitude.
Be realistic in assessing others
We always compare the worst of what we know about ourselves to the best assumptions we make about others. Be realistic in assessing others. Everyone experiences their own problems, trials and weaknesses. But if you place more value on others’ abilities, you tend to devalue your own. Constant exposure to social media creates a delusion that everyone else’s life is happier than yours, more productive and more valuable. When you fall prey to such delusion, you start feeding yourself with envy and begin to think that everything else is better and not yours. That friend or coworker or relative who seems to have an amazing life might be striving to put his or her best face forward. Correct your false assumptions about others and realise that everyone struggles with something or the other in their life.
Stop comparing yourself to others
We tend to judge ourselves by comparing with others. Comparison to people who are similar to you is a normal process to evaluate yourself and to improve your skills or abilities. But the judgment and value you place on your self-judgment can lead to envy. Comparing yourself to others is a great way to learn and comparing yourself to people who are sufficiently different or ahead of you can make you strive out of inspiration instead of envy. Focus on yourself to be better and stronger. Being able to applaud success of others without having negative reaction leads to more opportunities. When somebody receives something that you desire, be happy for them. If you wanted they too probably wanted the same. Stop judging yourself negatively by focusing on your strengths and knowing for certain that your are worthy can be enough to eliminate any feelings of envy.
While the feeling of envy may arise from time to time, we don’t have to respond to it counterproductively or try to repress it. Even though it is difficult, but it is always possible to prevent yourself from being consumed by it and you can even try and harness it to your advantage. Admitting that you are envious is not easy, but admitting it to yourself allows you to change your priorities so that you can redefine what is important to you and also helps you find other areas where you can excel. Be honest with yourself when you encounter feelings of envy within yourself and respond to them constructively by using the above strategies. Get interested in creating an environment that boosts productivity and work on your aspirations and work to improve yourself.
“There is nothing like success to blind one to the possibility of failure.” – Roger Lowenstein
Every day we hold onto certain kind of expectations about ourselves, others and about our circumstances. These expectations we hold about ourselves directly influence our attitudes, decisions, behaviours, perspectives, as well as interactions with others. To succeed in our goals and to achieve our objectives, we must have a realistic assessment of our expectations. Being confident that your expectations will be met is important in business or work and life in general. But confidence is not about having it all. Instead, it’s about being okay with whatever you have and using it to its best potential. However, If you don’t use it wisely, it turns into overconfidence which then turns against you. It is important not to be overconfident. For instance. being overconfident while making a decision, you may overlook something important or might not look at all because you are confident that you already know what to choose.
You might be creative, hardworking, ambitious and might think you are much better in what you do. At the same time. you also might allow the confidence you gain from your talents to delude you into believing that you could do everything else to the same level of success in other areas. As a result, you become overconfident in your abilities. Such thinking can make you think that you’re invaluable to your company or in the work you do where in fact almost anyone could do your job. Research shows that we overestimate our precision of information that we have about a situation and thus tend to believe something is much more likely to occur than it really is. Such bias from overconfidence is quite prevalent where most of us believe that our judgments and decisions are better than they really are.
So, what is a overconfidence bias?
Overconfidence bias is in which people demonstrate unwarranted faith in their own intuitive reasoning, judgments or cognitive abilities. It is a tendency to hold a false and misleading assessment of our skills, knowledge, intellect or talent. You might come across such bias in yourself or in people around you in your personal or professional environments. You may see yourself a more capable than your colleagues, more knowledgeable or even ethical and talented.
What causes overconfidence bias?
Emotional and cognitive distortion that creates overconfidence can be a major hindrance to any form of success. Overconfidence bias might occur after recent success or because of a sense of self-importance. Sometimes it may be due to social pressure when the stakes are high as people tend to act on pretended knowledge as a preferred solution. It is also caused by doubt-avoidance, inconsistency-avoidance, incentives, denial and due to believing first and doubting later.
Sometimes, we all become victims of our own delusions of self-confidence where we begin to see ourselves valuable, honest and intelligent. We start viewing our successes as the result of our own efforts attributing it to our natural abilities thereby forgetting the others contributions or timing and other factors. We fail to recognise that skill in one area doesn’t always translate to skills in another. Each success confirms our heightened self-image creating overconfidence bias.
Overconfidence is something that can make us blind to the mistakes in our decisions and thought processes. It further manifests into overestimation where you overestimate your actual abilities, performance, the amount of control you have , or your chance of success. It also can manifest into overplacement where you believe that your position is higher than those of around you. Like for instance, you think you received higher score than your friend and in reality, your friend receives better scores than you do, in this situation, you have overplaced your scores. And it also manifests into overprecision when you are confident that you are correct.
Why overconfidence bias is bad for you?
Overconfidence affects your judgments and decisions in different ways. Here are some ways in which it does.
Overconfidence affects a people’s judgment as it relates their own personal performance as higher than it actually is. Generally, most of us think we are better at something than we really are and we are less likely to admit when we are not as good as we would like to be. This can cause problems as it can make you feel more valuable within a team or group or workplace and may end up taking too many risks. This creates a pattern for failure as your skills do not match up to your beliefs.
Illusion of control
This happens with the idea that if we can quantify something, we can measure it, understand it, and thus manage it.
Believing that you have more control over a situation than you actually do leads to you taking unnecessary risk, or inability to assess the risk involved in the situation. Also, this can lead to wrong decisions and choices in both personal and professional matters. Failure to accurately assess risk leads to failure in managing and accomplishing your goals.
The desirability effect happens when people overestimate the odds of something happening simply because the outcome of a situation is desirable. This is also a type of overconfidence bias. Many times, this leads to many mistakes and faulty behaviours simply because we believe our desired outcome is more probable just because that’s the outcome we want.
This occurs when we are too optimistic about how quickly we can perform a task and underestimate how long it takes to get things done. One outcome of over-confidence is missed deadlines and delayed projects on account of the planning fallacy. When is the last time that you finished any task or project early? And this leads to creating unrealistic project plans in hopes that the future will somehow be different than the present.
Overconfidence bias can do a lot of damage to your relationships, career, financial or investing choices, business and your productivity levels. Overconfidence bias leads to many errors in various walks of our daily lives. It becomes a major hindrance when it comes to improving your understanding of a situation.
• You misjudge your value, opinion, beliefs or abilities or you may oversimplify things.
• You may not prepare properly for a situation or may get into a situation that you are not equipped to handle.
• You may procrastinate to failure because of your timing optimism.
• Overestimating your abilities causes missed deadlines, shoddy performance and stress at the cost of your money, time, and your well-being.
• You may take excessive risks and make decisions that are not beneficial to you or your team.
• Being overconfident can affect your work, attitude and behaviour towards others.
• Leads to unreal expectations and makes you more vulnerable to disappointment.
How to avoid overconfidence bias?
Biased way of looking at a situation is considered as the most pervasive and potentially damaging of all the cognitive biases to which most of us fall victim. Almost all of us suffer from some kind of overconfidence bias in various situations. Here are few ways to stay unbiased.
• Past successes inflates our perception of our own abilities. When your self-image becomes tied to your last success, you may tend to overlook your mistakes and become judgmental. Success in past or expertise is no guarantee of future success. Just because you had a string of correct decisions has no bearing on the one you face now. Treat each new decision as if it were your first. Discuss the matter objectively and make a thorough assessment of the risk involved.
• Overconfidence by its very nature, distorts your own image of reality. It is important to recheck your facts about a situation. Disregard your initial judgment about a situation and check the validity of your assumptions. Develop habits and systems that provide feedback to stay connected to reality. Each success brings you closer to overconfidence and complacency. Cultivating a realistic attitude towards your successes and failures prevents you from untoward consequences.
• With overconfidence bias, you tend to ignore criticism and you might get into a false sense of security. Acknowledging your mistakes instead of blaming others helps you clear your heads of any hubris that might cloud your judgment. Reflecting as to what plans worked and what decisions yielded good results and what decisions ended up wrong, you can use your mistakes and failures as learning opportunities. When you get criticised, instead of defending, deal with it constructively to help improve yourself.
• As we accomplish more and more things, it is easy to believe that what we are doing is right. Trying to control every situation or believing that your contribution to a decision is more valuable than it actually is or trying to handle everything yourself or insisting that your way is the only way is a recipe for disaster. Recognising the role that others had in your success will keep you grounded and focusing on your specific role in failures will remind you that you have areas that you can improve.
• Look at multiple perspectives and think through the implication and consequences of a belief or an action. Alternate perspectives push you out of your comfort zone and force you to think critically and you may discover better way of doing things or improve yourself instead of giving into your overconfidence bias. Healthy discussions always give you new perspectives and let’s you see ways of doing things or improving yourself. So when making decision, be humble, seek out new perspectives and be well-informed to take into consideration of all the factors and risks involved.
• During our decision-making process or while making a choice, we first assess the familiarity of the options or opinions and search for facts in order to construct an explanation about why the familiar option is true. An explanation forms in our mind that really seems right and we tend to focus on that first familiar option which may not be right. Instead of option-fixation, make a best possible guess, then assume that guess is inaccurate, and then generate plausible reasons for why the guess was inaccurate. Research shows that overconfidence is reduced after listing the arguments that contradict the reasoning that lead to the guess and often the more estimates that are averaged the better, so long as they are based on different reasoning. This will minimise risk. Keeping your thinking in present instead of outcome lets you focus on what is needed right now and much more realistic and more achievable.
• The inherent state of overconfidence is strong when projecting our beliefs about our future. We tend to overestimate our ability to predict the time frame as we tend to put higher probability on desired events than undesired events. Work is always better done when more time is spent on it. Try to give yourself a bit more time than your first estimate. Double it if you can for completion of your tasks or projects. The more time you give yourself, the less chance you take of missing deadlines.
We all fall victim to moments and sometimes stretches of over-confidence which often end with disappointment or failure. And yet, despite what we think we have learned for next time, we continue to be over-optimistic about our abilities and the state of the future. The same mistakes occur again and again. We often take into account only our planning and generally ignore external factors and tend to indulge in over-assessment of our expectations and capabilities. We rate our competence too high and plunge into overconfidence bias. If over-confidence is not constantly checked, it leads to poor outcomes, failures and disappointments. To overcome this bias, you need to install objectivity into your systems and thinking. Keep yourself responsible and objective and try the above techniques to consciously confront overconfidence bias before it distorts your view of reality.
“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” – Lao Tzu
When it comes to achieving our big goals, whether it’s at work, in bettering health, in managing finances, or even pursuing an unlikely dream, we sometimes find them elusive for one reason or another. These challenging goals test our resolve and stretch our comfort zone. When you prepare for a presentation rather binge on a weekend, save money rather than spend it, or eat broccoli rather than candy, what you are really doing is ensuring that future you will be better off. But to make this happen or achieving your other big goals is easier said than done. It requires right motivation, self-control, and a great deal of effort or will power to achieve them. Like, to accomplish a goal of losing weight, following a low-fat diet and regular exercise is the best way, but how do we ‘just do’ what we know is best? to eat healthy and to stick with an exercise program, you need to have strong self-control. And especially, when it comes to avoiding temptations, you require focused effort to get consistent results.
We all have this perfect vision of ourselves at some point off into the future once we attain our goals. But getting from where we are today to our desired destination requires consistent self-control, focused effort and strong will. We search for shortcuts, techniques, methods, and easy ways to motivate ourselves to get there. But on the way, we become impatient, impulsive, and give into the desire for immediate gratification, be it impulsive spending, or distracting our attention to games or social media rather than learning or hoaning skills we need, or giving into momentary eating at a cost to our well-being. This results in impatience and we get biased towards pleasure in the moment. The result is that most of us fail to stick with our daily goals by giving into desires for short-term pleasure.
Most of the times, we don’t feel the effects of our decisions immediately. What you choose to eat and how you choose to invest or spend your free time. These decisions often have different gains or losses in long-run. Eating that extra piece of cake might feel great in the moment but will result in weight gain later. Even though our minds come equipped with necessary tools to succeed, we foresake them and face problems when it comes ṭo delaying gratification, developing strong self-control, and cultivating perseverance. So how would you choose between working on your goals or giving into your immediate gratifications? The ability ṭo control your impulses matter in life. Whether it is studying, practicing, saving, exercising, or persevering in your goals, a willingness to sacrifice in the moment to gain greater rewards in the future can make all the difference.
Why you cannot rely only on your will power?
Most of the times, the value derived from achieving your desirable goal is mostly far off into the future that working on this goal just doesn’t bring you as much pleasure as spending time on other things that give you instant gratification. All the things that bring you instant pleasure makes you struggle to resist leaving you feeling conflicted between the big goal you want to achieve and these small pleasures you so desperately want to indulge in. The choice lies with you to choose either to move down the path of instant gratification or to choose to resist and focus on your goal. Resisting seems to be a rational choice, so you choose to muster up the will power needed to overcome your pleasurable urges in preference of your long-term rewards.
But relying only on your willpower doesn’t take you far as you only have one reserve of it, if you don’t agree, pick up an object and hold it up in the air. Now keep holding it there-forever, ofcourse you can’t do it. And yet, most of us try to do the same with willpower – keep exerting forever. Focusing on your work drains your will power, as does resisting the urge to eat junk food, as does making yourself get out of bed in the morning when you want to sleep. Each time you tap into your will power reserves for difficult tasks, or to maintain healthy habits, you end up depleting your will power reserves. And the more difficult the goal, the faster the rate it gets depleted.
Also using will power will help you only in the short-term as it fails to deal with the source of the problem. Most of the times, we also use techniques such as reason, distraction to keep ourselves from reaching back to what is tempting us to overcome cravings for immediate pleasure. Such habits can help you delay gratification without stress but in limited ways. And when your desires and values are in conflict, you will eventually get caught up on these temptations. So, instead of using willpower as the only source of fuel, it would be better off learning the art of self-control and applying it to goal achievement in a focused way. In an age of instant gratification, self-control seems to be an unusual and undervalued quality, but it is an important one to strive for to achieve your long-term goals.
So, what exactly is self-control?
Self-control is the ability to subdue or resist your impulsive urges, emotions, and behaviours for immediate gratification in order to achieve your long-term goals. Self-control is different from grit where grit is the ability to pursue long-term goals over years, self-control is the ability to resist temptation in the moment. It is the ability to say ‘no’ to yourself in tempting and challenging circumstances and also is the ability to know the difference between a need and a want. Self-control comes from a rational understanding of the consequences of your behavior so that you can sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term gain.
Why you need to have greater self-control?
The famous marshmallow experiment conducted back in 60’s reveals a clear correlation between self-control and the quality of our life. During experiment, kids were offered a choice between one marshmallow immediately or two marshmallows if they waited alone in the room for up to 20 minutes, during which the researcher left the room and returned. Some kids couldn’t resist the temptation and had the single marshmallow, other kids, however, waited for the researcher to come back into the room and received the second marshmallow as a reward to their patience. In the follow up studies, they found that the kids who were able to wait longer for the bigger rewards fared better in their lives. Those who couldn’t resist had shown more behavioral problems and tended to struggle with stressful situations.
Therefore, by practicing self-control, you can overcome unwanted impulses, thoughts, fears, obsessive, addictive or unsuitable behaviors. You will be better equipped to handle your emotions and can cope with stressful situations far more effectively. It improves your focus and brings a sense of balance into your life. By strengthening your self-control, you can improve your self-esteem and confidence. Lack of willingness to change and improve, or lack of self-discipline and lack of faith in yourself or in your abilities can weaken your ability to develop self-control. Sticking to your goals and to follow through your plans, you need to have strong control on your emotions to resist short-term desire and temptation.
So, How do you develop greater self-control?
Delayed gratification or self-control is a skill better learned as children, but for those of us who did not receive this form of guidance, it can be still learnt and can be improved with practice and persistence. Here are some ways to enhance your self-control.
1. Gain clarity and set specific goals that you want to control. Set concrete and specific goals like in which areas of your life you would like to enforce more self-control. For example, what goal do you have and what is your intent for accomplishing it? is it regarding health or time management ? would you like to spend less time on your distractions so you can use that time to work or study? or Do you want to follow a healthy diet? You can make an inner commitment by understanding the benefits once you implement those changes and plan ahead on how to go about achieving those changes. Think of how you are going to adapt in case things don’t workout as expected. Gaining clarity keeps you disciplined and focused.
2. Increase the value of your purposeful tasks. Being purposeful in your tasks makes your life more meaningful and significant and you will be driven intrinsically to give it your best. Since such purposeful action has an intrinsic reward tied to it, you see immediate benefit in taking that action. You will be also motivated by the long-term rewards that will result in future if your tasks remain purposeful. All temptations and distractions come with immediate gratification and draw you away from tasks that have no immediate reward attached with it. So, our minds have a tendency of discounting the value of future rewards. So by keeping your tasks more purposeful and meaningful, you can over-ride momentary impulses and can reduce the habit of discounting the value of future.
3. Find the balance. Having self-control is not about total abstinence. It is more to do with finding the right balance. Denying yourself or suppressing what you need is as bad as over-indulging. You can do so by asking yourself these questions. Do you often over-indulge in things you like? As soon as you get something, are you looking for the next? If you want something in large quantities, isn’t it going to affect your health or well-being? How far would you go to get what you want? Do you enjoy it enough to make it worthwhile or simply move on to wanting some more of it or something else? By knowing the difference between your need and want, you can strive for balance.
4. Use your emotions to achieve a challenging goal. Cognitive strategies such as will power, distraction, reasoning and the like do work at times, but they are not optimal. Using these mechanisms to suppress your desires for immediate satisfaction can work, but it gets stressful and requires much effort that can affect your well-being. Instead, using your emotions can be powerful for developing self-control. Emotions such as desire, sadness, or anger push you towards short-term concerns. But if you rely on emotions such as gratitude, compassion, persistence, cooperation or perseverence when temptations arise, you will be able to have a long-term view and these right emotions can nudge your mind to favorable future gains over immediate ones.
5. Gratitude boosts self-control . Feelings of gratitude encourage you to resist and overcome selfish temptations when dealing with others. Gratitude stems from recognising that others have offered us something of value. We feel grateful when we feel others have invested in us, which makes us willing ṭo return the favor in future. Whether you’re paying people back for their investment in you with money, time or effort, gratitude nudges you to sacrifice your own gains in the moment to build better relationships for the long term. Gratitude not only builds self-control but also in helping others you also help yourselves down the line.
6. Practice compassion. Like gratitude, compassion motivates you to care for about others. It starts a virtuous cycle by encouraging people to take that first step to sacrifice time, money or some other resource to benefit another even if other is their own future self. Care and compassion towards others and towards your future self drives your willingness to sacrifice in the moment and produces an effortless self-control. It decreases the value we attach to objects and events that offer immediate gratification and this makes it easier to persevere in ways that pay off in future.
7. Meditate regularly. Reflect on thoughts and beliefs that push you to behave in an uncontrolled manner. Practice forgiving and empathizing with yourself for failures as opposed to criticizing yourself. Set some affirmations to act with self-restraint and self-control. Even taking a little as ten minutes a day to focus on your breathing can improve your ability to resist disruptive impulses. By recognising your self-talk and reflecting on past-failures and writing your internal dialogue makes you less vulnerable to impulsive actions.
“Meditation and mindfulness training are essentially exercises in self-control. From controlling the focal point of one’s attention… to a controlled awareness of whatever is going on internally or externally at that particular moment”
Mastering self-control in various situations in your day to day activities takes consistent practice in small ways. It is important to gradually increase your ability to resist larger temptations over time.
The following questions can help you assess your self-control. What has been your biggest challenge when it comes to having self-control and what can you do to overcome it? Can you recall a time you demonstrated strong self-control? Can you recall a time you gave into your temptations or instant gratifications? How much self-control do you have when it comes to your diet or exercise? Does your spending and buying reflect self-restraint? What habits would you like ṭo change to strengthen your self-control?
Recognise the areas where you are struggling with self-control and, rather than giving into those impulses, use the above strategies to work your way up to resist them and strengthen your resolve. Also it is important to remember that to resist immediate gratification, do not ignore or suppress certain emotions. Find ways to embrace gratitude, perseverence, compassion, forgiving and empathizing with your future self. The more self-control you exercise, the more freedom you experience from the irrational impulses that could take you away from your goals.
“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”– Dalai Lama
Being a good listener is one of the most important life-skill we all can have. In today’s fast paced and high-tech world, communication has become an important means of achieving our goals and objectives. Yet we devote very less time when it comes to listening to one another. When was the last time, you listened to what the other person is saying without any distraction? We often have a tendency to focus more on our words rather than others’ words. In a hurry to get our message across, we often neglect the important part of communication, which is listening, be it while listening to our peers, coworkers, friends or family members. If you fail to understand what is being expressed to you whether at work, or home or school, you will also fail in providing a meaningful response.
According to an ancient Chinese Proverb ‘To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well.’ Your true potential is always is directly linked to the quality of your listening skills. In this age of instant communication we are in a hurry to communicate what’s in our mind or focus more on replying than in good listening. We fail to realise, a lot can also be learned by means of listening from others in our day to day conversations.
We often confuse the physical act of hearing with listening. The basic difference being hearing is through ears, but listening is through mind. Hearing only involves perceiving sounds. On the contrary, listening is receiving the information, paying full attention to the words and sentences and understanding them. There is lot of importance given to ‘problem solving’, ‘goal setting’ and other skills to improve our potential or productivity, but very rarely we hear about the importance of active listening and how learning to master this art can improve our overall performance.
Are you a poor listener?
According to a research, we spend much of our waking hours communicating, and more than half is spent listening. Although listening is our primary activity, most of us are poor listeners. Studies show that we are able to comprehend and retain only one-quarter of what was said in about a ten-minute talk. This is mostly because many of us are either distracted by our own thought process or we get self-justifying or busy rehearsing our response that we miss out on what is being said. Sometimes, we tend to shut ourselves to listening when we disagree with the person’s views. Also because our listening speed is faster than the other person’s speaking speed, there is a void which we fill with our thoughts or perceptions. Not able to listen properly leads to arguments, conflicts, and various other challenges in your personal or professional lives. At workplaces, it leads to more errors and wastage of time. In personal life, it may lead to misunderstandings affecting your relationships.
Why listening is more important than speaking?
Effective listening involves ability to concentrate, understand, respond and then retain what is being said. How well we listen has a significant influence on our interpersonal relationships and work effectiveness. Developing good listening skills makes you less anxious, mindful and more self-aware. A great learner is often not the speaker, but the listener. Good listening improves your communication and interpersonal skills at workplaces where it helps you to fully concentrate and engage in a discussion. You will be able to grasp the purpose of your communication so as to put forth your ideas and objectives with more clarity. It helps you provide valuable feedback, to resolve conflicts and eliminate misunderstandings.
Great leaders are people who are intuitive listeners. They recognise that knowledge is gained by listening and not by talking. Good listeners are often perceived as people leaders as they acknowledge and listen to people’s issues and this makes them feel valued. They earn the trust and respect of people by listening, understanding and being supportive of them. By actively engaging yourself in listening to others’ concerns or issues helps you develop leadership quality where you can work efficiently towards coming up with better solutions to solve their problems. Being a good listener improves mutual understanding in your personal, professional or business relationships
What does it take to be a good listener?
Self-awareness is the key to become an effective listener. To be able to sincerely listen to others is not an easy task, it requires persistence, effort and should be able to set aside your views to listen to the other person without being judgmental and by being open minded. It is a mindset which you learn from people by hearing what they have to say by being genuinely curious and interested.
Listening is a dynamic process that involves receiving , understanding, retaining, evaluating and responding. All of these stages happen naturally in a short time during conversation. Here are some tips to improve each of these areas.
Receiving and absorbing the information is the first stage in listening process. Here are some tips to pay attention while receiving the information.
Avoid distractions. Put away your digital distractions, when you are engaged in a conversation. Try to maintain your eye contact with the speaker by keeping aside papers, books, or phones or any other gadgets. Mentally screen out distractions like background noise or activity. No matter how open-minded we can be , we all carry emotional baggage that distracts our listening ability. Words, phrases, tone, or person’s appearance can shut down our receptivity by triggering knee-jerk reactions. Practice identifying and overcoming the knee-jerk reflexes while listening. Each time your mind starts to wander, refocus your attention to what’s being said or to what you are listening rather than focusing on what you are going to say.
Pay attention to non-verbal cues. If you only hear the words someone is saying, you may miss the important meaning being conveyed. Some people don’t overtly verbalise their disagreements but say as much with their actions, body language or physical gestures as they do with their verbal communication. Facial expression, tone if voice, eye contact, and posture all matter. Practice listening between the lines. For instance, someone who tells you that he like your idea while slouching and with his arms crossed against his chest, is actually saying two different things. Paying attention to these cues provides more clarity on the speaker’s emotional state and you can listen to something that they are communicating with their non-verbals.
Avoid interrupting. It is rude to interrupt but most often we model the opposite and tend to overlook our loud, aggressive behaviour. We tend to finish others’ sentences because we cannot slow our mental pace to listen effectively. Interrupting says that your opinion is of more importance than others’ or might imply that what you are saying is more accurate or relevant. It also might mean you don’t have time to listen or don’t really care about what’s being said. A conversation is not a contest which you are going to win. You can’t listen and talk at the same time. So, resist the urge to interrupt and let the other person say what he or she wants to say. When listening to someone talk about a problem or a difficulty, we tend to immediately suggest solutions using our own perspective to make him or her move in the direction we think is good. In most such cases, we respond to our needs rather than the needs of the other person. May be the person just wants to talk or share. Don’t impose your solutions. Before advising, ask whether they like to hear your suggestions or solutions.
Be empathetic. Sometimes all a person wants is an empathetic ear; all he or she needs is to talk it out. Just offering a listening ear and an understanding heart for his or her words can be comforting. Giving undivided attention by being compassionate helps you to be an effective listener. Put yourself in their shoes and listen and allow them to express their feelings and thoughts
“The most basic of all human needs is to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” – Ralph Nichols
Avoid being judgmental or biased. Listen without judging or mentally criticising what is being said and without jumping to conclusions or making assumptions. Learn to separate fact from opinion. Don’t listen with an intent to have your opinions validated, but listen with an intent to learn something new. Many times we don’t pay much attention to those against whom we are biased or prejudiced. Don’t just listen to those who agree with you, but actively seek out different perspectives and listen to even those who confront and challenge you. Effective listening requires an open mind, you need to be open to new ideas, new perspectives and new possibilities. Even when you have strong views, suspend your judgment, hold your criticism, and avoid arguing or selling your point right away.
Understanding is the next stage in listening process. After you have received the information, you begin to process its meaning and gain more clarity, or asking questions or rephrasing parts of the message you heard to understand the key points.
Asking questions. Ask questions only to ensure understanding or about things that unclear. Asking open-ended questions provides the other person an opportunity to express their feelings and thoughts. For instance asking ‘how would you?’ rather than ‘can you?’ encourages them to expand their ideas. Restating key points as the conversation proceeds confirms that you understood their point of view and also confirms that two of you are on the same page. Sometimes your questions might lead the speaker astray, take responsibility and work your way back to the conversation. Not only asking questions provides clarity but also encourages to reflect on a thoughtful response and provides a different perspective furthering more communication. Paraphrasing the content of the message every now and then indicates that you understood the topic and improves your awareness within the conversation.
Remembering the key elements spoken is possible only by staying engaged or connected to what’s being said in a conversation. While listening for long stretches, concentrate on and remember key concepts or phrases. Make a mental model of what’s being communicated or arrange the small details or concepts into a central theme to easily grasp the incoming information.
Evaluating You can evaluate the information and prepare your response in this stage. Remember that while evaluating, you are still a listener and not a speaker. Relate to the main idea and sort the information based on facts or opinions. Look for any prejudices or biases. You can interpret as to whether any portions of the message, if any were exaggerated or what was their intent and accordingly you can come up with a response.
Responding is still a part of the listening process. After receiving, understanding, and evaluating of the listening process, you will be better prepared to address the important points with proper awareness of the context and with clear understanding of the speaker’s perspective. While responding, be clear of what part of the message you are addressing instead of repeating or completing their sentences. You can either share about a similar experience you had or you can introduce your ideas, suggestions or thoughts.
What do you do in a conversation? Are you more inclined to speak or listen? When you are listening, do you stay focused or does your mind wander? Do you ask questions with an intent to understand ? Can you keep yourself from interrupting or defending or saying anything for a while? Do you encourage others to express themselves or share their opinions freely?
In order to first speak, one must learn to listen. It is when you start to listen, you discover new possibilities. Each of the above stages take place naturally during our daily conversations in very short time. Even though listening is a simple process, it may take a while to become an effective listener, like any other skill, it takes time, patience and practice. Next time when you find yourself engaging in a conversation, use the above tips to improve your listening process and make yourself more conscious and aware of your moments in the conversation.