Participate in the process of listening

To actively engage yourself in listening is different from simply hearing.

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know, but if you listen, you may learn something new.”

– Dalai Lama

Conversations are fundamental aspects of our everyday lives and work environments. Most of us engage in different conversations with friends, co-workers and family members. But most of the time we fail to give them our complete attention and thereby fail to listen to what other person is saying. Just hearing the other person and being fully present in the moment are not the same. Hearing is a physical, natural and passive process as compared to listening which is mental, active, and learned process.

People are often selective listeners. They focus on few key words and ignore most of the other communication. They get distracted by external factors like noises or random sounds, and internal factors like self-talk or thoughts or emotions. By passively absorbing, you cannot remember the context of what someone is sharing. The more vocal you are at meetings, at public functions or even social gatherings, the greater your perceived value as a keen-minded person and same holds true with listening. In expressing yourself verbally, you perforce have to take an “either or” position. In our zeal to be seen as being either “pro” or “anti” something, we often lose the sight of the larger picture. This larger picture can be seen only by engaging yourself in active listening.

Active listening is important to collaborate, to increase productivity and to fuel your creative thinking. It focuses on understanding the speaker beyond his/ her words and takes into account the feelings, emotions and beliefs underlying the speech. Active listening creates a safe, comfortable atmosphere to discuss and exchange thoughts and ideas.

What is Active listening?

It is a way of being attentive, fully present in the moment, concentrating, engaging in the conversation and absorbing what the other person is saying to you. The emphasis is on listening and involves being attentive and respectful to the speaker. This allows understanding, and builds rapport and trust with the person in conversation. It paves way for learning by expanding the conversation and provides a wider perspective of looking at things rather than in a limited context.

Most of the times we don’t actively listen to the information and ideas being shared by others as we are too eager to share our personal ideas. By actively engaging in listening to what is being shared helps you to know and acknowledge work-related or personal issues of other people.

When you fail at listening you are sending out an armada of negative messages. You are saying:

• I don’t care about you.

• I don’t understand you.

• You are wrong.

• You are wasting time.

Active listening is an important skill that needs to be developed and can be honed into a habit with practice. Here are certain ways to develop the habit.

Respond, Don’t react.

Do not give instinctive responses without proper understanding. Listen to the content of the speech by focusing on the specific words that are being used. Understand the context. Share feedback by responding to what is being shared.

Wait, Don’t interrupt.

Do not break the speaker’s flow no matter how important and relevant your input is. Wait until you are sure the person has completed what he or she had to say and then offer your inputs. Exercise patience, short periods of pause should be expected.

Encourage, Don’t ask close-ended questions.

Encourage the speaker with open-ended questions that begin with why, who, what, where, and how. Open-ended questions enable more descriptive answers and show that you are taking keen interest. Ask questions to understand things better and not in a bid to demonstrate your intelligence or superiority.

Focus, Don’t distract.

Distracting thoughts can pose a serious barrier to active listening. Become aware of your self-talk. Thoughts like ‘I think this person is just wasting my time’ can distract your active listening. Convert such self-talk into positive statements such as “There’s always something to learn from others.” Focusing on what is being said makes you a better listener.

Provide affirmations, Don’t be defensive.

Include words such as ‘sure’ or “that’s interesting.” Don’t let your emotions get in the way. Adopt a pragmatic approach as a listener. Instead of offering a counter argument, try to understand the other speakers’s point of view and try to see things from their perspective. Paraphrasing can eliminate misunderstandings and increases empathy and rapport. Paraphrased statements begin with “Are you saying that…” or “ What I understand is…”

How does Active listening help?

Learning how to be an active listener is very beneficial. In a professional context, active listening can help shape you into a better leader and co-worker. In a personal context, when you give your attention to people expressing thoughts and sharing their experiences, your ability to understand improves your perceived value.

Here are few ways in which being an active listener can help you overcome obstacles.

Provides optimal solutions.

Workplaces are often fuelled by stress and pressure that requires you to handle multiple situations and people. This can be often demanding and you have to make sure that all the tasks are tackled and addressed. Being an active listener —whether by asking questions or summarising to ensure clear and better understanding — helps you to quickly assess the problems and subsequently helps you arrive with accurate and optimal solutions and can resolve them in a timely manner. Without active listening, you would find gaps in your knowledge and you may not be able to offer a solution.

Provides fresh points of view.

Active listening makes you better focused at the new ideas presented at your work place or in your daily life. Active listening improves your ability to analyse and recognise the difference between facts and opinions. You can uncover the assumptions and be open to new ideas and relate to old ones. You will be better equipped to take useful notes and fresh points of view. This can further bring positive outcomes.

Builds trust and collaboration.

Encouraging your coworkers to freely reach out with their concerns makes you supportive person at work place. Knowing and acknowledging work-related or personal issues that they are dealing with will make you feel valued. Active listening forms the basis for lasting relationships and building trust whether between partners or workplace or parents and children and friends.

Children and adults who have been actively listened to are more emotionally mature, more open to sharing their experiences, less defensive and more cooperative.

Finally, Active listening strengthens interpersonal relationships and breaks down barriers. Always maintain eye contact and avoid distractions by muting cell phones and moving away from other electronic devices when you engage yourself in conversations with others.

Practicing active listening will help you become a better student, more efficient in your job, develop patience and send positive messages.

“We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.”

Zeno of Citium

Build Strong Memory

Memory is an essential pre-requisite of all learning. Building strong memory improves thought system and intellect.

 

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Memory is an important aspect of your ‘self’ and is formed by your mental habits.

“The human brain can remember events, skills, habits, and experiences. The sum of what is remembered is called a memory”-Frank Knoll

Memory loss is often attributed to aged and elderly. As you get older, you lose your imaginative skills. However, in recent years, there is a sharp increase in the number of people reporting memory related issues irrespective of their age. Majority of these cases are associated with lifestyle dysfunctions, over dependency on technology, and information overload. Tension and stress further weakens our memory system.

It is interesting to know that the left side of our brain deals with logic, language, numbers, and sequence, while the right is connected with visualisation of images, colour, and awareness. However, both can undertake all kinds of activities. You shouldn’t say that you do not have the capacity to learn or that you are weak in a certain subject. In fact, it may be because you have not developed an interest in that particular subject. By improving your memory you can use both sides of the brain.

Impressions of all mental and physical actions, observation and Visualisation in our subconscious mind creates our memory.
Our memory system has the ability to retain impressions of past thoughts in the form of attitudes, moods, or resolves. Memories are not duplicate impressions of earlier events, but reconstructions of earlier events.

Understanding memory

Memory is an active process and depends on what your brain chooses to remember and for what duration. There are three stages by which clear memory is formed.

Registration: Registering the information by the perception of sense organs forms the short-term memory system. This is very limited and should be used for registering the information clearly. Otherwise, the waste and negative information might replace it.

Retention: This is the process of storing the particular information for longer duration and this involves visual images and association with words or other experiences such as smell or sounds.

Recollection: The information stored up is brought up into conscious mind when required. This further depends on the state of the mind which helps to recall the full information stored.

Depending on the above stages, each information is processed and stored by our brain based on its intended use. Memory can be further classified.
* We tend to forget certain information as soon as it has served its purpose. This is termed as Working memory which usually lasts for few minutes to few hours and cannot be retained for longer hours.
* There are certain memories that occur at particular time and place. We register and label them with time stamps and in certain context. This is Episodic memory which allows your brain to travel back to that place and time when you try to recount that event.
* Procedural memory involves deliberate acts of learning and we can eventually recall without deliberation. For instance learning how to play a musical instrument or learning to drive.
* When we learn Information based on facts and related to general knowledge, it is stored in the brain. This is Semantic memory. This can be retained for longer time and depends on the practice and differs from person to person.

Why do we forget?

Lack of Attention
Attention directs mental activity to register an object or situation. Not being able to pay proper attention to anything forms a weak impression on our memory. In the absence of clear attention, no clear impression and therefore no clear memory to recall.

Lack of Mental exercise
We get mentally out of shape when we stop challenging our minds. This happens when we opt for habitual solutions instead of purposeful thought or when we confine ourselves to limited range of interests. Your ability to make decisions, to solve problems, to concentrate and to think creatively depends on how well you exercise your mind.

Lack of Physical exercise
Our bodies are very much a part of our learning as learning is not an isolated brain function. Every nerve cell is a network contributing to our memory and our learning capability. Complex movement stimulates complex thinking. Lack of these movements leads to low memory.

Lack of Interest
Interest is important for concentration and thereby for improved memory. Things, which we are deeply interested in, are remembered without conscious effort. Lack of interest leads to interference of other thoughts and activities which distract us from giving undivided attention to a certain subject or situation.

Lack of Sleep
When we are sleeping, brain consolidates, revises information, builds and strengthens pathways for particular memories. If you routinely deprive your body of sufficient sleep, your longtime memory will eventually deteriorate. Many harmones that are important for healthy brain functioning are secreted during the night time. Any interruption to this will make it difficult for us to recall even those memories that are retained.

Lack of Emotional Clarity
When we are emotionally upset or worried, we cannot concentrate and register the information properly. Emotional distress shrinks working memory and so diminishes the ability ṭo think and imagine clearly. Our memory and emotional states are closely linked. All our confusions are emotional ones and they befog the mind and rob it of it’s clarity.
“A clear mind remembers, a confused mind forgets.”

Lack of Relaxation
Moḍern lifestyles compel multitasking and can lead to too much work, loads of information to process, and less time to rest or relax which reduces our concentration power and creates stress. General and unwanted information leads to more confusion and loss of memory. Very less energy is spared for sharpening the mind and becomes dull and less receptive.

Lack of Relevance or Understanding
We remember what is relevant and important to us. The more relevant, the better we understand, the better we learn and the better our memory system retains and recalls when necessary. Lack of association, relevance and understanding results in non-comprehension and loss of memory power.

Few techniques to improve your memory.

Create strong impressions: Various impressions of past,present and future converge upon the mind. For stronger impressions, you need to involve all your five senses. When the impression is stronger, the memory recall will be faster and easier. Stronger impressions are formed when more than one sense is involved. Create impressions of positive and necessary information which further strengthens same impressions in your active memory.

Create interest: Improve your concentration by strengthening your interest. This compels you to give undivided attention and to concentrate by excluding other thoughts that might interfere. When you have clear-cut goals and when you know what you do helps you achieve your goals, you will automatically develop an interest.

Concentration: Develop the habit of reining your mind every time it wanders to other things. Concentration automatically leads to stronger impression. Try to build habits such as mindfulness and other habits that are conducive to concentration. A quiet mind is the best guarantee of concentration.

Unclutter your mind: Overwhelming your brain with unwanted and too much information will make it difficult to encode the information in the form of memories. Unclutter your mind by scheduling, organising, setting goals, planning for next day and preparing a ‘to do’ list. This way you can free your mind from unnecessary burden.

Association: Association helps improving your memory. The mind has a tendency ṭo associate the new to the old that were similar.
“Here’s a basic memory rule: You Can Remember Any New Piece of Information if It Is Associated to Something You Already Know or Remember” – Harry Lorayne.

Create memory technique of comprehension: Comprehend the subject of interest under six headings that is why, where, what,when, who and how. Try to understand by asking these questions. It is a permanent way of remembering.

Build positive emotional memory: Emotional memory is the memory attached to past events, people and places. Positive thoughts with positive emotions create healthy mind and receptive mind for better memory. By creating positive emotional memory, you can recall successful solutions to the similar problems of the past.

Remain stress free : Stress reduces brain functions such as memory, intellect, and even brings premature old age. It affects our concentration and learning ability all of which are essential for effective performance at work. Remain stress free for better recollection. This can be achieved most naturally when both the body and the mind are relaxed. Deep breathing and other meditation techniques help you remain stress free thereby enhancing memory power.

Mental and physical exercise: Some of the simple games we played as children can help tone up the brain and reinforce the functions of sequential thinking, logic and remembering the names and dates. Crossword puzzles or a round of scrabble offer as an excellent method of mental workout. Swimming or other physical activities stimulate brain synchronisation. Rhythmic movements such as dancing, skating, or walking also improves the memory.