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

Be Persistent in your efforts

Perseverance is important when it comes to being successful. Right motivation and strong willpower helps you overcome the tendency to give up.

Many of us accept what life gives us instead of going out and creating things for ourselves. Those who have the determination to achieve their goals always surge ahead to chase their frontiers of success. Success largely depends on living with right intent, virtues, purpose and direction.

Successful are not necessarily smarter or more talented than their less successful counterparts. They are only more disciplined, determined and courageous to use their will power in righteous ways in getting what they want. Many smart people fall by the wayside because they strive only when there are short bursts of motivation or either they use will power without the right purpose. Perseverance is an important trait to develop in order to become successful.

Perseverance is diligently working towards challenges and the ability to maintain the effort over long periods of time despite facing difficulties in the path. Motivation and Will Power help you persist in your endeavours.

Why Motivation is important?

When you want to achieve something or when you act out of desire to pursue a habit or a goal, you depend upon the feeling of motivation or interest. Motivation is like a welcome wind at your back that helps you to stay persistent. Motivation can vary in nature depending on the factors that influence you to pursue your goal.

Extrinsic Motivation

You tend to act on extrinsic motivation when you expect something in the form of reward or act because you will be punished. For instance, you exercise because you want to be complimented on how you look. This kind of motivation has its downsides as it only lasts as long as the external motivator is applied and you value it. Extrinsic motivators can be created in order to achieve a particular habit or a goal.

Intrinsic Motivation

You are intrinsically motivated when you do something because you find it inherently satisfying. May be you eat healthy food because you prefer the taste. This is more powerful than extrinsic, but the downside is that there is not always a way to create it. This depends on your interests, likes and passion.

Prosocial Motivation

This motivation comes from the desire to help others or support a cause you care about. This can be very powerful motivation and has both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. For instance, you might want to work harder to create something that will benefit people.

Knowing why your goal is important and finding what motivates lets you build positive aspects that support your chosen purpose. Tapping into your motivational energies improves your ability to persevere.

Sometimes, when we plan to take up one goal or purpose like learning a new sport or losing weight, we enjoy motivating ourselves for short period, but after the initial gratification, when things get harder, when there are certain obstacles, most of us feel stuck and we are unable to push through. That is when you should rely on the will power to carry you through.

“Use motivation when you find it, but rely on willpower when you don’t.”

Motivation only works in the moment. In order to persist in non-windy days, you have to rely on your Willpower.

Here are some ways to strengthen your will power to move in the direction of your goals.

Develop tolerance

Sometimes failure and difficulties distort the perception of your goals. It also distorts the perception of your abilities. You should learn to endure the situations that seem to be against. Learn to tolerate the unfavourable situations and overcome the obstacles in order to pursue your goals. In the pursuit of your goal you might face rejection and criticism. Strengthen your willpower by being tolerant and to be independent of the opinion of others.

Be patient with yourself

“Patience is power. Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is “timing”it waits on the right time to act, for the right principles and in the right way.”

Fulton J. Sheen

Seeking a goal makes you impatient with your progress. Most of us suffer from the expectation of immediate gratification ‘I must have it now.’ We don’t have the patience to wait and get irritable if we have to. Impatience is a resistance to learning. We want the answers without doing the steps necessary. Impatience weakens your willpower to persist. If you are patient, you can nurture the seeds of will to achieve your goal.

Establish a routine

You can achieve a little bit of something if you learn to follow a simple routine which requires to little or no effort. Sometimes establishing a routine with proper rest and not putting too much pressure can make the daunting process of pursuing your goal much easier. When it is broken into small steps and repeated every single day, it becomes an automatic behaviour. Establish similar routines for every goal you want to achieve.

Develop mental toughness

You can train your willpower to help you handle difficult situations so that you can persevere without losing confidence. Mental toughness can be developed by exposing yourself to tough situations. This way you can slowly push your limits and can expand your safe zone. Continuous small improvements will ensure you won’t give up on your goal. Apply time-limited and quantity-limited discipline to make yourself mentally tough.

Focus on what is in your control

Willpower involves self-control. By controlling your habits and tendencies, you can accomplish what you will. Breakdown your goal in question to those aspects that are in control. Then go through the aspects that are not in control. You will need to determine what you can and cannot control. Your behaviour is the only thing you can control by applying your will. Focus only those things that are in your control.

Develop passion

“If you have a strong purpose in life, you don’t have to be pushed. Your passion will drive you there.”

Roy T. Bennett

Developing passion in whatever you do helps you to persevere longer. Having realistic expectations and figuring out what is that you really care about and what matters you most improves your perseverance. There is no added pressure and the interest will make you stick to the goal you are pursuing.

Stop trying too hard

Sometimes exerting too much pressure causes lapses in your willpower. Like the muscles get fatigued when they are overworked, similarly your willpower can fail you when it is overworked and undernourished. Be aware of how much effort and willpower you are exerting. You must avoid situations where your willpower will be continuously taxed without rest. Engage yourself in certain activities that you find relaxing and refreshing in order to restore your will.

Transform your negative habits

To make yourself persistent at your efforts you must liberate yourself from negative tendencies. Some psychological traits or behaviour that we pick from others tend to shape our life. They produce patterns that appear fixed and automatic. We have to exert force of our will to change our negative habits. Make use of the opportunities to transcend these negative habits to gain better control of your will.

Develop self-discipline

Shying away from risk and wallowing in self-pity puts you off from going after things you really want. Just going with the flow because it’s easier weakens your willpower and cannot persevere during tough times. Create a plan and stick to it with certain amount of discipline. Discipline yourself by being in charge of your thoughts to organise your behaviour towards a specific goal.

Practice mindfulness

If you are pessimistic and have been reinforcing negative thought patterns your whole life, you need to make an effort to break out of those and start thinking in a more positive and success oriented manner. Mindfulness can be practiced as an intentional form of meditation to restructure your negative thought patterns and to strengthen your willpower.

Finally, In any of our efforts there are bound to be difficulties, moments of doubt, anxiety, disappointment and setbacks. But we most likely overcome if those efforts contribute to something larger than ourselves and give us meaning. Find the right purpose as it can be a powerful source of motivation for you to persevere and be patient as it can take time to overcome your negative thoughts and habits.

Try and apply the above steps to persevere in your endeavours.

Know what is it that you want to achieve. Know how you are going to achieve them. Replace negative self-talk with positives.If you aren’t getting enough, try new approaches to persevere.

Cultivate the habit of happiness.

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Being happy is something we all want. What makes you happy?
What are the factors that can lead to happiness?
Many of us correlate it to friends, relationships, prosperity, appearances, success and so on. But these are all external factors which all of us have no control upon. So they cannot be considered as permanent factors in creating happiness. Paradoxically our aim in pursuing all these factors is for happiness, but many times what we say we want and what we do is never in alignment with each other. We say we want to be happy, but we make choices that bring opposite of happiness.

The ability to feel happy is something which is innate. Two people living in the same world with the same set of circumstances can experience life differently just by the way they think. ‘Happiness’ or ‘misery’ all depends on how you choose to respond to these circumstances. What you pursue in your mind is what you get out of life. In a way, your attitude towards life and your thoughts determine your happiness quotient.

“The greatest happiness is to know the source of unhappiness.”
– Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Certain facts about happiness you need to know in the pursuit to make it a habit.

*Your happiness is not dependent on others. what people say or think and the situations around have no hold on your happiness index.
Happiness is fundamental natural state of mind. We are all happy beings born with natural state of joy, compassion, and kindness.
Accumulations and appearances do not result in happiness. Material things come and go, appearances change, but beneath all remains innate secret of unreasonable happiness.
Fear and happiness cannot co-exist. The unhappiness producing process always feeds on your fears and worries.
Unhappiness is self-created. You are the own creator of your thoughts and you have the power to create your own happiness.

When we understand these facts, we can change our thinking from ‘I want happiness’ to ‘me is a happy being’. It is necessary to cultivate happiness habit to drive off the thoughts which create unhappiness and to replace them with happy ones.
Turning towards happiness is a valid goal and you have to make a conscious decision to seek happiness by cultivating the habit of happiness.

Certain obstacles you should look for in the pursuit of cultivating the “Happiness Habit.”

Being judgemental.
The moment you become judgemental about others, you get into unhappy modes such as anger, resentment, ill-will, etc., which not only takes you away from your natural state of being, but also blocks further happiness.
Tip: Accept the differences in opinions and views. Develop appreciation and awareness and change your perception of others.

Expectations.
Another hindrance in the pursuit is keeping expectations. Expecting what others would say or how they behave is like expecting their future. In a way, you are expecting them to match with your belief systems and when they don’t, you begin to feel let down or sad.
Tip: Do not base your happiness on the outcomes as having expectations from others and meeting people’s expectations, both will fluctuate your happiness.

Dwelling on past and future.
Reminding or thinking about past hurts or unpleasant events becomes a major obstacle in the cultivation of happiness habit. Thinking about future causes worry and stress.
“You can do nothing to change the past and future will never come exactly as you expect.
Tip: Focus on your ‘Now’ and whenever your focus drifts off to other places and times, map back.

Stress.
Stress is a result of negative programming we have imbibed. Stress is created by feelings of fear, anxiety, or worry. Unease caused by imagining a bad outcome to a present or future event or situation.
“Stress comes from the way you relate to events or situations.”
Tip: Recognise that happiness is not contained in events or situations. It is up to you how you respond to them and you always have a choice to choose stress-free thoughts.

How you perceive challenges.
Happiness a lot depends on how you take up the challenges or obstacles. It all depends on how you face and overcome them. Treating the challenges as be-all and end-all situations will block happiness and causes depression, and discouragement. Take them as work out situations
Tip: Use the so-called problems or obstacles as opportunities to learn and grow more stronger for your future endeavors.

Developing certain personal factors or inner characteristics can lead to happiness. This can create further inner transformation and can be achieved by regular practice and repetition of new thought patterns. Here are some practices to cultivate “Happiness Habit.”

Practice optimism.
You feel good physically, mentally and emotionally by focussing on positive patterns of thinking. Substitute unhappy thought patterns with positive happy thoughts. “The happiness habit is developed by simply practicing happy thinking.”

Practice virtue of patience.
It takes time to cultivate all the qualities that create state of well-being and happiness. We acquire many unhappy and negative mental traits over time. So you need to develop patience in order to address and counteract each one of these negative traits.

Practice mindfulness.
“Happiness is the state of being centredness which is here and now”. Keeping your awareness and concentration in the present moment and letting go of past can be achieved by practicing mindfulness.

Practice simple living.
“ The secret of happiness is not in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”
Happiness is equal to your contentment. We have basic needs and endless wants. Know the difference and practice simple living.

Finally, base your actions and attitudes upon basic principles of happy living by choosing happiness. Some of the basics are that of caring, gratitude and good will.