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

Change your mindset

Your mindset determines your success. Grow your mindset to reach your full potential.

Mindsets are an important part of your personality and behaviour. Your ‘personality mindset’ comes into play in situations that involve your personal qualities — how dependable, cooperative, caring or socially skilled you are. People always think, act and fare differently from each other. These differences are mainly due to people’s backgrounds, experiences, training or ways of learning. The view thus adopted for yourself has a profound affect on the way you lead your life. This view becomes your mindset and can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.

The two mindsets

Believing that your qualities are fixed and thinking that you have certain kind of intelligence, certain personality and a moral character makes you a person of fixed mindset. For people with fixed mindset, human qualities are like they are carved in stone and intelligence or personality is something that is fixed or is a deep-seated trait.

Believing that your intelligence or personality is something you can develop and that human qualities are not fixed and you can always make an effort to improve yourself makes you a person of growth mindset. People with growth mindset do not waste time proving how great they are, but instead believe that the basic qualities can be cultivated through learning and they constantly better themselves with continuous effort.

Fixed mindset vs growth mindset

Most of us are trained in fixed mindset from an early age creating a mindset in which our one consuming goal is to look smart and prove ourselves in classrooms, careers, and in our relationships.

People with fixed mindset have a constant urge to prove themselves to others and they feel rejected with minor disappointments and setbacks. Do not confuse yourself fixed mindset with low self esteem. They are just as worthy and optimistic when they aren’t coping with failure. They strongly believe “If at first you don’t succeed, you probably don’t have the ability.” Or “ If Rome wasn’t built in a day, may be it wasn’t meant to be.”

Fixed mindset does not let you believe in putting effort or getting help, and makes you fear the challenges with its focus on permanent traits. People with this mindset tend to misestimate their performance and their ability. This turns them into non-learners and lose interest when things get too challenging. They have higher levels of depression and ruminate over minor problems and setbacks.

On the contrary, growth mindset lets you understand the power of persistence and the importance of taking risks. It lets you recognise the value of challenges and overcoming obstacles. People with growth mindset think they can work much harder and always resolve to do better. They strongly believe in “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Or “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

It is interesting to know that those with the growth mindset can identify their own strengths and weaknesses. This leads to the love of challenge, belief in effort, and resilience in the face of setbacks. With their focus on development, they take action to confront their problems and become more determined to take up the challenges.

Mindset shift

By being aware of both mindsets, you can start thinking in new ways. All of us have elements of both — a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. People can also have different mindsets in different areas.

Your personality or intelligence is something you can develop. You can always make an effort to shift your mindset in order to take better action. Mindset is not a fixed quantity and can be changed or increased with practice, training, and above all you can improve your attention, memory, and your judgment. A simple shift in your mindset can transform you into the person you want to be and can accomplish the things you value.A mindset shift lets you-

love what you are doing.

Believing talents can be developed allows you to fulfil your potential. Growth mindset allows people to love what they are doing. Many successful people didn’t even plan to go to the top. They arrived there as a by-product of their enthusiasm and love for what they did. In the fixed mindset, you tend to base everything on outcome. It makes you think if you fail or if you are not the best—it is all been wasted. By changing your mindset, you begin to value and love what you are doing regardless of outcome.

value effort.

Fixed mindset undermines the value of effort. It makes you think effort is for those who don’t have the ability or “Things come easily to people who are true geniuses” or “If you have to work at something, you must not be good at it.” We begin to prefer effortless success and become intolerant of mistakes, criticism or setbacks as we constantly crave for validation by others.

Whereas by changing you perspective to growth mindset, you begin to admire the effort, for no matter what your ability is. You can catch yourself when you are in the throes of the fixed mindset — like instead of getting discouraged when something requires lot of effort, challenge yourself and continue your effort. Know that many successful people did not have natural ability, but developed exceptional skills through their effort.

overcome failures.

Growth mindset doesn’t let failure define you. Failure for growth mindset is something to be faced, dealt with, and learned from. It makes you concerned with improving as you are open to the accurate information about your current abilities. People with fixed mindset instead of trying to learn from and repair their failures, they simply try to repair their self-esteem by assigning blame or making excuses. Growth mindset thinkers correct their deficiencies and learn from their mistakes in an effort to better themselves.

Here is how you can change your mindset:

• A fixed mindset can undo your learning habit. When we try to learn something new, may be a sport, dance or a new skill, many times it gets hard and we opt out either because you felt bored or tired. Next time this happens don’t let the fixed mindset take over. Do not assume you are always bad at it. Well, may be you are, but then may be you aren’t. Grow your mind set by putting in the effort in learning.

• It feels nice to surround yourself with people who make you feel faultless. It is always tempting to create a world in which we feel perfect. But you will never be able to grow. Try and seek constructive criticism.

• If you think something from your past, like being rejected or a test score or a callous action, measured you wrong, focus on that thing and feel all the emotions that go with it. Get into the growth mindset perspective. Understand your role in your growth and know that it doesn’t define your personality or intelligence.

• Next time you feel depressed or low, grow your perspective by thinking about learning, challenging and by confronting obstacles. Think about your effort as a positive and more constructive force.

• When people outdo you, instead of assuming that they were smarter or more talented, consider that they just used better strategies, taught themselves more, practiced harder and worked their way through obstacles. You can do that too if you grow your mindset.

Finally, most of us become the targets of negative stereotyping. Even when the negative label comes along, you can remain incharge by developing your growth mindset.

Fixed mindset stands in the way of development and change. The growth mindset is the starting point for change, but you need to decide for yourself where you need to put it n your efforts and where they would be most valuable.

Get into your “Productive State”

Only when your minds are clear and your thoughts are organised can you achieve effective results.

Most people have too much to handle and not enough time to get it all done or to be able to fulfil their commitments. People add to their stress levels by taking on more than they can handle. Various options and opportunities bring with them the pressures of decision making. These pressures make people frustrated about how to improve their situation. By learning productivity you can organise and prioritise better and you can get your time back so you can focus on making progress and helps you improve your situation.

Planning and scheduling your tasks helps you gain more focus. In the process, you can create a positive work atmosphere and lifestyle practices that foster clarity, control, creativity and relaxation.

Better organisational techniques like planning and preparing can enhance your productivity levels. Thinking in more effective ways to handle different work situations can make things happen sooner, better and more successfully.

There is no single technique or tool to perfect organisation and productivity. However, there are certain simple processes that we can all learn to use that will improve our ability to deal more proactively and constructively. These tools can help you focus your energies strategically to create better thinking habits and working environment which otherwise keeps most people from burning out due to stress.

It is possible for you to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively and be fully present in the moment.

Here are some simple practices which can motivate you to become more productive.

Figuring out ‘why’

Why do you want to be more productive? Why are you putting up with a situation in your workplace? Do you want to be better at your job or do you want to get more things done and do more with your time?

Until you have the answer to your ‘why’, there is no possible way to come up with appropriate actions.

By having an answer to your why has following benefits:

• You can define success.

• You can make hard choices and take decisions.

• You can gather possible resources.

• You can be motivated and can have better focus.

Many people forget why they are doing something and what exactly they are trying to achieve – and a simple question like, “ Why am I doing that?” Can get you back on track. Finding the answer to your ‘why’ opens up wider possibilities and expands your thinking.

Figure out your purpose

All of us want to be better at what we are doing. So the main goal should be to find your purpose. To know and to be clear about the purpose can enhance your focus. Because it is easy to get caught up and let your real and primary intentions slip. Your purpose becomes a reference point for your time and energy spent.

Once you have the purpose defined, you can align your resources and can make your decision-making easier. Often the only way to make hard choices is to come back to the purpose of what you are doing. Just taking two minutes and writing your primary reason for doing something makes things clearer and clarifies your focus.

Find your time leaks

Doing things that bring you progress, getting better at your work, investing in compound time to develop your skills, and picking up healthy habits make you productive. Find out where your time is leaking in the process. Think of your top priorities and determine those activities that help you achieve or take you closer to your goals. That is your meaningful work. The rest are meaningless activities that steal your time.

Focus on what matters to optimise your efforts and where to allocate your time more efficiently. Being aware of all the activities that bring you closer to your goal and being aware of the ones that stall your progress help you get your time back.

Create and stick to your to-do list

Organise your daily tasks in order to get things done. Don’t get carried away by writing too long to-do lists. Being busy is not the same as being productive. Overloading your lists is not an effective to-do list format. If you always start with the easiest or most convenient ideas, you will end up pushing the best ones down the list.

Make sure that your to-do list has a purpose and other meaningful activities. Define your tasks related to your goals and order them by importance. If you do not manage to finish them all, move unfinished tasks to your list for the next day. Rinse and repeat. If you carry some tasks on for too many days in a row without working on them, get rid of those tasks completely.

Declutter & Prioritise

Decluttering your routine lets you devote your time to meaningful work. Write down your distractions and find multiple solutions to reduce them. For each distraction, figure out as many solutions until you find the one that works.

Prioritise your tasks according to your goals and choose those that most benefit your purpose.

It will be difficult to cut down your priorities when you have more on your plate to do than you can comfortably handle. Prioritise on the basis of your long term and short term goals, accountabilities, values, areas of focus and current projects. Combine the things you want to do with things you should do.

Get your routine done

It is very easy to start a task you want to do. But what about those tasks you have absolutely no motivation to do? The ones you procrastinate far too long over and never get around to doing? Putting off important tasks can rob your hours of achievement and can become a chronic cycle.

Slacking off and doing unimportant tasks, putting off other tasks makes you habituated to the same process. Then, the loop continues to repeat. You are avoiding the task either because you are not organised or because you are prioritising low value work. To avoid procrastination, identify what you are putting off and do those tasks right away. If getting started is the hardest part, set a designated time slot to do the task.

Stay consistent

The majority of us fail at building life-changing habits because we start strong and give up easily. You need to put effort into accomplishing your goal. Even he tiniest of efforts, when consistently done, brings good results.

Figure out which skill to work upon in order to reach your goal and the task you need to do everyday. Once you have zeroed in on the skill and activity, mark the days you will be working on it and focus on growing your progress on the same. Do not break the chain of progress so that you become consistent with your talent/ skill.

Use your gap time productively

Gap times occur between meaningful activities. Optimise your gap time so you can further develop the skill you need to make you productive. Gap times are small breaks in your schedule or at work, or when you are on long breaks from your work.

Be as strategic about your breaks as you are about your day in general. To use your gap times productively, think about small projects you can accomplish like learning something new, planning your week/day, cleaning up or even working on your other ideas.

Finally, Stay focused.

Think about the last time you felt highly productive. You probably had a sense of being in control without too much stress. You were probably highly focused on what you were doing and you felt you were making progress.

Next time around if you get far out of that state—and start to feel out of control, stressed out , unfocused and bored—get yourself back into your “productive state.” Hopefully the above methods can inspire you to become more productive and work towards attaining your goals.

Transcend your negative habitual patterns

We are product of our habits. Let go of negative habitual patterns to build positive habits.

“Chains of Habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”- Warren Buffet

Our habits define who and what we are. We struggle to kick deeply-ingrained negative habitual patterns and negative behaviours as we get used to a fixed mindset on things and on our habits. As a result, we get used to doing and thinking in some specific ways that it becomes hard to be able to transcend those habits.

Most of us find it hard to adopt and stick with new, healthier and safer habits. Even when we begin to follow a new pattern, we all have a tendency to revert to previous patterns during times of stress. This is  due to the comfort factor associated with our older habits.

“Comfort comes as a guest, grows into a host and finally stays to enslave us.”

Unless we let go of old and negative habits, we cannot redefine ourselves in newer or better ways.

You are the product of your HABITS

Our habits define our comfort zones. Any violation of our comfort zone brings us discomfort. So is the case with the violation of some bad habits which when we let them go brings agitation, stress and even anxiety. Many struggle with a range of negative behaviours like smoking, overeating, lack of exercise, and excessive drinking and don’t think that these habits are unhealthy because either these habits make them feel stress free or feel good factor they bring with them. You need to do an honest evaluation of your habits as to whether they are positive or negative.

While evaluating your habits, focus on their relevance and impact. Are your habits strengthening you as a person or are they making you rigid and edgy. For instance, it is very essential to see when you decide to follow a particular habit, is it bringing with it restlessness, agitation or poor health. If it is, it is time to reflect upon those habits and is better to change them. Most of the times, we fail to let go of negative habits because of the comfort we feel inspite of these habits being wrong and harmful.

If you continue to hang on to the comfort of the older ways never attempting to change, these habits tend to degenerate your personality and they become toxic.

“The battle of big dreams, greatnesses is often the battle against our own ingrained habits.”

What makes a HABIT and how they work?

Three things that make a habit.

First, a habit is a specific behaviour not an overall goal or pattern of behaviour. It is like a learnt physical behaviour.

Second, a habit is something you do regularly in a particular situation. It is like a mental mannerism which is consistent.

Third, a habit requires little or no psychological effort to engage in. It is largely automatic.

Repetition and attention is the fuel that keeps habits going, both good and bad. A new behaviour you start to engage in isn’t always a habit. It becomes a habit once you have followed it for so long that it becomes a habit.

According to Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit”, every habit has four components and they form a habit loop.

The Cue causes you to start the habit.

The Routine that you engage in.

The Reward you get for doing the routine, and finally,

The Craving that drives your desire for the reward.

Habit loop identification makes it easy to break away from your bad habits.

There are many things that hold you back whenever you want to change or end a bad habit to create a new one. These things tend to push you back into the spiral of old patterns. Here are some things that hold you back from changing your habits

Lack of determination

Nothing can stop a determined mind from changing an old habit to a new one. But, do you have the determination? Do not let your mind completely disregard your own decisions. Whether you decide to follow a new diet or give up foul language, it is difficult to keep up unless you take it seriously. Be strict with your decisions even if they are difficult.

Lack of purpose

No clarity of purpose leads to lack of inspiration and rewards. If your cue is a negative purpose, then it is difficult to stick with it longer. For instance, it should not come with the intention of making others happy. This kind of negative approach makes your determination weak. You may attempt to change your habits, but this may end up making you angry, bitter and anxious to prove yourself to others. Allow a positive purpose to push you out of the old undesirable habits.

Lack of consistency

Motivation tends to be high when we start something new, then drops off after a while. Permanent habit change requires consistency and keeps you up to date with your new habits. Being consistent with newer habits lets you form new pathways for habit change system and helps you to stick with them. Choose a new habit and provide opportunities to establish the habit. Practice being consistent with your new pattern until it becomes a habit.

Lack of substitution

Whenever you attempt to let go to of old habits, your mind starts feeling deprived of the comfort which is associated with the old habit. The feeling of deprivation makes your mind too rigid to change your old habits. So the only way you can change your habit is to substitute them with newer habits that are equally rewarding and leave you feeling complete and better.

Lack of Belief

Our belief system has a great impact on our habits. We form many of our habits based on our beliefs. We may know and understand how risky certain negative behaviours are, but we indulge in some of them because of our ingrained beliefs. We fail to change them. But if we try to change the deep driving belief, we can change the habit.

Newer ways of thinking and doing will let you change your old beliefs and negative behaviour.

Your Habit Change System

According to the research, once you have followed a new habit or refrained from an old pattern for five days, it gets much easier to stick to and the odds that you will make that habit change stick becomes very high. Here are some ways to change your habits.

Break bad habits

Break away from your old habits. One way to do this is to suppress the cue that causes you to engage in that habit. Prevent cue from happening. Second way to end bad habit is to stop engaging in the routine. And the third way can be by sabotaging your reward so it feels less rewarding and satisfying whenever you indulge in a bad habitual pattern.

Choose one bad habit related to your goal and identify the cue, routine, reward for that and as well as its craving. Select one of the ways and use it every day to break that habit.

Build positive habits

There are some habits whose impact is much broader and they are habits behind habits and are called keystone habits. Building positive keystone habits can have cascading effect. For instance, being healthier makes you more productive, be less stressed out and you spend less on junk food.

To build keystone habits you can use cue piggybacking by choosing an event that occurs on a regular basis to act as the cue for your new habit, then start doing the routine every time your chosen cue occurs. You can also use chaining to build two or more habits that you will be doing one after the other. Try routine substitution to replace a old routine with new. The new routine has to fulfil the same craving as the old routine.

Hold yourself accountable and stay motivated

Avoid getting motivated only by external factors. This makes you feel like you are forced to do, rather than something you want to do. Intrinsic motivation is better when it comes to the habit change system. An external source of motivation that reinforces intrinsic motivation helps you to continue with changing your habits. Holding yourself accountable will get you through brief periods of temptation by strengthening your will power.

Improve your environment to improve your habits

Your behaviour and attitudes are often shaped by your environment. Conformity distorts your perceptual abilities. This impacts your personal development. Changing your environment helps you to maintain your good habits or change from old ones. Put yourself in an environment that supports the person you want to be. Think of one way you can alter your environment to make it easier to maintain your good habits.

Finally, Do not justify wrong habits. Negative self talk holds you back from changing your habits. Maintain your will power throughout your habit change system. Master yourself in ways that lead you into newer habits. Practice self- love and be kind to yourself.