This week’s tip: Practice your internal listening skills.
I’m not sure if anyone ever really taught me how to be a good listener. I learned phonics and comprehension in school, sure. But interpersonal communication skills were something I had to learn through practice — and internal communication was something I hadn’t really ever thought about until recently!
Personally, I know I am nowhere near an expert listener. That said, I have figured out that it is possible to improve my listening skills by turning on a little bit of mindfulness and clueing into a few straightforward tips:
- Provide your full attention.
- Stay open-minded and objective.
- Acknowledge what has been said.
And if I want to take it a step further and work on being a compassionate listener, I try to remember to:
- Ask questions to emphasize engagement.
- Show sympathy or support.
- Express encouragement and positivity.
What’s great about these tips is that they apply both to interpersonal listening AND internal listening. That said, many of us are hardwired to put others’ needs above our own, so listening to yourself may not always feel like a top priority. Even when it is a priority, it can be so challenging to do that it still doesn’t happen. But when we don’t listen to ourselves, it’s only a matter of time before the consequences start to pile up. We make a careless decision. We hurt someone else. We become burnt out — or worse, sick. We feel unhappy.
All that is preventable, though if you make a habit of consistently listening to what your heart and body are telling you. All it takes is those few simple, mindful steps:
- Provide Your Full Attention. This means you need to stop and listen. Make it a point to check in with yourself often — don’t let yourself get too swept up in the busy day-to-day routine. Perhaps something as simple as a recurring reminder that asks you “How are you feeling?” will help you tune into your heart and your body more regularly.
- Stay Open-Minded and Objective. The worst thing you can do when you listen to yourself is to start judging yourself or getting caught up in the subjective story around your thoughts. Sure, everyone has negative thoughts, or insecure thoughts, or stupid thoughts from time to time. Every thought is valid of being heard, but it’s okay if the ultimate response is “That’s not true.”
- Acknowledge What Has Been Said. Listen closely and process what you hear. You may notice that you feel totally exhausted. That initial feeling can be heard and acknowledged: “My body is telling me that I need to rest.”
- Ask Questions to Emphasize Engagement. You could ask “Why do I feel exhausted?” Maybe the answer is obvious, and you can change something about your future actions to prevent it from happening again. Or maybe the answer is unclear — and that’s fine too. You never know until you ask, and answering your own questions helps guide you towards increased mindfulness.
- Show Sympathy or Support. You could tell your body “I’m sorry that you feel tired. It’s okay. You might be tired because you’ve been working hard lately. Or maybe you’re suffering from allergies which is slowing you down. Either way, you should get some extra rest so you can feel better.” A kind and sympathetic reply is a great way to promote self-care.
- Express Encouragement and Positivity. This step is particularly important when what has been said isn’t necessarily uplifting. It’s our responsibility as mindful beings to help anyone — whether it’s your friend or the voices inside your head — to get out of a negative spiral. Your friend and your mind may not always want to hear it, but every once in a while, the positivity sinks in and can help us find gratitude or optimism.
- When it comes to listening to yourself, I think there is also a seventh step. Take action. The final step of actually taking action to care for yourself can sometimes be the hardest. We may have other obligations or conflicting priorities. Ultimately, though, the decision to take care of yourself is always the right one. There are lots of actions you could take, from a little dose of self-care to a loud cry for help. Whatever it is, I suggest you DO it!
While I’m not necessarily suggesting you should go looking for voices in your head to start up an actual dialogue with, I am suggesting that you simply pay closer attention to what’s going on inside of you. Pay attention to the subtleties, and dig a little deeper to find out what your mind and body might be trying to tell you. Not only will it be the first step to taking better care of yourself, but it’s also awesome practice for being a better listener to those around you, too. Win, win.
Do you have any tips for being a better listener? Please share them in the comments!