Listening can be difficult. Our world is noisy. So are our minds. Even in our own homes, the constant noise of kids screaming, televisions blaring, podcasts streaming, phones buzzing, and our endless lists of things that need to get done that are running through incessantly in our minds creates constant noise. We try to escape the noise through headphones, but this just leads to nobody communicating with anybody.
I have noticed that we either never learned how, or are forgetting one of the most important and basic parts of successful relationships: actively listening and genuinely caring about what our loved one is telling us. We tend to do this well when we are first meeting people or are trying to make a good impression. But sadly, we forget its value when we come home.
Whether it’s just a distraction, our list of things to do, or simply overlooking the ones closest to us, we can all do a better job of listening. It’s a powerful way to show how much we care. It’s a way to honor the other person as important and valuable.
Julian Treasure’s Ted Talk “5 Ways to Listen Better,” is a short, succinct presentation on ways to improve our listening. Treasure describes listening as a skill (that should be taught in schools). He gives five exercises to practice and improve your ability as a listener:
1. Three minutes a day of silence (or at least quiet).
2. “The Mixer”—how many different streams of sound can you identify?
3. Savoring—enjoy mundane sounds (“the hidden choir”).
4. Identify different “listening positions” for different situations.
5. RASA: Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, Ask
I would add practicing “focused attention” to the list. Practice listening to something. Pay attention to how long you can focus. Notice when you get distracted from what you were originally listening to and then go back to focusing on it again.
Here is the link to the Treasure’s talk, if you have seven and a half minutes to spare.
My favorite quotes from this Ted Talk are:
• “Try to listen to [your spouse] every day as if it were for the first time.”
• “Conscious listening creates understanding.”
• “Listen consciously to live fully.”
I hope the noise doesn’t get in the way of our most meaningful relationships!
Q: I’m 26 and very lonely, a virgin and I have no close friends. I’m socially awkward and it has affected me all my life. I’m so alone that I made a time limit in my journal that if I don’t make friends or have sex when I reach 30, I’ll kill myself. Crazy right? I even know it’s crazy. I’m a really nice girl, but quiet. What is wrong with me? I have no help what-so-ever around me. I don’t even know what to do anymore. I’ve tried making friends, but it’s so hard. I’m getting desperate, I’m so alone.
A: Thanks for writing in about your desperate need to connect with others. I hear that your overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and helplessness are so painful that you have considered putting a time limit on your life. Ironically, putting a time limit on getting close to others will likely increase your anxiety level and create situations that will make it less likely that you’ll create close and successful relationships. Instead of giving yourself an ultimatum (“You get close to someone or else I’ll end your life”), I suggest that you work on seeking sources of emotional and relational support, on self nurturing, and on actively seeking relationship skills.
I strongly recommend that you seek a psychotherapist as soon as possible to get someone on your “team,” someone you can explore your pain with, ease your loneliness, and help you find the tools to connect with others. Opening up to a therapist may feel very scary; however, therapy can be extremely helpful in resolving emotional blocks that are making it so difficult to get close to others, and help you develop emotional and relationship tools. Your therapist will also assess for a mental illness that is contributing to the feelings of loneliness or isolation. If you need help to find a qualified therapist please click here. Group therapy may also be a helpful treatment option for you at some point. Groups are a wonderful place to explore your relationship patterns and to practice relationship skills in real time with the support of a therapist. Thank you again for writing in.
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