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How To Stop Worrying And Use Your Own Fear To Your Advantage

How To Stop Worrying And Use Your Own Fear To Your Advantage

Fear can be crippling. The fear of failure, rejection, or simply the unknown can render us paralyzed. Imprisoned in our own minds, we may end up boxing ourselves into a corner, feeling unfulfilled and frustrated. On the other hand, fear serves a purpose. From a survival standpoint, fear keeps us from doing things that might be harmful such as walking off the top of a 16-story building. Thanks, fear of heights. Fear can also be a great motivator: if we direct our energy in the right way, the fear of not achieving goals or falling short of a vision, can get us moving.

Here are a few truths about fear to help you utilize it, rather than let it control you.

1. Realize that most of your fears are irrational

Our minds sometimes ramble and project. We have a huge capacity for speculation, imagination, and wonder. This can be an asset as creativity is the wellspring of innovation. It can also get in the way when the things we imagine provoke fear. We can imagine the worst scenarios. The “what if” element can befuddle us into non-action.

Some minds tend to linger in the murkier side of “what if” more than others. At a certain point you simply have to realize that the things you’re obsessing over are pretty far-fetched, and let it go. Instead of succumbing to this dread in your mind, simply analyzing the things you’ve been afraid of in the past, which never materialized, can help you overcome your current fears. Once fear is recognized as unreal, the impediment is removed and you’re propelled forward.

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2. Understand that even your rational fears will probably never happen

Even if our fears are based in reality and qualify as somewhat rational, a lot of life is a battle in the mind more than anything else. Most of even the legitimate scenarios we dream up will never come to fruition. In fact, not even close.

For those of us who manage to psyche ourselves out with the possibilities in our future, let’s keep in mind that they’re just that: possibilities. Most embarrassment, disgrace, horrible modes of disease and death you ponder will not happen to you. Tragedies in life are usually unforeseen and unavoidable. So stop ruining your life worrying about it!

Coming to terms with this will not only help you relax in general, but it might even help you to take new chances. Without the feeling of impending doom, you’re free to experience life in a more vibrant way.

3. Accept that sometimes you will realize a genuine fear, but you’ll get through it

Bad things happen, even to the best, the most cautious, and the healthiest of us. But even when we realize a fear in one form or another, it’s more than likely not as bad as we thought. So you completely bombed on an interview, the guy you were seeing was still seeing his ex-girlfriend, or you’re a terrible executive assistant. Even though these things can be painful in the moment, anything short of death itself is literally not the end of the world.

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You’ll manage. You’ll get through. And in the long run, these nightmares-come-true really do lose their sting. Most of the time it’s never as bad as you feared, and when it is, it usually isn’t later on. You’ll surprise yourself with your veracity, even in the face of truly awful things.

4. Be aware that realizing fears can help refine you

It’s also these somewhat painful experiences that help us define what we don’t want. Maybe the energy of the office you were interviewing for doesn’t suit you; that weepy, artistic guy wasn’t all you envisioned him to be; or being someone’s own personal servant isn’t in the stars for you. There are worse things.

Take these experiences as a means of reflecting and saying “This didn’t work. That didn’t fit. So what else is there?” We are built to adapt. Embrace this strength, which is your innate gift from nature, and you will overcome even your worst fears.

5. Know that you’ll do fine at the things you’re putting off because you’re afraid

Sometimes there’s a learning curve. Don’t let it freak you out. In fact, if you’re afraid because you’re challenged or trying something new, that’s great! Discomfort is a side effect of growth.

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The truth is, the things you’ve already learned in life build upon themselves, feeding into new tasks as you develop them. And you have a great capacity to absorb new information. There’s very little you can’t learn, and honestly you’re probably already fine at it. The only regret you’ll have is not having started sooner.  A little stress, a little discomfort — it’ll all pass. But making up for lost time? That’s pretty tough. Just do it. You’ll be fine.

6. Try harnessing your fear of not being “good enough” and use it to drive you to try harder

The hardest part of anything you put your time and energy into is the first action. Once you’re a mile into a daily walk, you’ve got a pace going and you’re not even thinking about how hard it was to get started, you’re just getting it done.

From improving physical health or physique to mastering a new computer program, the prospect of attempting something new can be daunting. The doubt in the back of your mind that you’ll succeed or negative self talk can keep you from ever trying. But the truth is, a failed attempt will not haunt you the way a lack of trying will.

When you start to doubt yourself, collect that fear and mentally fuel your desire to meet goals. Rather than succumb to feeling that anxiety spreading across your chest, consciously realize that once you get started, the best of your problem will soon be whittled away into something manageable. Don’t be okay with failure or complacency — use fear of those things to conquer them.

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7. Use fear that someone else is living your dream to focus on your goals

Jealousy and envy; we’ve been taught that these are detrimental dispositions, and to some extent they are. Any time you’re burning up energy occupied with someone else’s life instead of you own, you’re wasting time. Unless you can use those feelings as fuel for focus.

Do you see people living the life you want? Jealous? Don’t be! Realize that they’re as human as you, with their own sets of pitfalls, insecurities and imperfections. If you want certain things in your own life, rather than ooze with jealously, ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?” If the answer is, “I want to travel, be in a happy relationship, or start my own business.” you realize the root of your feeling and can turn your attention to questions like, “What steps can I take to make these things a reality in my own life?”

Once you start spending your energy on your own goals, you’ll find you’re too busy to steam over other people’s accomplishments. And when you do find out about what your peers are up to, you’ll be happy for them since you won’t be hampered with your own guilt or feelings of short-coming.

8. Bear in mind that failures are inevitable, but nothing helps you learn so well as failing.

From time to time, you will fail. Failure is part of the process. Any successful person will tell you that, at one time or another, they failed.

These stories of failure are also consistently tied with astounding successes later. The failure offered some huge insight or corrected some faulty way of approaching a problem. There’s no teacher as impacting as the sting of failure, and no read on whether something works better than receiving a resounding “no” from the people in our lives, the market, or the universe.

9. Pat yourself on the back

Appreciate the strength it takes to work through your anxiety and congratulate yourself for that. And in the future, draw from that knowledge for more strength. Look back over the things you used to fear and how you overcame them. Analyze how you were wrong about certain things that used to paralyze you, and how you were right about the things you knew you were made to do. You’ll find new fears less intimidating and your accomplishments will steadily outweigh insecurities.

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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