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The Tough Love Guide To Finding Optimism

The Tough Love Guide To Finding Optimism

There’s a reason why the phrase “down in the dumps” exists.  It’s a real thing. Sometimes it feels like the silver lining stood you up and now you’re all dressed up with nowhere to go. Problems are problems. No matter what size they may be. There are times when they can feel so much bigger than you and you’re all alone in an empty room with them without any furniture for you to hide underneath.

Here’s some good news: you’re not alone. At some point or another, we all encounter dilemmas that challenge our happiness. It’s how we react to these challenging times that determines how long they last, what lessons we draw from them, and whether or not we change for the better. Optimism is a necessary tool for climbing out of the dumps and a strong device to draw out the best in this world.

When you feel like you’re so far down the hole that you can’t even see it, try these steps to ascend towards optimism.

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1. Find your people (or person)

Get on the phone, or better yet, meet in person with a good friend or family member who makes you feel safe and talk it out. If you don’t have this person in your life, pay someone like a therapist or a bartender with a good ear. Either way, connect with another human being who has the capacity to be warm and/or the ability to listen well.

Expressing your troubles aloud can have a cathartic effect. Getting whatever is bothering you off your chest will help alleviate some of the pressure built up from suppressing it. Plus, if you have the right people/person by your side, they can fill you up with some of that much needed optimism that you’ve had a hard time accessing.

2. Give it a name

This one you can do by yourself or you can make it a group activity. Dealer’s choice. Part of what keeps us from optimism is the inability to truly name what is at the root of our issue.

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Focus – truly examine what’s making you so blue. Many times the small things that we find dissatisfactory are really symptomatic of a bigger issue. Maybe it’s not really about the fact that you lost your job but the fear that your spouse might think you’re not able to pull your weight as an equal partner. Or maybe it’s not the fact that your boy/girlfriend picked a Lebanese film tonight and you hate subtitles but that all things Lebanon remind you of the one that got away. I don’t know. Whatever it is, give your oppressor a name so you know what to call it when you tell it to leave.

This could be hard because identifying a root problem requires some H-O-N-E-S-T-Y. However, in the long run, you’ll take pride in your bravery and that can bring you closer to optimism.

3. Exercise your talents; give away your gifts

Remember what you got, because it’s a lot. I don’t remember where I heard that. What I do remember is that there are certain things that I’m really good at. You have those too. Everyone has talents; some of us have gifts.

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What’s the difference?

Simply put: talents are abilities we’re naturally inclined to but need to be put into practice often in order to develop them. Gifts are characteristics that are in our nature that we operate in the world with in a more organic manner. One person can be a talented musician, well versed in multiple instruments. Additionally, they have the gift of patience which enables them to teach music to others. Pick one of your talent seeds, plant it, water it daily, and it may bring you a harvest one day. If you’re lucky enough to have a gift, then find a way to dispense it freely. Good vibes have a reflective quality. Witnessing your talents and gifts in play will definitely put optimism in your life.

4. Go outside and move around

If you’re like me, at some point, you might have had a string of days where blending into the couch seemed like a good idea. Trust me. It’s not. Motivation is scarce when you’re feeling down and maybe it really is too cold, or too sunny, or too scary to go out but you won’t know until you do it. So just do it.

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During one of my few couch spells, I read an article that proclaimed that simply walking is scientifically proven to release endorphins, a stress fighting chemical, in your brain thus making a person feel better. You know what? When I finally got off the couch, showered, then went for a walk I found out it was right. Crazy. I know. The only things that should be between your couch cushions should be some loose change, popcorn, and maybe a condom wrapper- not your hind-parts sinking into them because you’ve been sitting for that long. Optimism is definitely not there. Go outside, take a stroll, and find it.

5. Buck Up

Chances are if you and your loved ones are healthy, all else is solvable. Not to trivialize what may be going on with you but to break it down to a base level: this holds true most of the time. I remember when my father had his stroke a decade ago, other problems seemed to have melted away.

Looking back at the years that followed, I never heard my father complain about the state of his health or about all of the changes he had to make in order to stay healthy. The man adjusted his diet, exercised, and monitored his blood pressure regularly. All of this he kept to consistently. Recently, I had the privilege of traveling with him to the Philippines. Through the multiple flights and long days of exploration, he maintained the stamina of a man decades his junior. He was able to do that because when the most important thing: his health, came into question, he bucked up and just did what he had to do. He didn’t get weighed down with what ifs or the negative possibilities. This may be the most important step in claiming optimism.

6. Trust

When you try your best, you never have to be ashamed of the outcome. Whether the scale tips to your side or not, trust that the tide is in your favor. Your best efforts will put you on the best path for you. If you can make room for trust in your thoughts, you can bypass inner judgements that often create unnecessary comparison, worry, and overall displeasure. There are so many great things around you; happening for you. Trust yourself to do right by you and you may find yourself making better decisions more suited to your overall health. A balanced mind, body, and soul are definitely in possession of optimism.

Featured photo credit: Have You Seen This Man/Tony Fischer via flickr.com

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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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