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How to Overcome Hard Times in Your Life

How to Overcome Hard Times in Your Life

Let’s face it. Sometimes, life just stinks. Bad things happen. Unbelievable things happen. People hurt other people, jobs are lost and relationships are broken. People die, financial troubles come and important things are forgotten. Sometimes life just seems like too much to handle.

When I first became a single mother a few years back, I thought my world was ending. I did not know how I was going to make it. I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide. There were days I wanted to give up on adulting entirely.

I lost my home due to the abrupt financial changes from the divorce. I believed I would never be able to live a happy or fulfilling life. I would never be able to love again. I’m damaged goods. I’m ruined. My life is over. That is where my mind took me when I was faced with hard decisions in my life.

A few months later I realized that wallowing in a self-pity party was not going to improve my situation. After time passed, things got better. My situation was not ideal and it definitely was not how I imagined my life was supposed to end up.

During those struggles there were still some good times. Positive and hopeful relationships were made. There were laughs and a lot of learning, too.

As  another year arrives and I reflect back on my past struggles, I realized it does get better.  Most struggles have a lesson attached to it and if you recognize what you need to adjust within yourself so that it’s easier to move forward.

I am here to declare for those going through a hard time: there is hope. We can overcome. We can get through it and we will. It won’t be easy and we might need to adjust some core thought patterns, but we can do it.

Fast forward 4 years later. I am now remarried. I have my family back. We are about to build a new home and watch our children grow up in a safe and stable neighborhood. Love received another chance and this time it is sweeter. I am truly committed to my family and marriage. I am attempting to be fully present with this second chance and with this new perspective.

Here are a few ways to overcome those hard times in your life, especially when you feel there is no way around the obstacles in front of you.

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1. It Won’t Always Be This Way

This was my mantra. This statement helped me get through my hard times. I used to fear change, I hated change. I had major anxiety over drastic change. Then I realized change is a part of everyday life.  We can’t stop change so we have to accept it and embrace it.

It also reminded me that because things won’t always be this way, it will get better eventually. If you are going through a really hard time, just remember it does get better.

2. Learn From It

They say that struggling today often gives you strength for tomorrow. I believe this statement is now true but during my struggles I often asked  “Why me?” “Why is this happening?”  or “What did I do to deserve this?” As those thoughts and questions came, I had to truthfully analyze my part in my own life, and in my past situations.  I realized I used to blame my bad luck on everyone else. I used to believe I was a victim. It wasn’t my fault. I realized no one is perfect; we can never be all things to all people and I had many areas where I needed to make adjustments.

It is never easy to identify and recognize your own faults, but once you are aware of them, you are able to change for the better and learn from the struggles you are facing.

3. Ask for Help

I grew up in a generation where you just figured it out—that whole “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” thing. Where did that come from anyway?—Pirates or from a turn of the century book? Who knows, but it’s still relevant today and it’s the best way for me to describe how I viewed what I needed to be in society.

After being self sufficient for so long and then faced with struggles, I finally did ask certain people for help and they helped me. Sometimes asking for help is the courageous thing—as long as your heart is humble and your motive is pure. I struggle with perfectionism so it is hard for me to ask for help. Once I was able to do that and see the kindness in other people it encouraged me to move forward.

4. Forgive or Ask for Forgiveness

So many things have been written about the power of forgiveness. So many quotes, books and articles. It really is a very important part of having more of a stress-free life.

I once was bitter about my past situation. I blamed others and held grudges because I believed it was the other person’s fault and not mine. I then learned this bitterness underlying within me, I was quicker to anger and I did not feel truly happy no matter what I did. After sitting in un-forgiveness for a while I finally realized it was not healthy for me.

Forgiving the other person does not mean that what they did was acceptable. It meant for me that what they did to me no longer had any power over me.

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The anger and bitterness is now released. Their past actions no longer have a hold on my emotions. It’s forgiven and my heart is no longer in turmoil. I feel free.

I also had to forgive myself for past mistakes and ask for forgiveness from friends and family I had hurt during my struggles.

Forgiveness is a process and once you are willing to forgive, life does get better. Anger dissipates. Joy return. (My re-marriage is actually to my ex-husband and the father of my children. There is no way this ever could have been a possibility without the power of forgiveness.)

5. Live in Today

Many days I worried about tomorrow, next week or the next year. Some months I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay the upcoming rent or afford enough groceries until the next paycheck. Worrying about some of those facts got me nowhere.

During my struggles I was always taken care of; we always had just enough. There were times where a random refund check from the prior six months that I had no idea was coming got me through to the next paycheck. One Christmas a dear friend got presents for my children because I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to get them that year and I will never forget it.

As time went on I realized worrying about my tomorrow or my next week did nothing but shoot my anxiety through the roof. It wasn’t worth it. Once I focused on the now, I was able to focus on today and attempt to give my all instead of giving part of my thoughts to the future or past.

6. Find a Strong Support Group

A support group can be friends; it can be family members. It can be co-workers or anyone that supports you in improving your life for the better.

During my struggles I found a support group that truly helped get me through some of my harder times. I have a mentor and she has helped me realize that we are not meant to be isolated or alone. It is so much harder to do life with no one around to help you get through it. I used to isolate because I felt unwanted, believed that I wasn’t worth spending time with or that no one cared to listen to what I was going through. Those were lies.

Eliminate the negative relationships in your life that bring you down. It is very important to maintain relationships and friendships with people that have your back, that will be there for you no matter how hard life gets. Nurture those positive relationships and never let them go.

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7. Control Your Controllables

A dear friend once shared this with me and it stuck. I can only control myself, my actions and reactions. I cannot control others and there is no sense in trying. I tried everything in my past: manipulation, threats, ignoring. I had many scenarios in my head of how to get someone to act a certain way and I failed at every one of them.

They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting a different result. In a nutshell, that statement describes attempting to control others around you. Just like Meghan Trainor sings in her hit song “NO”: “You need to let it go.”

Once we let go of trying to control others or certain things around us, we can focus inward.  We then can change ourselves and begin to see other people change around us, too. It’s a cool thing to witness, but the key always begins with us.

8. Believe in Miracles

Even during struggles we need dreams and hope. If we don’t accept that sometimes the impossible is possible.

Our thoughts can become a reality. If we are thinking negatively all the time, we could be bringing on negative things in our lives. We all have negative thoughts. The key is if we actually believe them or not. We can choose to filter out the negative thoughts and focus on the positive.

To me, being remarried to the father of my children and having my family back is a miracle. If someone would have told me this would have happened 4 years ago, I would never have believed it.

We need to allow ourselves to dream big so that we can remain hopeful. If you put your life in a box and only believe you can do or achieve certain things, you may be limiting yourself.

9. Laugh

Laughter might be one of the most instant mood lifters outside of having strong and encouraging relationships. A good friend can cheer you up; a hilarious comedy can remind you of how important laughter is.

Some people use laughter or joking to minimize their struggles. Some days when I would come home and had a really trying day, the laughter of my children reminded how important it is to lighten up.

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My kids just asked me the other day why I don’t play outside. My answer was “I’m an adult.” I realized how silly that sounds. Later today I am going to get outside and go play hide and seek with my kids. Sometimes we do need to remember the care-free aspects of our childhood, go have a little fun, and just laugh.

10. Love

Take a chance on love. Again. Even if you have been hurt many times before, do not give up on love.

For a while my heart was closed up. I put up a wall. Of course I still loved my children and family no matter what, but I had given up on finding happiness or love again with anyone.

We do have to take a chance on love. There are no guarantees in life and that needs to be realized. Expectations need to be forgotten. Relationships end even with the best intentions. If I were to have completely given up on love, I would be limiting myself and missing out on the happiness that love can bring. Think about it: if we give up on love completely, who wins? The last person that hurt you? Hate? Negativity? Love certainly doesn’t win.

Be open and willing for anything and see what the universe brings you. You might just be surprised.

I used to look for love in all the wrong places or I forced things to happen because I didn’t like being alone. Once I finally let that go and I started believing in love and happiness in general by gained solidarity in being single, love found me.

Be patient and don’t give up on love.

Featured photo credit: Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com

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Wendy Redden

Digital Advertising Account Manager, Music Blogger, Freelance Writer

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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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