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10 Ways To Find Strength If You’re In The Middle Of A Lifetime Struggle

10 Ways To Find Strength If You’re In The Middle Of A Lifetime Struggle

In 2012 a series of personal events occurred to me at the same time, which felt as if everything in my life was crashing down on me. I was suffering of a serious illness and one particular day it came to a head. Leaving work to rush into hospital and without preparation, I received surgery the very next day. This occurred three weeks before I was booked and ready to go on a one-month trip around Europe.

After my release from hospital the very next day my then boyfriend of six months informed me that his mother did not condone our relationship. We had a good relationship as far as I knew. I received this news via phone call. I broke up with him a week later and still went on my trip to Europe.

When returning to my job after my holiday, my boss demoted me to part time without a legitimate reason. I had been with the company for four years never taking any sick days. But my sudden surgery and trip (that he blessed when I booked it) most likely triggered his decision. Imagine being told that you need to go part time and that a full time person will be hired, even though you are fine to work as normal. I gave in my two week notice on the spot.

I was on a major downward spiral and I experiences heavy depression during this time. Still recovering from surgery, a broken heart, and no job, I questioned what the heck I was doing in life. It actually felt like everything I had been pursuing was wiped away and I had to start over again. In the middle of this struggle, I found it in myself to focus on an attitude of reason.

Do you know the saying everything happens for a reason? I told myself this daily and really began focusing on taking advantage of the struggle I was in. I learned a few things during this time and I hope by passing them on they will help someone else.

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1. First and foremost, get off the mouse wheel

When life throws us situations that cause us to struggle, what can make it worse is our attitude towards it. Like mice go round and round on the wheel, in tough times it is important that we don’t spin ourselves out by limited thinking. Struggles come in many ways and for many reasons, which are unique to the individual. We can so easily become overwhelmed by the pressure and difficulties we are currently facing that we don’t stop and review what is going on. Getting off the wheel allows us to slow down and begin to take steps towards not allowing this struggle to consume us.

“Sometimes when you’re overwhelmed by a situation – when you’re in the darkest of darkness – that’s when your priorities are reordered.” – Phoebe Snow

2. Don’t lose sight of who you are

It is so easy to get into the victim mentality in those struggling times. Faced with despair and a lack of hope, the why me? thoughts can begin. We may neglect the very things that can possibly keep us grounded. Don’t forget to take care of yourself no matter how pointless or even draining it may feel. Which leads to the next point: health.

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” – Helen Keller

3. Take care of your health: Mind, Body, Soul

Ensuring that we are focused on our wellbeing is the foundation of rising above struggles. Synchronising the mind, body and soul can bring about strength, health and also a sense of calmness. Even though there is hardship, when we feel well grounded physically and mentally, things are not over exaggerated. Stress can be kept at a minimal as well.

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“To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” – Buddha

4. How you respond can make a difference

As I mentioned I began focusing on the thought that everything happens for a reason. Someone told me during this time that what I am experiencing is not the end it is just the beginning. Whilst I couldn’t see how or what that would mean further down the road, I held onto that belief. For such a massive change to occur, there had to be a deeper meaning. Through invested time in prayer and focusing on my self-awareness, I began to realise that for so long I had wished for more out of life yet wasn’t going after it. I wasn’t truly happy in my job and I was very stressed out, yet I never did anything about it. My relationship was wonderful but I ignored the fact that it was immature and I outgrew it. My health was a reflection of neglecting the heavy stress I was under from work.

I took everything into consideration and turned each part into a powerful lesson. I used those circumstances to fuel my decisions and not settle for anything that wasn’t pushing me to thrive. By viewing the situations as a blessing in disguise, it assisted me towards a better life filled with freedom, health and passion. Therefore, I was able to respond strongly.

“Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.” – Lou Holtz

5. Accept and let go, so you can heal and flow

Without acceptance, it is very hard to move on. People hurt us, we make silly mistakes, and change happens dramatically at times. Life is never fully in our control and we do not know what tomorrow brings. Accepting struggles as they are, learning from them and moving on empowers us. If we are constantly bitter at what life throws our way, we miss the opportunity to live in the moment. I believe that it is totally normal and human to cry, mourn and have a period of being sad. I cried every day for months. People told me to move on and pushed my grieving process.

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I knew however that I needed to let it out in order to be free from it. Acceptance isn’t all about sucking it up and getting on with it. One healthy way to accept the struggles we face is by sitting with the uncomfortable reality and feeling it – not avoiding it. If that means sobbing like a big baby (like I did), so be it. It assisted in my ability to remain compassionate, free spirited, and not angry with anyone. Due to experiencing the feelings, bitterness was not enabled. I reached out to both my boss and ex boyfriend some time later thanking them for the wonderful things they bought to my life. I could only do this because I had accepted what happened and I had no room for anger. This helped my process of moving on.

“Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it.” – Michael J Fox

6. It is not weak to speak – Talk to someone

Don’t ever be too proud to talk to someone about your struggles and difficult times. You may feel awkward but it is one of the best actions you can do for yourself. Those who muster up the courage to speak up, do themselves and others good. To open up helps with healing, overcoming troubles and also gaining perspective. Sometimes when we keep things bottled up inside, we can overthink and create bigger problems for ourselves. Talking it out invites someone else to be a friend to you and allows you to be yourself – raw and real. Choose someone you fully trust and don’t be embarrassed. If you don’t have anyone, there are many ways you can connect with people. (Your welcome to talk to me if you need too!)

“Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success.” – Paul J. Meyer

7. Turn your struggle into your power

Begin to look for opportunities in the current circumstance you are in. Yes, it is really hard to do this sometimes especially when your confidence has been stripped away. Putting your faith in someone again, a job or anything in a time like this can be so fearful. It is also liberating to realise that at any point in time you can stop what you are doing and start something new if you want to. For a long time I knew I was putting off what I really wanted to pursue and that is my focus on helping other people on a deeper level.

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So, I took advantage of the fact that I was incredibly free to do whatever I wanted to do. I started thinking of a business. I worked another awesome job. I did a course and I went travelling. I wasn’t attached to any of those things because I knew that I could never settle again like I did before. Almost two years later I can now say that I am starting to make sense of what I want to do and where I want to go. I feel purpose within my heart and I can help others through difficult times. I now recognize more than I did before when I need to move out of my comfort zone, before it blows up in my face again. That is a powerful place to be in.

“If you have a positive attitude and constantly strive to give your best effort, eventually you will overcome your immediate problems and find you are ready for greater challenges.” – Pat Riley

8. Learn from others

Gaining advice and direction from people we trust is very valuable in a struggle. When people open up about a tough time and how they got through, they are most likely saying it to encourage us. In saying that I ensured that I was guarded as to whom I talked to. Not everyone needs to know our struggles, as not everyone can be sensitive about them. Insensitive responses can leave us feeling misunderstood and embarrassed. There are also people who feed our struggles by pandering to us constantly without setting us straight when it’s needed. We need to surround ourselves with people who are honest and will sincerely let us know that there is hope. You know those friends who say the right thing, even though you don’t really want to hear it? Generally those are the ones who encourage you to rise up again and not allow this struggle to take a hold of you. They are sincere but they refuse to see you wallow in self-pity. Learn from them.

9. Set boundaries

Something I am still learning today is setting boundaries for myself. Instead of being someone who always says yes or does things to keep others happy, I have learnt the word no. Setting boundaries is actually living in honesty and representing your truest self. I was always available to everyone with the belief system that I had to drop what I was doing to help others. In the work environment the stress I was under consumed my whole core but I never said no to it. During a struggle it may be wise to review where boundaries may not be set and work towards putting some in place. Say no to the things that hurt you or destroy your health. Speak to your boss or find a job that does not stress you out. Choose a relationship that is enjoyable, not controlling – or be single. Have your own routines and disciplines in place that are focused on health (mind, body and soul). Say what you mean and settle for no less. Set boundaries and protect yourself.

10. And finally…it all happened for a reason.

Perhaps the biggest reason for my experience was that I could write this and let you know that your struggles are not the end of the road. They may just be the beginning of something new, change and a better life. Perhaps you will learn the best lessons that will push you to grow and give you wisdom in your future choices. Maybe you will find purpose, create something new or finally follow your passions. It could be a wake up call to get your body into shape, health into gear, mind re-focused or spiritual life on track. Whatever the reason may be, if you dig deep and allow yourself to be open, the answer will come in the right time and in the right way.

It is not the end – it may just be the beginning.

Featured photo credit: Victor Hugo via photopin.com

More by this author

Anjelica Ilovi

Anjelica writes about how to grind and unwind for increased productivity, focus and joyful living anjelicailovi.com {grind + unwind}

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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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