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How To Free Yourself From Fearful Thoughts

How To Free Yourself From Fearful Thoughts

Many of us are susceptible to fearful thoughts during our lives, as well as feelings of dread and anxiety. If you have experienced this it is important you know that you are not different or broken; you are human. Having experienced this himself, Josh Bowler has shared six tips to help you free yourself of fearful thoughts:

“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.” ~Eckhart Tolle

Here I am, huddled up close to the wood burner, my only source of heat, sitting on an old recliner chair that was given to me, in a rented apartment with windows soaked with condensation. Outside it is cold, wet, and dreary, a typical English winter’s day.

My business folded in July with substantial personal debt and I turned forty-four in August.

Perhaps not the most heart-warming start to a post, but rather some raw facts of how my life is now, not x number of years ago before I turned my life around, but now! I’m pretty sure I am not alone in this situation I find myself.

In July when I folded my never very successful business resulting in substantial personal debt, the first thing I did was completely freak out—panic attacks, endless anxiety, depressive thoughts, the whole nine yards.

I went to my doctor who gave me anti-anxiety medication without a second thought. I tried them for a couple of months, but I had been down that route before and this time I felt that it was not the solution to my problems. So after consulting with the doc I carefully weaned myself off of them.

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What I needed was answers as to what was causing me so much pain inside rather than a Band-Aid to cover it. I needed to find out why I seemed to have spent my entire life under a shadow, a shadow from which I never felt comfortable emerging to engage fully with the world for fear of being seen.

Enter Tiny Buddha. I found Tiny Buddha by chance while endlessly searching for answers as to what was broken in me. What I discovered after reading hundreds of posts was a revelation: I am not broken.

After digging deeper, I began to realize that I was locked in a trance most of the time, a trance created by my egoic mind. A trance shaped by fear during my formative years. My psyche was trying to protect me from the fear and lack of safety I felt when growing up; it was trying to keep me safe.

My childhood interpretation of the events I experienced, combined with non-compassionate and non-understanding authority figures, led my psyche to decide that the best way to deal with life was to retreat to a place of safety and hide, to not get involved or be exposed in any way.

It met any situation or event that it interpreted as fearful with vigorous resistance.

As most things in life contain some element of fear and anticipation, especially new things, my egoic mind trance was active most of the time, constantly in the background, ready to come to my rescue at the slightest whiff of perceived danger.

The irony is that my mind’s way of “rescuing” me was to paralyze me with feelings of dread, worry, and anxiety, coupled with the physical feelings associated with panic. 

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It’s not easy when your egoic mind has spent the greater part of your life trying to convince you that it is the only place where you are safe.

Over the years the egoic mind has plenty of time to really go to town building a devilishly intricate trance machine that becomes deeply entrenched in the psyche. Mine was so entrenched that I thought it was me. Until recently, that is.

What I am learning from reading many posts on Tiny Buddha, which led me to books, podcasts, and other resources on the subject of the being, is this:

1. We need to realize that we truly are not our thoughts.

Our thoughts come from the egoic mind. We are the awareness that hears the thoughts.

When you talk to yourself inside your mind, to whom are you actually talking? It is your awareness, and that is who you are, that is your being. Not the thoughts.

Your thoughts are just constructs of your egoic mind. You can actually choose to let them float on by without believing or engaging them, should you choose to.

2. Understand it is not your fault that your mind is causing you such pain; it’s a product of evolution. 

Back in the days of caves and things with sharp pointy teeth, you were more likely to survive if you were ever vigilant of danger—meaning the genes that favored this behavior were more likely to get passed down… to you.

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The egoic mind thinks it is helping you by keeping you safe and trapped inside a trance. It is not its fault, and you have to face your trance thoughts with compassion and love, and be able to forgive yourself. It really isn’t your fault.

3. Use meditation and mindfulness throughout the day; learn to see the space between the real you—which is awareness—and the egoic mind, as its thoughts race by.

Observe thoughts for what they are: just thoughts. Try not to allow yourself to become absorbed in your thoughts and go into trance, but do not punish yourself if you do.

Be kind and compassionate to yourself when you recognize you have drifted away and start fresh in the moment, returning to a state of mindful awareness whenever you can.

4. Identify the trance thoughts and emotions as they arise and name them.

For example, “Oh, this is fear I am feeling, just fear,” or “I feel you dread and worry; it’s okay,” or “Hello shame and unworthiness; I see you.”

This technique of compassionate recognition will reduce the power they have over you, as you have exposed them for what they really are: just thoughts.

5. Remember that it takes perseverance and practice, lots of it.

Another fun thing we inherited from our ancestors is that the fear of something can become embedded in our long-term memory even after a single, brief exposure to it. Conversely, it takes much longer and repeated exposure to positive stimuli before they are committed to long-term memory.

6. Each time you notice yourself in a state of negativity, use it as an opportunity to practice, to mindfully observe your thoughts with acceptance and compassion.

This will allow them to flow through and out of you rather than be kept inside to be constantly recycled.

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Do not beat yourself up if you find it difficult to let go of thinking. Be patient and compassionate with yourself. It took you more than a few days to learn to read and write. It will take a little time for you to calm your egoic mind and let your awareness shine through.

This is the path I have begun to walk. I’ve begun to let go of expectations about others and myself; to learn to be compassionate and to love myself; to accept who I am, and where I am in this moment; to try not to judge others or myself. To know that in this moment everything is okay.

And now that my cat is lying on my lap, I guess that means it is time to finish this. Life is all about these moments.

Josh Bowler is a musician, writer and ecologist stepping back on the path he inadvertently left 24 years ago and finding it is all still there just waiting to be seen. He has a blog telluwot.com/complete-being/ and has written a short guidebook on the subject of dealing with anxiety and stress.

6 Tips to Help You Free Yourself from Your Fearful Thoughts | Tiny Buddha

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Siobhan Harmer

Siobhan is a passionate writer sharing about motivation and happiness tips on Lifehack.

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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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