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The Power of Self-Reflection: 10 Questions You Should Ask Yourself

The Power of Self-Reflection: 10 Questions You Should Ask Yourself

To find yourself, lost and without purpose, wondering how you ended up where you are, is a scary thought. If you are not careful, not mindfully aware of where you are going, you could end up somewhere far from where you want to be. These are 10 helpful questions that we each ought to ask ourselves on a frequent basis. The power of self-reflection can serve to keep you in check, to keep you focused on self-improvement and ensure that you are as fulfilled as possible.

1. Am I using my time wisely?

“Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

We all know time is precious. Our goal ought to be to use it in a way that isn’t counter-productive. For example, taking time to unwind and do nothing productive in particular could be beneficial for the mind and body. Finding yourself stuck in a job that offers a stable pay but fails to challenge you, make use of your skills, or provide some sense of value could be considered a substantial waste of time. Most of it is perception. The best way to evaluate this is to imagine yourself five or 10 years from now, looking back to where you are now, this could help you see what aspects in your life may be a waste of your time.

2. Am I taking anything for granted?

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your last misfortunes, of which all men have some.” – Charles Dickens

There are countless blessings around each of us. Even at our lowest lows we may have the support of family or friends, a roof over our head or skills that we ought to take pride in. We’re naturally forward-looking, which may blind us to our present circumstances. We ought to take a moment every now and again to look at what we have around us and be grateful.

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3. Am I employing a healthy perspective?

“Perspective is as simple as answering this question: If I had five months to live would I experience this problem differently?” – Shannon Alder

Whether or not we’re happy, doing what’s right, or if we are successful is all about perspective. We may have the world at our fingertips yet find ourselves utterly empty. We can grow to hate our jobs simply because of one co-worker whom we cannot agree with, or be devastated over a dissolving relationship that had been detrimental to our well-being in the first place. Sometimes we’re so zoomed in on various issues that, when we step back or hear an outside perspective, we can view the issue in a completely different light. Try to adopt new perspectives when possible; a glass-half-full approach can mean a world of difference in regards to certain matters.

4. Am I living true to myself?

“A lot of the conflict you have in your life exists simply because you’re not living in alignment; you’re not be being true to yourself.” – Steve Maraboli

This may take years to fully discover, with many mistakes along the way, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. It’s vital to figure out whether or not we’re deceiving ourselves, leading a life that is far from what we want it to be. We have complete control over what we do, but without consciously evaluating our actions and circumstances every now and again, we can let things spiral away–like the the corrupt politician or steroid-dependent athlete. Figure out what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If you’re doing something that will cause you regret down the road, work yourself away from it.

5. Am I waking up in the morning ready to take on the day?

“Know that dreaming is a waste of sleeping time and energy if you don’t wake up to achieve them.” – Israelmore Ayivor

Or are you waking up with a sense of hopelessness? The first thought of the day is a massive indicator of your general level of happiness. We all have days that we don’t look forward to, but if you find yourself not wanting to get out of bed day after day, and if you know why that is, it’s time to take action.

6. Am I thinking negative thoughts before I fall asleep?

“Insomniacs know that there is something about the night. A darkness, an energy, a mystery that shrouds things. It hides things at the same time as it illuminates them. It is this thing that allows us to examine our thoughts in a way that we can’t during the day. It is this thing that brings truth and clarity.” – Courtney Cole

When we finally lay down to sleep is when we unplug from everything and finally achieve a measure of clarity, clarity that prompts reflection. Your last thoughts before falling asleep reveal a lot about what’s going on in your life. If they’re consistently negative, try to identify a pattern of what may be causing them and then seek to address the stressors.

7. Am I putting enough effort into my relationships?

“Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.” – J.K. Rowling

Over time, we can begin to take our relationships for granted. Flames die out, naturally, and novelty wears off. In consequence, this requires constant effort to allow the relationships to grow. Moving away from family, for instance, requires lots of effort to stay connected and stay close. If you don’t want to find yourself losing various individuals in your life, make sure that you’re dedicated towards maintaining your relationships.

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8. Am I taking care of myself physically?

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

We have everything working against us as we get older–more work hours to put in, a family to take care off, decreased energy levels and a slowed metabolism, just to name a few. Our physical well-being can, in turn, be put on the back burner if we’re not aware. Keep an idea of where you want to be physically in the next few years and don’t let that image slip away from you.

9. Am I letting matters that are out of my control stress me out?

“The reason many people in our society are miserable, sick, and highly stressed is because of an unhealthy attachment to things they have no control over.” – Steve Maraboli

The biggest waste of effort we can make is to stress out about things that are outside of our realm of control. A completely unnecessary but inevitably common phenomenon that can ruin our days, our health, and our mental well-being. Make sure to continuously identify your stress factors and work towards eliminating any worries about things that you can’t control.

10. Am I achieving the goals that I’ve set for myself?

“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.” – Rosa Luxemburg

This question is necessary to consider on a frequent basis. We all have a general vision of where we want to be in five or 10 years, but it’s a very obscure glimpse based around general accomplishments. PsychologyToday.com reports: “In life, people have many goals (e.g. exercise more, be a better spouse, save more money). However, goals often go unrealized because people lack self-awareness…Thus, to improve our chances of reaching our goals, we must remain aware of our current behavior.” It’s helpful to examine the visions of our future selves in close detail and break down everything that must be done in order to achieve them. Don’t solely focus on the where and what–account for the how.

Through frequent self-reflection, we can make sure that we’re on the right path. Lack of self-reflection can cause us to seem lost or without a purpose. Time flies by and without consciously evaluating our circumstances, we can let so many aspects of our lives slip away: our health, our relationships, our goals. It’s necessary for us to unplug for a few minutes every now and again, when possible, and address a variety of the questions, including those listed above.

“Whether it’s Buddhists engaging in meditation, alcoholics at AA meetings, or philosophers of the Enlightenment studying the texts of Immanuel Kant, being aware of ourselves is an essential step in self-improvement.” – Allen R. McConnell, www.psychologytoday.com

Featured photo credit: rearviewmirrow/greyerbab via mrg.bz

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Michael Woronko

Michael shares about tips on self-development and happiness 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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