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Can You Transform Without Getting Uncomfortable?

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Can You Transform Without Getting Uncomfortable?

    Here’s one of my theories on success:

    Hypothesis: There is a positive correlation between how uncomfortable an individual is prepared to get and their likelihood of success – irrespective of the field of endeavour.

    I came to this conclusion after decades of incidental and intentional research, exploration and observation.

    The Genesis of My Company

    I remember when I signed a commercial lease for the first time to secure a building and open my first training centre twenty years ago. Yes, I’m that old. I was twenty-six. I had no business experience, no assets (to speak of), owned no property and had zero experience as an employer. I put every cent I had into the business set-up and was left with less than a hundred dollars in the bank. I signed a lease committing me to a rent of six hundred dollars per week for the next three years. To me at that time, thirty thousand dollars a year was almost incomprehensible. I felt physically ill as I signed the papers. It may as well have been six million dollars a week – so nervous and stressed was I. To say I was uncomfortable is a massive understatement. I didn’t sleep properly for weeks. If there was another way, I would have chosen it. There wasn’t, so I got uncomfortable.

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    It worked out okay.

    Speaking

    I remember my first professional speaking gig. I was terrible. And terrified. Some of you have heard the story but the short version is that I sweated so much before my gig (yep before) that I had to dry my shirt with a hand dryer in a public bathroom before I could walk into the room. Classy, I know. I feel sorry for my audience (and the people who witnessed the shirt-drying fiasco) but I could never have delivered my thousandth presentation (which I did long ago) without doing that horrible initial one.

    University

    I also remember my first day of university as a thirty-six year-old who had never used a computer, never sat in a lecture theatre and who hadn’t studied formally for eighteen years. To be honest, I never really studied formally – even at school. I did more study in my first week of college than I did in thirteen years of primary and secondary schools combined. There I sat in an auditorium full of tech-savvy, computer-literate, fresh-out-of-school, eighteen year-olds who had never heard of black and white TV, Jackson Browne or the Eagles. Shameful. In my first class I had to ask the lecturer what a mouse, a hard-drive, a floppy disk (not what I pictured) and cursor were. He thought I was kidding. For two months I typed at the devastating speed of five words per minute. Unless they had more than two syllables – then I dropped back to four words. In the first week I actually paid a kid to give me remedial computer lessons between classes. She thought it was hilarious. And profitable. For the entire first semester I felt like a total fraud who should have been somewhere (anywhere) else. Socially, technically, academically and emotionally I was uncomfortable every day for most of the first year of my degree. Three years later I was a university lecturer. With a published book – typed by me! (Slightly faster than five words per minute too.)

    Being Full Figured. Thick Set. Stocky. Big-Boned… er… Fat

    Then there was my first ever run as an obese teenager. I was in year eight, weighed 90 kilos (198lbs) and was more suited to sitting or shuffling than I was to running. As much as it (and the subsequent hundred runs) hurt, I knew that nothing could be as painful as the social and emotional rejection that accompanied being a fat kid. So running it was. Discomfort it was. Five months after my first (painfully slow) jog and 30 kilos (66lbs) lighter, I was an endorphin junkie; addicted to the high that running gave me.

    Where there’s discomfort, there’s growth. Where there are barriers, there are lessons. And where there is adversity, there is strength to be found and potential to be explored.

    Building a Blog

    Being a person who writes for an audience can be both gratifying and terrifying. Nobody likes criticism but I get it every day. Not some days, every day. Most bloggers with a large readership do. Or maybe it’s just me. Have enough readers and someone will hate you or hate what (or how) you write; it’s unavoidable. While writing for a high-traffic interactive blog like this one can be a stimulating, challenging, exciting and rewarding experience, it can also be freakin’ uncomfortable. Putting your thoughts, ideas and beliefs out there opens you up for all kinds of.. er… feedback. The truth is that, in order to create one of the best personal development resources in the world (one of my goals), I need to get uncomfortable often. That discomfort might come in the form of less-than-desirable feedback from a reader. It might come in the form of physical pain (back and neck mostly for me) which comes with too many hours spent at a keyboard. Or, it might simply be the reality of having to sacrifice certain things (for a period of time) in order to build and maintain the kind of resource that’s representative of my philosophy and consistent with my standards. Is it all worth it? Absolutely. Is it easy? Nope. It is uncomfortable? Often. Do I know why most bloggers throw in the towel before their site is a year old? Yep – because creating a high-quality site (and getting traffic to that site) is more work and effort than most people would ever imagine.

    My Research Centre

    Working on a gym floor for decades has been the perfect ‘laboratory’ for me to test the above hypothesis. You don’t need to be a genius to realise that people who are committed to being ‘comfortable’ (versus productive) in the gym are also the ones who are committed to staying where they are (consciously or not) – metaphorically speaking. I’ve always been amused by people who pay for a membership and turn up at the gym regularly, only to go-through-the-motions month after month. It is their lack of willingness to get uncomfortable (not their genetics, age or physical potential) which stands between them and their best body. Or, at the very least, a better body. Why do you think Australians spend over two million dollars every day on weight-loss pills, powders and potions when they could simply eat less and move more to get the job done? Because they want the results without the discomfort; that’s why. After all, progressive exercise programs and controlled calorie intakes ain’t much fun – so pills it will be. For some.

    Major Discomfort

    And then there are those people who will deal with a level of discomfort that the rest of us wouldn’t even want to consider. Aaron Ralston is an adventure dude who famously cut off his own right arm to free himself after a tragic hiking accident. Here’s a snapshot of his story (as shared on msnbc.com):

    Ralston’s gripping story captured the world’s imagination back in April 2003. Known for being a daredevil, Ralston, now 32, went mountain-climbing in Canyonlands National Park in Utah. And not only did he travel solo – he neglected to tell anyone about his trip.

    Ralston fell into a crevice, dislodging an 800-pound boulder in the process, and the slab pinned him against a canyon wall. After five days trying to lift and break the boulder, he came to an agonizing decision: He had to cut off the lower part of his lifeless right arm. Ralston managed to snap the bones of his arm against the rock, and then used the dull blade of a multi-use tool to cut through the tissue around his broken arm. He used pliers to sever the tendons and finally extricated himself.

    Ralston then rappelled down a 65-foot wall. He had begun an 8-mile (13 km) hike back to his vehicle when a vacationing family met up with him on the trail and called for help. After months of rehabilitation, Ralston returned to an active lifestyle and even resumed climbing. Two years after his accident, he climbed 14,000-foot peaks in his native Colorado with the help of a prosthetic right hand.

    But…

    Now, I know what you’re thinking: “but Craig, he was in a life or death situation”. I agree, the circumstances were extreme but it’s my belief that the vast majority of people finding themselves in a similar situation would simply have perished out there. The prospect of cutting off any limb (especially one attached to our own body!) is simply something that would be too much for most people to deal with.

    Or perhaps I’m wrong?

    In that moment, that place and that situation, success (living) for Aaron meant getting very (very) uncomfortable. And not only did he choose to deal with the physical discomfort (discomfort doesn’t really seem adequate does it?), but can you even begin to imagine the psychological and emotional discomfort that would accompany such a decision and action? It’s amazing what we can tolerate (how uncomfortable we can get) and how much power, strength and ability we can tap into when we believe we have no other option.

    When we take away the safety net (the one we always give ourselves) it’s amazing what we can do.

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    While there are many variables which play a role in the transformational process (vision, planning, preparation, goal-setting, talent, knowledge, support, etc.), it’s my experience that the person with every ingredient except a willingness to get uncomfortable, is the person who will fail. Time after time. Once we acknowledge (and accept) that lasting transformation can only occur when we face our fears and choose to get uncomfortable on a regular basis, then we begin to move from self-limitation to self-empowerment.

    So, what is it you’re after – comfort or transformation?

    Image: mccheek

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    Craig Harper

    Leading presenter, writer and educator in the areas of high-performance, self-management, personal transformation and more

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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    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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