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Do You Want to Live a More Inspired Life?

Do You Want to Live a More Inspired Life?

    The Writing Process

    Sometimes I sit at my computer to write an article and the experience is a very logical, cerebral and practical one. To be honest, I think it’s more of a conscious process than it is a creative experience. I carefully consider what I want to convey to my readers. I think about the key messages, the communication style, some possible examples and analogies and whether or not I should share from a personal story to add a level of depth and insight to the reading experience.

    It’s fair to say that this style of writing doesn’t really come from a place of inspiration (which is okay). It’s typically educational, instructional and informative but rarely inspirational. If it does manage to inspire or excite anyone, the response is typically more about the reader than it is the article. And while I (nearly) always enjoy writing, it’s fair to say that producing these types of articles – as necessary as they may be – doesn’t really excite me (greatly) or provide me with a huge sense of achievement or satisfaction at this point in my journey.

    It’s kind of like work.

    Perhaps my days of writing “how to create a perfect arse in four weeks” (type) articles are numbered. Oh well, there’s always the archives to sift through.

    Turning on The Inspiration Tap

    Then there are times when I have no (immediate) plan to write anything but something happens and I have to stop what I’m doing and literally run to my computer. Sometimes, I feel like I’m sprinting with a glass full of milk trying desperately not to lose any of my milk (inspiration) as I run. Have you ever had an amazing idea or revelation and then lost it two minutes later? How frustrating is that?

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    Sometimes I’m inspired and stimulated in the most inconvenient and impractical places and situations. I often find myself recording ideas and thoughts into the voice recorder on my phone while I’m driving because something or someone has pushed a button or opened a door (metaphorically speaking).

    Many times in cafes and restaurants, I have downloaded ideas, feelings and thoughts onto a serviette or piece of scrap paper because the situation, conversation or experience turned on some kind of uncontrollable creative tap inside me. And that’s exactly what it’s like when I’m inspired: uncontrollable. It’s like the words flow despite me not because of me. I find that when I’m in that place, writing (or speaking, for that matter) is effortless and joyful.

    And who wouldn’t want that?

    Flow

    When my cerebral self (some might say egoic self) makes way for my creative and inspired self, anything can happen. And it does. It’s when I’m in flow. Doing what I’m built for. Happy.

    While I need and value the logical, rational, strategic, grown-up (version of) me – to make sure I don’t do anything too stupid or reckless – the ‘me’ I really like is the free-style, who-gives-a-shit-what-people-think, ten year-old that lurks within. I like him because he doesn’t write for approval, permission, respect or status. He simply opens the floodgates and stands back. There’s no filter. No censor. No strategy and no agenda. When it comes to creativity, inspiration and connection, sometimes the best plan is no plan. Sometimes, logical ‘me’ simply needs to get out of the way.

    “Brilliance is rarely found in logic.”

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    A Story

    A few years back, I had to open a convention with a ninety-minute presentation to about a thousand people. Just before this particular gig, my manager, had been contacted by a well-known speaking agent who told us that she was interested in using me as a speaker at some upcoming conferences. She also informed him that she would be in the audience (of my upcoming gig) to evaluate me as a potential speaker for her stable.

    On hearing this news, I decided to ‘razzle-dazzle’ my presentation a little. To make it a tad more polished, structured and, I hate to say it; electronic. Good grief. What was I thinking? I guess my thinking was that if I could wrap my speaking and entertaining skills around some slides, photos and maybe even a video clip, I’d blow Mrs Speaking Agent out of her chair.

    What a stupid idea.

    My Clever Plan

    So, with my clever new plan to impress, I discarded my much-loved white-board and markers (the only tools I use when I present) and took to the stage with an electronic (slide-changing) clicker in hand; the clicker that was about to take the audience and I on an electronic journey of personal growth and wonder (via my snappy new audio-visual presentation).

    Again, stupid idea.

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    Fifteen minutes into my presentation, I realised that I had totally forgotten about the clicker in my hand. What slides? What power-point presentation? What plan? What… an idiot. I panicked. I went from being ‘in flow’ and speaking from the heart, to clumsily trying to figure out what number slide I was up to. Like a deer in the headlights, I awkwardly clicked my way back and forward through random slides and felt my anxiety level rising. In the space of a few minutes, I had managed to move from connection (with my audience) to total disconnection.

    Quite the achievement.

    By switching from my instinctive, creative and freestyle mode (whiteboard boy) to cerebral, logical, let’s-impress-the-speaking-agent (ego) mode, the overall experience (for the audience and me) had gone from inspired to uninspired. The message from my heart was now coming from my over-thinking brain and I was totally losing the group. I was distracted and fighting for survival.

    Back to Free-style

    In a rare moment of clarity, I stopped all the electronic mayhem and clumsiness and walked to the edge of the stage. I put my presentation on hold for a moment and spoke to the group. “Is it okay with you guys, if I ditch the slide show? I don’t really know what I’m doing with this gizmo and to be honest, I find the slides kind of distracting and annoying.”

    Fortunately for me, they laughed and graciously gave me permission to revert to my free-styling ways. Between us, we managed to save the sinking ship, nobody died and we all learned something. Not long after I finished the presentation, I spied ‘Mrs Speaking Agent’ making her way towards me. I had totally forgotten about her. “Oh well, I blew it” I thought to myself.

    Surprisingly, her feedback was that she loved my story-telling and my humour but (not surprisingly) suggested that I never, ever use a PowerPoint presentation again.

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    Yes Ma’am.

    And yes, she gave me some work.

    Where I’m Happiest

    While my life requires a level of practicality, planning, accountability and structure (like any life), it’s usually when I escape my mind, connect with my inner intelligence and operate from a place of inspiration, instinct and child-like enthusiasm that I feel most connected, authentic, empowered and happy.

    Today, I’m encouraging you to find your inspiration.

    So, when are you most inspired? What turns on your ‘tap’? Do you want to live a more inspired life? As always, love to hear your thoughts, suggestions and ideas this topic. Even you long-time Lurkers.

    More by this author

    Craig Harper

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

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    Last Updated on October 21, 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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