The Art of Listening to Others

art of listening I have been, for most of my life, a stubborn person. It has only been recently (and by that I mean in the last 5-6 years) that I have really, truly learned to LISTEN to other people. To hear not only what they're saying, but to also hear what they mean, what they want and what they're afraid of. This has been a skill I've developing for over a decade when I discovered how poor of a listener I really was.

I had a friend tell me a while back that I had to start being silent more often. At first, I was offended. I had valuable input! I had life experience that I could share and help people! Why couldn't I contribute to the ongoing conversation?

My friend put it to me very simply by saying, "Because, Angela, you spend the first half of the conversation thinking about what you are going to say and the second half thinking about what you should have said. You aren't really listening."

My friend was right. I couldn't argue the point. I sucked at listening. And I'll be honest. Sometimes, in casual situations, I still do.

I met someone at a networking event recently who taught me a very helpful acronym:

WAIT = Why Am I Talking?

It's brilliant. And it reinforces what I've been trying to train myself to do for a long time now. To stop before I speak and consider whether or not what I am about to say will actually add to the conversation. I have been called "quiet" before. I've also been called "chatty". I guess it just depends on the mood I'm in and the company I'm with.

I have found myself lately striking up more conversations with people everywhere I go. I've been craving the connection and enjoying the experience. I am, for all intents and purposes, an introvert. I like my alone time, my down time, my reading and knitting time. My boyfriend and I can sit together on the couch and not say anything and it's great. We bask in the silence.

But I've been morphing into this social person lately. I've been attending networking events (those who know me will undoubtedly need to pick their jaws up off the floor at this point). When I meet new people, I ask them strings of questions so that I can hear about their lives, their experiences, their opinions. I've been reaching out to old friends that I haven't heard from in a while and then listening, really listening to what's happening in their lives. I'm posting less on Facebook, but reading more of the posts that others are publishing.

And I'm listening. And learning. And, honestly, I'm growing. It's an art, this whole listening business. And it is an art that requires practice to master.

For an introvert, all this connection and hustle and bustle can be exhausting. But it is so worth it. When was the last time you really listened to someone else? When was the last time you truly felt Heard?

Maybe You Didn't See What You Thought You Saw

didnt seeA couple of weeks ago, I was in a drive-thru line at a local fast food chain grabbing a quick snack as I bustled from one appointment to another. It was one of those days. I had been on the move since my feet hit the floor that day and I was just trying to finish up some commitments so I could head home and snuggle with my kiddos. My brain was flooded with to-do lists, a review of the day and looking ahead to what I needed to still get done that night. I had a pile of laundry with my name on it and a list of organizing projects that were begging to be tackled. I had activities that I needed to research for the kids as summer activities, blog posts to organize, and emails to return.

All this to say that I wasn't really paying attention to life around me.

I have this habit of running my hands through my hair when I'm thinking. There's generally tangles in it (one of the byproducts of having long hair and driving with the windows down whenever I can) and I tend to use my fingers to get rid of them whenever I'm sitting still. My hair also has this habit of falling out. Not in a concerning way, but more than most people from what I've observed. Some people "shed." I often feel like I'm marking my territory in my own kind of way.

Anyway, I'm sitting in the drive-thru, untangling my hair and my fingers are soon full of hair that was decided to emigrate from my head. I did what I always do... I shook the hair off my fingers out the window.

Now picture this. I'm at the food delivery window of a drive-thru and I'm shaking my hand off out my car window. At that moment, the drive-thru worker opens the window and hands me my drink with what is unmistakably a look of irritated disgust. I was, at first, taken aback. What on earth was wrong with this woman?

Then, it hit me. She saw me waving my hand out the window. She could easily have thought I was doing the international symbol for "hurry up" and was being an impatient customer. Maybe she thought I was doing some other obscene gesture. It was clear that she had taken whatever she thought she saw personally. Obviously, this wasn't my intention as the only thing I was doing was trying to do was to de-hair my fingers.

But that wasn't the point. The point was, she saw something and she made an interpretation of it and was offended by it because she truly believed that she had every right to be.

How often does this happen to us? How often do we see something, hear something, read something and take it out of context or completely misinterpret it and then lose something like trust, our peace of mind, our temper or something equally valuable?

The whole incident reminded me of those commercials that AmeriQuest put out several years ago that are the classic "This isn't what it looks like" scenarios of day-to-day life.

It made me stop and think how often this has happened to me over my lifetime.

The time I thought that the silence on the phone was anger because of something I had said when my boyfriend was actually just paying a toll while he was on the road and couldn't talk for a minute.

The time I asked a friend to babysit and she sounded so upset on the phone I thought I had overstepped some kind of boundary... turns out she was in a lot of pain that morning dealing with rheumatoid arthritis that she didn't really tell people about.

The time I thought those girls on the rowing team hated me only to find out over drinks one night that they were avoiding me because they thought I hated them.

It's a classic case of being a human being. We make mistakes. We jump to conclusions. We speak before we think.

Emotions are tricky little buggers, aren't they?

A prayer I have been saying lately (thanks to A Course in Miracles and Return to Love) is "God, I'm willing to see this differently." It's usually enough for me to consider another point of view and get out of my own head which can be a nasty place occasionally.

As for the woman in the drive-thru window, I made a comment about losing all my hair and trying to keep the strands out of the car and was extra sweet to her for the rest of our interaction. I told her I hoped she had a wonderful day and she smiled at me as I drove away.

The Joy of Disconnection: Three Lessons From a Laptop-Free Vacation

I can't believe the kids are back in school. It seems like they just started summer break, but this morning I hugged the four of them goodbye and watched them walk or ride the bus to school. The time goes so fast. It might sound cliché but it's 1000% true (otherwise, it wouldn't be a cliché, right?) that you blink and your kids have grown up. It made me stop to catch my breath. isaac sandWe took a family vacation last week which was awesome. We didn't do anything crazy or super fancy, but we were together, which of course is what matters most. And it marked the first time that all seven of us (me, the fiancé, and all five kids) went on a family vacation. So, yes, it was a big deal. We had a lot of beach time, family dinners at the table, go karts and bowling... we just spent time together and the future Mr. and I just soaked it all in.

My usual routine when traveling or going on vacation is to pack the electronics, a notebook or two and of course the laptop so I can be reached if anyone needs me. I generally peek into email a couple times to make sure there are no fires happening and no one is dying to get a hold of me. Historically, I tend to work while on vacation which can be great for productivity, but not so great for that whole "recharging" thing.

But this past week was different. I was still connected in that I had my phone with me everywhere (hey, I had to get pictures, ok?) and I checked in on Facebook and Twitter every once in a while. But, do you want to hear something C-R-A-Z-Y?

I didn't even crack my laptop. Not once. The entire week.

I would assume that this would have caused some twitching and convulsing and other withdrawal symptoms to appear. But it didn't. In fact, I didn't even realize that I hadn't opened my laptop until the day before we were set to leave and head home. That's incredible and if you know me even a little, you know just how incredible that is.

So looking back, I can see that were a couple of things that I learned during this no laptop vacation:

  1. I enjoyed the silence. This is big for me. It is not easy for me to just sit and be. This is easily the thing I have been working the most on in my own personal development for the past couple of years. But I loved the lack of sounds, alerts and electronic white noise that is such a constant in my every day life. I just soaked in the silence. And I've been craving it big time ever since we got back.
  2. I am getting better at being present. Meditation and mindfulness have been such a godsend for me. With both of these tools at my disposal, I'm building a better life through self-awareness, brick by ever loving brick. And the more I practice them, the stronger they get. I am nowhere near being a zen master (and honestly, I have no aspirations of becoming one; I just want a better handle on my own personal sanity) but I can feel the progress in my every day life.
  3. I'm noticing the distractions more. I'm not saying that I'm getting distracted more often, just that I'm noticing more when it happens. How often do you pop onto your phone to do something like check the time, but then you start to clear out those annoying red alerts (disclosure: I'm a bit OCD in the way I try and tackle them all and get rid of them), then end up spending about 30 minutes on your phone and you don't even realize it? It's just such a part of life now that it's a major habit for a lot of people. This past week, I could tell when my phone was getting in the way. In fact there was one point where I actually began to laugh because I realized that I was surfing through Instagram rather than enjoying the beach right in front of me. Needless to say, I put the phone away and let the kids bury me in the sand (a total first, by the way).

I'm sure I can glean several more lessons from last week's unintentional experiment, but these three are really sticking with me. And while I'm not advocating a full digital detox (although I would love to hear from you all that have done it and what your experience was like), taking those brief sabbaticals to refocus on life happening in front of you can be very eye opening. I love the line from John Mayer's song "3x5" that says

"Didn't have a camera by my side this time / Hoping I would see the world with both my eyes."

Every week I try to have one offline day where I don't hit the laptop and the only time I go on the iPad is to read on the Kindle. What about you? Will you take some time this week to disconnect for a while and learn something about yourself? What will you do? Share it with us below.

Enjoying the Moment

Sitting by the PoolThis has been a fabulous summer. I'm just soaking up the time with the kids, the awesome, not-too-hot weather and yes, even the crazy schedule. With five kids now, there is no end to the jostling, running, double-checking, cheering, picture taking, video capturing, moment experiencing madness... but I absolutely love it. I've come to a realization this summer. I love being busy. How often does someone ask you how you're doing and you reply with sheer exasperation, "Oh wow, I am SO busy!" Sometimes it's exhausting just asking someone how they're doing, right? Well, I've found myself this summer replying with, "So busy and loving it." 

I am thrilled with how much time I'm spending with the kids this summer. This has been one of our greatest summers ever. We're taking time to enjoy sports and activities in our new neighborhood, take day trips to places like Cedar Point and just make this summer one to remember. 

With all of my history, I've learned to just stop and enjoy moments. I'm not as good at this as I'd like to be, but I'm getting there and I'm embracing all of the activity. This is probably helped by the fact that we do try to have one "no activity" day a week and that is typically on Sundays. But I'm sure the biggest change in me is this whole idea of living in the moment that I've been working on. 

It is hard for me to just stay in the moment. In my professional life, I am constantly in "what's next" mode. And it has been Ducks on a pondbleeding into my personal life big time. So, sitting tight and absorbing the moment has been a challenge for me but I've been pushing back on my instincts lately and forcing myself to just sit and enjoy. I even caught myself enjoying doing the dishes the other day (shocking, I know). 

The bad news? It's still hard.

The good news? It's getting easier.

What about you? Is this something that you're working on? Something that you want to work on? What are you going to do to start enjoying the life you're living rather than anticipating the life you might have?

Those Little Things Get Me. And They Get Me Good.

For the past 2 and 1/2 school years, every time I've driven my kids to school we take the same route. It's just easier that way. And wrangling three (sometimes four when we carpool) kids out the door and getting them to school is a feat in and of itself so there's no need to complicate things, right? stop signAnyway, we take the same route and drive roughly 6 blocks to get to the school. And about two blocks from the building is a crossing guard. I don't have a clue what his name is, I only know him by sight. 

And what a sight he is.

He is always happy. Always. Even when he's standing there in his bright yellow poncho, getting drenched or knee-deep in snow, he's smiling. He waves at every single car and pedestrian and is always pleasant. I can't recall a single day that he wasn't there.

At New Year's he wears a Happy New Year hat (or crown on top of his ball cap) and on St. Patrick's Day he has a green hat and a shamrock necklace. For Christmas... you guessed it. He wears a Santa hat.

But that isn't the best part. The best part is his Friday Happy Dance. And it happens every Friday.

We drive up and we see him off to the right and the kids immediately get excited (even the 2 year old who doesn't really have a clue what's going on). As soon as we're close, he begins the Friday Happy Dance. He pumps his arms and throws his head back and says "It's Friday!" He doesn't scream it, he just kind of cheers. But the kids love it and he does it for everyone who passes either on foot or in a car. 

As we're driving down the street, they start saying "Mom, it's Friday! We'll see the Friday dance!" 

And I just smile because it's such a sweet little thing that gets me every week. And it gets me good. 

Image Credit: http://www.riversideca.gov/publicworks/crossing-guards.asp

The Difference Between Decisions and Intentions

If you read this blog at all (and bless you, if you do) then you know I'm not wild about resolutions. To put it bluntly, I don't believe in them. I've read (and it's not confirmed, but somehow it seems accurate) that 92% of New Year's resolutions fail and nearly 50% fail by the end of January. Talk about trying to play against the odds. Why do these resolutions fail? My opinion is that resolutions (for the most part) are intentions and not decisions. They are grandiose ideas with no solid foundation and don't allow themselves to be attained simply because there is no action plan around them. They are not decisions no matter how strongly you feel about them when you make them in the first place.

What are some common resolutions? Over the years, I've made a number of them including (but not limited to) lose weight, be healthy, save money, spend more time with my kids, get less stressed at work, be a nicer person... the list goes on and on and on.

So why is this year different? I didn't make any resolutions. I've made a simple decision to take things as they come and live my life. I've taken a very basic idea and I'm applying it to several layers of my life. I'm going to be bold in 2012.

Wait, isn't this a resolution? No, and I'll tell you why. Resolutions are intentions. So, what's the difference between a decision and intention?

A decision is immediately followed by action. An intention is followed by more intentions. 

"I'll eat healthy starting next week." "I'll exercise more once I start getting up earlier." "I'll save more money after I buy this thing I've ALWAYS wanted..."

Sound familiar?

My January 1 "pep talk" was a decision. You know the scene in Philadelphia when Tom Hanks is on the phone and he hears that a file is missing? Do you remember what he did as soon as he hung up? He started talking to himself. He kept repeating "Every problem has a solution." It was his mantra. I've started doing the same (and I don't care if people look at me weird when I start talking to myself) and I have my own mantras. I've already tackled a few seemingly overwhelming moments by using these. I'm writing again (which is a huge accomplishment if you want to know the truth). I've made investments in myself and in my health. There are moments that make me stop and realize, "This is life. I'm LIVING again."

The bottom line? I've taken action. I'm not waiting for some magical moment to make me start. Looking back, it started a few weeks before the New Year but I was finally able to put it into words and began molding my life around it. I'm continuing to take action. And things are getting better. Maybe I'm not making HUGE advancements. But I'm comforted by the baby steps. A friend told me a few months ago that he hoped that "with each passing day your life gets a kernel easier for you." That has completely stuck with me since then. I've realized that I'm all about the kernels. They add up pretty quick.