It’s hard to be a good listener when your brain is all over the place. And not listening is something many folks who have taken my survey name as the number one thing that they struggle with when it comes to being a better person. (I’d love for you to take the survey. clearly I take what people say there to heart and it helps me plan future episodes, so… thank you in advance!).
When it comes to functions of your body, nature’s rule is use it or lose it. Which also means, what you use, you strengthen. This is as true for listening as it is for your biceps. So, today I’m talking about how to become a better listener by strengthening your listening muscles.
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Be a Human Tape Recorder
You can do that with a listening meditation, or what I like to call the Human Tape Recorder. It really does help you become a better listener, even when you’re not actually doing the exercise. It also has the added benefit of quieting your mind, and when your thoughts are quieter you have more inner space for what other people are saying to come in. When you do a listening meditation, it’s like you become the eye in the center of the hurricane. In the eye things are still, the sun is shining, it feels so peaceful. Ahhh…
For many summers I taught yoga to pre-schoolers, and I always included a listening meditation. Then we’d go around the circle and everyone would name something they heard. And sometimes they heard things like lions or rockets and sometimes it was more mundane, like the air conditioning, or people walking on the floor above them. But they immediately got it. The room was so quiet. There was very little fidgeting. I’m telling you, if three year olds can do, you can do it.
Let’s Get Started
To get started, sit up tall or even lie on the floor somewhere. You want to have decent posture so that your body position doesn’t distract you as the minutes go by. Close your eyes. Listen to your own normal breathing for a bit, just until you feel you’ve settled in to this new activity. And then open your ears. Get very curious about everything you can hear. You don’t need to reach out with your sense of hearing, just let noises come to you. And then name them as they do.
Spend 2 minutes doing this (I suggest setting a timer so you don’t have to worry if you’ve done it long enough), and every time you notice that you’ve stopped paying attention to what you can hear, just acknowledge that it’s happened and gently remind yourself to get back to listening.
Be A Better Listener
This is such a crucial part of cultivating the ability to pay attention, because the mind is always going to wander. Just like a heart is always going to beat, a mind is always going to think. So don’t hate on yourself about it, or get discouraged, or tell yourself you’re not doing it right. You are doing it right. And doing it right involves noticing you’ve gotten off track, and starting again. That is just part of it.
A quicker version is to stop everything you’re doing, take two breaths and then name 3-5 things you can hear. Right now I can hear, the white noise machine from upstairs that we never turned off this morning (hmm, it’s almost 5pm, funny I am just noticing that), crickets, bird chirps, and a car driving by that is going WAY too fast. Which reminds me, ha, that this isn’t about judging what you hear as good or bad, or even boring or interesting, you’re just noting it because it’s there, like a tape recorder picks up everything audible.
Daily Tiny Assignment
And that’s your tiny assignment: to turn off whatever you’re using to listen to podcasts as soon as this episode is over and just listen for a bit. What’s happening all around you at this given moment? And what do you notice about your ability to listen? Stick with this one, and your listening will get better, I promise.
Also, I’d love to hear about what you hear. Send me a DM on Instagram to let me know you did it.