In conversation with Lewis Howes of the School of Greatness podcast, Larry King said about the importance of listening:
“I’ve never learned anything when I was talking”
Listening isn’t a new concept. We talk about listening in the same way we talk about meditating, stretching, or flossing our teeth. As we know the importance of listening, it’s something we know we should be doing, but we often don’t. Ironically, listening is something we love to talk about, but we rarely shut up for long enough to actually do it.
I won’t say that I deserve a Ph.D. in listening. I’ve likely missed countless opportunities for learning and human connection by running my own mouth and caring too much about my own needs. What I will say though is that I’ve always embraced my introverted qualities. I’ve never been shy about taking silent moments when I need to recharge.
While my need for silent moments can be sudden and startling for those around me, they keep me grounded to the world outside of my own head. Instead of sinking inwards during my silent moments, I fall out into the world around me. Without the pressures of carrying on conversations and finding the right joke to say at the right moment, I can truly observe and ponder what’s going on around me.
Understanding the importance of listening has many benefits to those around you. In a world that’s always talking, we all crave the space, presence, and love that comes with someone who’s willing to listen. Are you struggling to connect with someone? Take a minute to listen to them and you’ll quickly see how things change.
Others aside, listening can be a great way to bring clarity to your own life. When we are in the midst of setting or pursuing goals, we can get overwhelmed in roundabout conversations and endless word vomit that leaves us more confused than when we started. Taking a step back and learning to listen can give us new perspective on what we want and need in our lives. Here’s why.
It Pulls You Out of Your Head and Into Your Gut
When our mouths are moving so fast, we’re distracted from the rumblings in our guts trying to point us in the right direction. There have been times when I’ve been listening to friends endlessly ponder a decision and I’ve told them to stop talking and cue into their feelings. At the risk of being mushy gushy, it’s important to listen to our feelings.
Let’s say you’re stuck between two decisions and there’s no clear reason to pick either one. As you list the pros and cons of both for the tenth time, you’re only getting more confused. Instead of throwing your pencil at a passing neighborhood cat, take a deep breath and listen to your feelings.
Give yourself three minutes, choose one of your two options, and pretend that you have already decided upon that option. In those three minutes, do everything you can to quiet your mind and put any “rational” thoughts aside. Take note of how that decision makes you feel. After three minutes are up, do the same with your second option. How does the thought of having made that decision make you feel?
Which decision made you feel better? That’s the decision I would go with.
When the logic of a decision isn’t giving you clarity, listening to your feelings will give you insight into what you actually want.
It Gives Your Brain Space to Process
When we spend all of our time talking, we consume a lot of brain power that could be used to help us make sense of our goals, desires, and decisions. Have you ever had the experience of grappling with a problem for hours, only to have the answer come to you in the shower the next morning? Our brains need space and silence to process what’s going on around us. Stop overwhelming it with chatter and take a second to listen to the answers it’s already trying to give you. The importance of listening to what your brain is telling you in moments of silence shouldn't be underestimated.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, he argues that we can make poor decisions when we spend too much time processing them. Our brains are pros at working behind the scenes to help us make sense of information and come to decisions quickly. When we interrupt this by overwhelming our brains with too much information and chatter, we can lead ourselves to decisions that are born of overthinking. So, take a second to chill out, observe your surroundings, and let your brain do its work.
It's a reminder that Answers are Everywhere and Anywhere
If you’ve read any good mysteries lately, you know that the answer always lies in a random pair of socks left on the couch or a small lipstick stain found on yesterday’s coffee cup. We learn a lot when we stop to take in our surroundings. One of my favorite places to hangout is the local coffee shop and I can’t even begin to tell you how many things I’ve learned just by eavesdropping on those around me.
When we are only engaged in our own chatter, all we have is the information we already possess at our disposal. While we can occasionally talk ourselves into epiphanies, it’s more likely our greatest learning and discovering will come from picking up a missing puzzle piece of information from the world around us. Like a detective that suddenly sees the lipstick stain on the coffee cup, the solution to the mystery will suddenly become clear.
It Gives you Insight into Other Options
When setting and pursuing goals, we can adopt tunnel vision and forget there are endless roads leading to a successful and meaningful life. If you talk to 100 people, you will hear 100 different stories of how they got to where they are today. While your current vision may seem like the be all, end all to your success, it’s likely not.
Take the time to ask those you know about their life stories. How did they come to make the decisions they ended up making in life? How many unexpected twists and turns did they encounter on their path to where they are today? What have they learned? Listen carefully, being greedy about picking up insights to use in your own discovery process.
If you’ve interviewed everyone you know about their deep and dark paths, head to the biography section of the library. Many of the life stories that have been turned into books have been done so for a reason. More likely than not, a life that is worthy of a book is a life worthy of studying and learning from. Listen to the wisdom of those that have achieved goals similar to yours. Take note of their challenges, successes, and breakthrough moments. Listening to the wisdom of those who have gone before us is a great way to understand our own goals and how to go about pursuing them.
How important is listening to you? Let us know in the comments below!