Archive for January, 2014

The Art of Listening

The Listening Center believes strongly in the power of listening.  (Hence, the name.)  Our Vision statement reads:

The Listening Center believes that active, respectful, intuitive listening by professional therapists, fitness coaches, behaviorists, and other health care specialists will ultimately enable and empower individuals to hear their own story and realize that they can make a difference in the quality of their life.”

The truth is the quality of both your relationships and your work will improve dramatically if you hone your listening skills.  In relationships, communication breakdown is often behind many of the issues people face.  While it is important to work on being clear with others in what you say and what you are asking for, it is equally as important to be an effective listener.  Everyone wants to be heard, to be acknowledged, and to know that they are cared for.  In work, active and focused listening will help you see both possibilities and the holes in what is being said to you.  A good listener is a much better business person than one who only half-listens to what is being said simply because a good listener won’t miss as much.

The good news is that listening is a simple skill to hone.  The biggest step you can take is to simply be aware of how you are listening.  Just focusing on listening better will make you an exponentially better listener.  If you find your mind wandering while you are listening to another, simply redirect your attention and focus back to the person speaking.

There are two main components to being a good listener.  The first is the active component: your attention.  You cannot be a good listener without actively paying attention to what someone is saying to you.  Actively focusing on what is being said, how it’s being said, and any non-verbal cues from the speaker are all avenues on which to focus your attention.  The other main component to listening is more receptive in nature and that is being open and receptive to what another is trying to tell you.  Very often our own judgments, agenda, prejudice, or assumptions block us from really hearing what someone is trying to tell us.  That’s why it is so important to keep an open mind and an open perspective when you are listening to someone.  For instance, how often do we get stuck in a communication rut with our loved ones, having the same argument over and over?  Next time, clear your mind of all preconceived notions about what the other person is saying to you and try to take it in as if it was your first time hearing it.  This might help you have a fresh perspective and open up a line of communication between the two of you that had previously been closed.

A final tip on being a good listener is a strategy that “double-checks” you to make sure you really heard what someone was trying to tell you.  Sometimes, even if you are a great listener, you might misinterpret someone simply because they are having a hard time being clear.  That’s why most good listeners will reflect back what a person has said in an effort to be sure they heard it right.  This is a great tool for relationships because it cuts down on the possibility of miscommunication and it helps to make both parties in the relationship feel heard and validated.  Most reflect-back statements start something like, “So what you’re saying is…..” and then you just simply repeat what you heard.  If you got it right, great.  If not, the speaker has the opportunity to clarify.

We will end with one of our favorite quotes about listening, featured on the home page of our website:

“I suspect that the most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.” -Rachel Naomi Remen

Our bodies were designed to move.  That is how we evolved as a species. It is only very recently with the technological advances of the past century or so that we started living a more sedentary lifestyle, and it’s killing us.  Sitting too much greatly increases your risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.  Even if you go to the gym four times a week and eat healthy foods, sitting too much will still increase your risk of these deadly diseases.  A recent study published in The Journal of American College Cardiology “indicated that the amount of leisure time spent sitting in front of a screen can have such an overwhelming, seemingly irreparable impact on one’s health that physical activity doesn’t produce much benefit.” In fact, if you sit for more than six hours a day, your risk of heart disease goes up 64%.  The problem is that when we sit down, our body sort of goes into sleep mode like a computer would and, it turns out, too much sleep mode is no good for our bodies.  Our circulation slows down, our metabolism slows down, and the enzymes that help break down fat drop 90%, including the enzyme that breaks down the fats (lipids) in the blood stream, which could be why prolonged sitting is associated with such a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

So, what to do?  The solution is actually not as daunting as one might think.  All you need to do is add more moderate activity into your daily routine and break up your periods of sitting down.  Moderate activity is not equivalent to killing it in the gym, but rather more like a brisk walk.  (For optimal health, you need both, one does not replace the other.)  Some of our sedentary time cannot be helped, like when we are driving.  But time in front of the TV, for instance, is optional and can be shortened.  Also, you don’t have to be sitting the whole time when you do watch it.  You can walk briskly on a treadmill, for instance, while you watch your favorite program.  Alternatively, foam rolling is a great practice you can adopt while watching TV, and it’s much less expensive than a treadmill.  (Foam rollers typically retail between $20 & $40.  It is a great self-massage tool that activates your muscles at the same time.)  You can also periodically stand up and do jumping jacks or squats or lunges.

Many people find that most of their sedentary time is due to their line of work which has them sitting at their desk, in front of the computer for most of the day.  However, that, too, has a pretty easy fix.  All you have to do is get up and move every 20 – 30 minutes.  If it’s helpful, set a timer on your computer to remind you.  It’s not enough to just stand up; you have to move to get the circulation flowing in your body again.  Some other tips for sedentary office work are:

  • If you are doing something in your office that doesn’t require you to be seated, such as talking on the phone for instance, get up out of your chair and pace the room during the conversation.
  • Rather than send an email to your co-worker down the hall, get up and go talk to her.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator if you have one in your building.
  • Take a few 10 minute brisk walks throughout the day.
  • Get a ball chair, which keeps your leg muscles more active, your back more straight, and decreases the risk of getting too comfortable.  (We do not recommend a standing desk, because standing is not moving and prolonged standing without movement carries its own health risks.)

Sources:   NY Times, The Hazards of the Couch by Roni Caryn Rabin

How Sitting All Day is Damaging Your Body and How You Can Counteract It by Thorin Klosowski, Lifehacker

Women’s Health Magazine, Your Body’s Biggest Enemy, by Selene Yeager

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