As we begin today, let’s pause for a moment to check in with ourselves. How are you feeling? While I do mean that physically and emotionally, I also want to invite you to notice things like…Is your attention fragmented and flitting from thought to thought? Do you feel clear on what you want and need or is your attention more focused on what’s going on outside of you and what others might expect from you? Does your mind feel clear or cluttered?
Recently, I’ve talked to multiple people who shared that they were experiencing things like a feeling of urgency without a clear sense of direction, staying busy without feeling productive, easily distracted by scattered thoughts, and just generally feeling stuck . I’ve been noticing similar feelings in my own life.
Now, these things can come up for any number of reasons. As we get the feeling that something is off, it’s normal to try to figure out how to fix it.
Many of us turn to books, articles, podcasts, and videos, searching for tools to get ourselves back on track. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I don’t believe that we’re meant to figure everything out on our own and there are a lot of really good resources out there.
Turning to outside resources, however, is only part of what is needed. In our search for the tools and aha moments that we hope will change everything, sometimes we neglect the most important piece—listening to ourselves.
It can seem like we would generally know what’s going on with us. After all, we are with ourselves 24 hours a day. Feeling like we’re getting stuck in our own head, however, is not the same as truly listening to ourselves.
When we look to outside resources without also coming back to consider how they align with who we are and what we need, we reinforce our patterns of looking to others to tell us who we should be instead of building our self-trust and developing our discernment about what is right for us.
Sometimes the very things we do to improve our relationship with ourselves actually get in the way of really listening.
It’s easier to keep reading articles than to be honest with ourselves about a decision we need to make when the outcome feels uncertain. It’s more comfortable to listen to another podcast episode than to let ourselves really feel our grief. Watching another webinar can help us feel productive while staying too busy to take action toward our dreams.
Listening to ourselves can feel quite vulnerable. We might open ourselves up to emotions we don’t know how to navigate. If we’re honest about what we truly want, we’re confronted with what it may take to get it. If we’re willing to admit what is not working , we can no longer avoid addressing it by pretending that everything is fine. If we’re willing to listen, we may encounter aspects of ourselves that we wish weren’t there. We might also begin to hear a self who is more amazing than we dare to believe, which can be uncomfortable in its own way.
(Consuming more resources isn’t always helpful. Our brains need time to process all that information we’re taking in. Additionally, all the aha moments in the world won’t change our lives if we never pause to act on what we’re learning…but that is another topic for another day.)
So how do we begin to make space to listen to ourselves?
As always, especially if you’re out of practice, go gently and start small. Opening ourselves up to truly listen, whether to ourselves or to others, is vulnerable. It means letting go of trying to control our experience and being curious about what is really there. Remember that the goal of listening isn’t to fix anything, but to become aware of what’s going on for you so you can decide what’s next.
The first thing I’d invite you to do is to consider the prevalence of noise in your life. It’s common to turn on the radio or a podcast while we’re walking, driving, or doing household chores. Many of us watch TV or read a book to relax at the end of the day. Reaching for our phones is another way we distract ourselves from discomfort. For some, the noise of family feels inescapable as a pandemic has changed the amount of time spent at home.
These things aren’t necessarily bad. A little distraction can offer much needed rest and even real enjoyment. It can, however, be helpful to be aware of how much space they’re taking up in our lives.
Do you have spaces built in to be quiet with your thoughts? Where might you create such a space, even if only for a few minutes?
There are many ways to be in that space. I’ll list a few here to give you some ideas. What other possibilities can you think of? What works for you? What doesn’t? What are you willing to try?
One option is to turn off the background noise as you go about your day-to-day activities and see what you notice. Listening to the quiet is something I turned to during a particularly difficult season.
One of my go-tos is walking without headphones. Something about the rhythm of my stride helps me untangle swirling thoughts and gain clarity about what’s on my mind.
There are countless journaling techniques and prompts that help us listen. Try answering these two questions if you’re looking for a place to start. While you may or may not be a journaler, these two common fears are relevant to any way we try to listen to ourselves.
It’s easy to get distracted and disconnected from ourselves. The more we practice listening the more we will learn to recognize the sound of our own voice amidst the noise. What will you try this week to make space to listen to yourself? What do you notice when you do?