|January 17th, 2010||#2|
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Gone to work on the lemming sites against Big Jew.
Blog Entries: 2
The average kwan is of such low quality that he'd shoot himself if he had any self awareness.
-Joe from Ohio
|January 18th, 2010||#3|
Join Date: Nov 2006
Very, very GOOD Stuff!
SS-Brigadefuhrer Walter Schellenberg for "Stille Hilfe" and Reverend Dr. Jacques Anthony Reinhard Heydrich Pluss for The New American National Socialist Party, ANNP to Mr. Alex Linder:
GREAT STUFF! Good article! Sometimes "lone wolves" living in dangerously Judenisch areas do find much freedom and safety of movement by being regarded as "just a little nuts!" It does work, and it keeps the antifa's either away or wondering "what is this guy (or small group) really up to?" The downside, of course, is that some of the valuable people with which you might want to associate "wonder about you," too--and that's where one-on-one type discourse can clear up a great deal of confusion.
As for Abe Foxman, I couldn't agree with you MORE. But, like you, I see little future for what I knew, when younger, as "The United States of America." Some days, I am not exactly sure what I'm seeing, but it surely doesn't look too good.
Thank you so much for a good article.
"Meine Ehre heisst Treue!"
|February 23rd, 2012||#5|
How To Increase Your Productivity 500%
Posted by James Altucheron February 22nd, 2012
I missed investing in Google. I missed investing in Foursquare. I made fun of the guy who started Lycos. I missed, I lost, I suffered, I cried. I could’ve started other businesses instead of the ones I did. I could’ve accepted job offers instead of lying in my hammock crying about failures. How much time have I wasted thinking of just nothing but crap. Probably years.
I want to be productive, healthy, and happy.When you spend even two minutes mentally debating the worst people in your life (as I did the first two minutes after I woke up today) those two minutes add up. Throughout the day, these thoughts add up until you ask yourself at the end of the day, “What happened?” and you have no answer.
People say, “well I played too many games. Or I gossiped too much at the water cooler.” But nobody says, “I spent too many fragmented minutes and seconds thinking thoughts of pessimism or jealousy.
Better to not have 80% of my thoughts (or more on some days!) be “not useful”. So one practice is to label thoughts even more specifically. You pretend your brain is a giant Gmail inbox. Here are nine filters you can use to get rid of the negative thoughts.
Nine types of thoughts that will prevent you from succeeding at your business or in your job.
1) Pessimistic thoughts: For instance, judging myself too harshly. Or assuming I’m no good at something so I shouldn’t even try. Or assuming I’m destined to be an unhealthy old man. These are all negative thoughts. How do I know I can label them as “negative thoughts”? As opposed to negative reality? Because they have no basis in fact. I don’t know how I will be as an old man. And if I judge someone too harshly before I even know them –what’s the point? It’s one thing if they reach into my pocket and try to take my wallet. Then I can judge them: “this person steals things” but until then, why judge? And yet I do. What a waste!
Or, before I give a talk, thinking that I’m going to do horribly despite the fact that I’ve prepared well and it’s a friendly crowd, etc. All the evidence suggests that my negative thought is not based in reality and yet I’ll still think it. When I ran a fund of hedge funds I always found myself waking up at three in the morning thinking some fund was stealing from me. I was paranoid about this. So paranoid I eventually had to shut the fund of funds down. But I should’ve just labeled these thoughts “negative” or “not useful” and gone back to sleep.
2) Vice – My vice thoughts start when I wake up. Who made me angry the day before? Do I look good in the mirror? Or when I look at the below picture of Larry Page (referred to as “human being #1” in my house) I get envious. Or am I constantly thinking of the waffles I’m going to eat at breakfast in the city later? That might be a fun thought (just like constantly thinking about sex) but it’s not necessarily one that will bring me closer to happiness or success. I can enjoy the waffle when I eat it. I can enjoy sex when I’m doing it with someone I love. I don’t have to think of it every second of the day.
3) Perfectionism/Shame– We spend our first few years of life being programmed by commercialism into thinking that some things are important: getting a college degree, owning a home, having as many people as possible love you (fame), getting attached to certain things (like the Dr. McCoy doll I have sitting right next to my computer that nobody better mess with), getting a private plane, having sex with as many people as possible. These thoughts of what a perfect life would be like are binding. What if you don’t get the college degree, or own the home, or get the yacht in the Mediterranean. Will you feel shame? Will you panic? How come?
Perfectionism is a form of bondage. We want things to be “just right” or else we are unhappy. We become ashamed. Why, when I had $10mm, did I want $100mm? I had enough to live forever. And yet, some feeling inside of me thought I was imperfect, unloved, not good enough, unless I had that $100mm. And then, of course, I lost it all. And I really did feel shame. For years! Bondage thoughts are not only not useful, they are damaging.
4) Possessiveness– there’s that Sting song, “if you love someone, set them free.” A lot of people love others but don’t want the other to be free. They say, “I love you” but the love is tainted with need, with desire, with jealousy. How do you catch yourself when you feel this less pure form of love. Jealousy is like this also. Why did this friend sell his business for $80 million and I’m still working 29 hours a day. Or why did this other friend cash out when he was just a low-level employee of Facebook? It’s hard. But it’s still a type of thought that will bring you down, force you to live a lesser life than the person you were meant to be. When you think you have the purest motives, take a second to check yourself – what are your ulterior motives. What would happen if you don’t get what you want?
5) Painful – We just had the Thanksgiving holidays. This gives rise to a lot of pleasurable thoughts. But also painful ones. Often we’re put together with family and friends that bring back memories. Often painful memories that lead to anger, that lead to provoking. We want all the thoughts to be pleasurable. Mmmm, turkey, stuffing, cake, loving family. But it doesn’t work out that way. We remember the past, we remember the things that were done to us. Everyone shouts hysterically, confusing it with historically. I went to a Thanksgiving once where one sister threw coffee on another sister. What started out as pleasurable thoughts (“MMM, thanksgiving!”) quickly turned painful. This Thanksgiving I spent the entire day on a plane. It was my best Thanksgiving ever!
It’s too much to say: I’m not going to think these painful thoughts. We’re not Jesus. But for me, just being aware that I’m about to go into a situation where painful thoughts might occur, helps me to label them and filter them when they come up. I hope.
6) Fear. Everything changes. I’m going to get older. I’m going to fail at some of the things I start. Heck, I have proof of that. Maybe some day Claudia will hate me (I hope not.) Maybe some day my kids will. (One of them a month ago said to me, “I hate you”, and it made me afraid for a second that her words weren’t the senseless provoking of a nine year old but I suddenly pictured her as a twenty-nine year old saying it.)
But these fears of the future are just as useless as the painful thoughts of the past. They have nothing to do with how we can be happy right now. So they deserve to be labeled and put in the mental spam box.
7) Obsessive. Perhaps the biggest time and life waster. One time I was so obsessed with another woman I’d go to sleep with my phone right next to me wishing she’d call. I’d wake up disappointed she didn’t call and wondering what she was doing all night. I’d wait until I thought she was awake and then I would call and ask her to breakfast. If she couldn’t, I’d go to her area and wait around until she was available. I’d keep circling the block to see the light was on in her window. My entire day revolved around her. Of course she got sick of me. In which case I became more obsessive. What does this have to do with being an entrepreneur? It has EVERYTHING to do with it. That valuable energy I was wasting could’ve been spent developing Groupon or heck, Lycos.
Or sometimes when someone is angry with me, I can’t just give it up. I have to prove myself right. I have to make sure he or she knows how wrong he is. I play over the argument over and over again. I can’t understand how they can think I’m wrong. Or what I did to deserve such harsh treatment. I’m RIGHT! So get with the program.
8) Sadness. I don’t want to suggest that it’s “bad” to feel sad. If someone close to you dies, you’ll feel sad. But often people stretch out the sadness until it becomes an addiction, an excuse to be pessimistic.” I’m “never going to be happy” because…X, Y, and Z.”
Our mind likes to be sad. It likes the barriers to happiness. Happiness is too wide open and scary. Sadness keeps us confined inside our boundaries. Those boundaries become the walls that pessimism lives inside of. It’s easy to be pessimistic because then we fool ourselves into thinking we don’t need to do too much. What if in 2004, some kid at Harvard didn’t say, “I’m going to make a little website that everyone on the planet is going to put ALL of their personal details on.” What if he said, instead, “Ahh, I don’t feel like it. Some girl who looks like the girl with the dragon tattoo just broke up with me and can I really compete against myspace.com anyway? Don’t be an idiot, Mark.” And he just went under his covers and cried. No good!
9) Unimprovement. We know exactly when we are thinking of things that are not good for us. Am I going to eat chocolate until 1 in the morning while watching the Real Housewives of Atlanta? It’s most likely this is not good for me (although “Real Houswives of Beverly Hills” is a completely different issue).
The mind is like a giant Gmail box. Emails are constantly coming in. Most of them are junk emails and are instantly filtered into the spam box. But many other emails come in that we don’t know what to do with.
In Gmail you can create filters. For instance, when someone sends me a receipt for my latest book “I Was Blind But Now I See” I am able to label the email “Bad Behavior” because when my next self-publlished book comes out (working title, “Bad Behavior”) I can easily filter every email with that label and send it to them.
It’s the same in our mind. If we use the above nine labels above, and then filter anything (or most things) with those labels into the “not useful” box as per this post, then here’s what happens:
A) Our brain gets quicker at noticing when we are thinking not-useful thoughts.
B) Your negativity is like a rock constantly being doused with water when you use the above labels. Eventually the rock withers to nothing, although it takes time. It’s persistent practice.
C) We have more time for the useful thoughts – the thoughts that lead to productivity, minimalism, happiness, freedom.
D) We can identify which labels are occurring the most and develop problem-solving techniques to directly deal with them. Not every “not useful” thought should be treated the same.
Don’t believe me. Don’t pay any attention to this advice. Like everybody else, I’ve got 6000 things to do today. And I know if any of the nine things above drag me down, I won’t get things done. I’m already feeling anxious about it. And I’m not helped by the 12 cups of coffee I’ve already consumed. In fact, I could be slipping into an obsessive panic.
|May 1st, 2012||#8|
[read fiction to understand how others think, and for many other reasons. fiction offers real psychological insight whereas the science running under the name 'psychology' offers little that isn't obvious or bogus]
Why Men Should Read More Fiction
by Brett & Kate McKay on April 29, 2012 · 123 comments
At the Art of Manliness, we encourage our readers to read books. It’s through reading that we gain new perspectives and learn more about ourselves and the world around us. I’m a big believer in the saying that “Readers are leaders.” As I’ve studied the lives of great men throughout history, a common thread I’ve found is that most were bibliophiles who relentlessly pursued self-education throughout their entire lives.
While many men have stacks of books accumulating on their “to-read” pile, chances are that pile is composed primarily of non-fiction tomes. For the past 20 years or so, the publishing industry has noted a precipitous decline in the number of men reading fiction. Some reports show that men make up only 20% of fiction readers in America today.
There are a lot of reasons thrown around as to why many men today don’t read fiction. Perhaps they had a bad experience with it in high school and swore they’d never read a novel again as long as they lived. It’s possible that the male brain is just naturally more drawn to the straightforward, fact-driven nature of non-fiction. And some have suggested that men are getting their storytelling fix from the many excellent narrative non-fiction books that have come out in the past decade (e.g., The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Into Thin Air).
Whatever the reason, cognitive studies are beginning to show that men might be short-shrifting themselves by avoiding the fiction section in the bookstore and library. Today we make the case for why you need to put down those business books every once in awhile and pick up a copy of Hemingway.
Why Men Should Read More Fiction
In the past decade, several cognitive scientists have turned their attention to how fiction affects our minds. Leading this research is cognitive psychologist and fiction writer, Dr. Keith Oatley. Dr. Oatley and other researchers from around the globe have discovered that fiction not only activates, but also improves the cognitive functions that allow us to thrive socially.
Dr. Oatley argues in his book Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction that fiction is primarily about “selves in a social world,” and that fiction’s main subject is “what people are up to with each other.” Just as your understanding of history and finance is improved by reading lots of books on those subjects, reading fiction improves your understanding of social relationships–your thinking about what other people are thinking. In fact, Dr. Oatley calls fiction a simulation for the social world that allows you to experience (at least vicariously) a variety of social circumstances with different kinds of people than you might encounter in your actual day-to-day life.
Most of your success as a man, whether in love or work, depends on your ability to socialize adroitly. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Success depends not on what you know, but who you know.” As much as you’d like to think that’s not true, it is. You can be the most skilled and talented whatever in the world, but you’ll likely labor away in obscurity if you don’t know how to reach out and share those talents with others.
Unfortunately, men have gotten the short end of the evolutionary stick when it comes to our ability to socialize. Studies show that male brains are generally wired for dealing with stuff, while female brains are generally wired for dealing with people. This may explain why women often prefer fiction over non-fiction: their brains are already wired to want to read about “selves in a social world.”
Thus as men, we probably have the most to gain from reading fiction. Instead of seeing fiction as a bunch of made-up, waste-of-time baloney, look it as a simulator that allows you to exercise and strengthen the cognitive muscles responsible for socializing. Every time you pick up and read a novel, you’re molding yourself into a better, more socially adept man.
Below we flesh out what the research says about how exactly fiction improves our minds.
Reading Fiction Strengthens Your Theory of Mind
Theory of mind is a cognitive ability that humans use all the time, but take for granted. Basically, it’s our ability to attribute mental states (like thoughts, feelings, and beliefs) to others based on a whole host of input in order to predict and explain what they are thinking. Cognitive scientists call this ability “theory of mind” because when we interact with others, it’s impossible for us to know exactly what they’re thinking/feeling/perceiving, so we have to construct a theory of what they’re thinking/feeling/perceiving in their mind. Without theory of mind, social interaction would be awkward, clumsy, and nearly impossible.
Some examples of theory of mind in action:
We use theory of mind when we see a smiling huckster and think, “Sure, he’s smiling, but I think he’s actually trying to screw me here.” You see the smile, but you’re attributing an alternative mental state because of some other information you know about the guy.
Theory of mind pervades romantic relationships. “I think she thinks that I like her, but I really don’t. How do I let this girl down easily?” In this case, you are theorizing that a young lady has a thing for you, and that she thinks the feeling is mutual even though it isn’t. Now you have to figure out how to handle this situation.
We use theory of mind to strategize and deceive. The famous poisoned goblet scene in The Princess Bride is a perfect example of theory of mind in action:
Theory of mind isn’t something that we’re born knowing how to do. Children start developing theory of mind around three or four years old. Until then, infants and toddlers think that whatever they’re thinking/feeling/perceiving, is what others are thinking/feeling/perceiving too. It’s why my 18 month old son Gus “hides” by simply covering his eyes with his hands. He thinks because he can’t see me, I can’t see him, even though he’s sitting right in front of me in his high chair. While certainly cute, it’s a big theory of mind fail.
Generally, girls develop theory of mind before boys do and teenage girls tend to do better than teenage boys on theory of mind tasks. The female advantage in theory of mind also extends into adulthood. Women’s superior theory of mind ability is probably a result of both evolutionary and sociological factors. Cognitive scientist Simon Baron-Cohen (He’s Borat’s cousin. Seriously!), postulates that autism affects men more often than women because those with autism have an “extreme male mind.” Those with autism often lack or have an underdeveloped theory of mind, which explains why they frequently struggle to interact socially–they lack the ability to read other people.
So what does theory of mind have to do with fiction? Well, studies show that when we read fiction, the parts of our brain responsible for theory of mind light up and are heavily engaged. Narratives require us to guess at the hidden motives of characters, figure out what their enemies or lovers may or may not be thinking (when the author doesn’t tell us explicitly), as well as keep track of all the social interactions between characters. Ernest Hemingway was famous for forcing his readers to guess the mental state of his characters by substituting words with actions. For example, at the super-sad end of A Farewell to Arms (Don’t read it if you’re a father-to-be. Trust me), the main character, Frederic Henry, doesn’t say anything at all–he just walks back to his hotel in the rain. End story.
Mystery novels particularly exercise our theory of mind ability. Whenever you read a Dashiell Hammett novel, you’re guessing right along with Sam Spade about what the subtle gestures or the words spoken by all the characters really mean. Is the suspect or witness just saying something to throw you and Spade off the trail? Juggling all this mind-reading is both fun and taxing, which is why literary critic Lisa Zunshine says the mental workout you get from reading a detective story is a lot like lifting weights at the gym.
While reading fiction may engage our theory of mind, does it strengthen it? In recent studies by Dr. Oatley, the answer appears to be yes. In studies published in 2006 and 2009, Dr. Oatley reports that individuals who frequently read fiction perform better on theory of mind tests, regardless of gender. One such theory of mind test is the Mind’s Eye Test in which participants look at photos of nothing but people’s eyes and then have to describe what the people are feeling. Fiction readers perform better at this test than non-fiction readers. And a 2010 study performed on pre-school children showed that the more stories that were read to them as toddlers, the stronger their theory of mind. (Read to your kids, dads!)
Reading Fiction Makes You More Empathetic
In order to be empathetic, it’s not enough to figure out what someone is feeling (which theory of mind can aid in); empathy requires us to have the same emotional reaction as the other individual.
Just as with theory of mind, men are generally less empathetic than women. While we tend to think of empathy as more of a feminine trait, it’s essential for both genders to develop empathy because it’s the glue that holds civilized society together and allows us to have strong, long-lasting relationships with our friends and lovers.
Unfortunately, as we highlighted in our article Our Disembodied Selves and the Decline of Empathy, empathy has been declining among both men and women in the past few decades, and online communication has been a driving force behind the decline. While we encouraged readers to counteract the empathy-sucking power of online communication by balancing it with more face-to-face conversations, studies show that curling up by yourself with a good novel can help increase empathy as well.
In 2008, Dr. Oatley tested whether reading fiction makes us more empathetic. He gave 166 participants either the Chekhov short story, “The Lady with the Little Dog,” or a version of the same story rewritten in documentary form. The subjects’ personality traits and emotions were assessed before and after reading. While readers of the boring documentary version showed no changes in empathy or attachment to the characters, those who read the original Chechov story showed an increase in empathy towards the characters. Similar studies done by the University of Buffalo show the same thing. Dr. Oatley concedes that the changes could be only temporary, but hypothesizes that repeated fiction reading may have more lasting effects on empathy.
Reading Fiction Increases Creativity
Cognitive scientists believe that fiction originates in play. Just as children engage with make-believe and imaginative worlds, so too do adults when they read a story. And just as open-ended play develops a child’s ability to conceive and evaluate alternatives, a well-written piece of fiction does the same for grown-ups. Reading fiction can boost our creativity by exposing us to fanciful ideas and narratives that we otherwise wouldn’t experience reading non-fiction.
But perhaps fiction’s greatest creativity boost is what literary critic Viktor Shklovsky said is the purpose of fiction: to make the familiar strange, so that we look at things in a new light. Fiction allows us to compare how the human experience and ideas work in a made-up world to how they work in real life. From these comparisons, we can begin to think about ideas in profoundly different ways. I like to think that fiction disorients us to reorient us and during that reorientation new ideas spring to our minds.
What Kind of Fiction Should I Read?
In a telephone interview, I asked Dr. Oatley if there’s any type of fiction that men should be reading in particular. His response was to read whatever interests you, whether it’s highbrow Russian novels or lowbrow dime paperbacks. “Our studies show that the effect fiction has on the mind is independent of literary quality,” says Dr. Oatley. He actually encourages folks to read a wide variety of fiction so that “they get to know more people in more circumstances.” So go ahead. Read those Louis L’Amour and Michael Crichton novels without any guilt. You’re helping yourself become a charismatic social-dynamo.
As we mentioned earlier, mystery novels may especially exercise our theory of mind because they require us to guess the secret intents of a catalog of suspects based on subtle clues left by the author. So boning up on your Hammett, Chandler, and Christie could possibly be beneficial and will definitely be enjoyable.
And while Jane Austen’s novels are often considered anathema to men, they also do a good job working your theory of mind. Keeping up with who has a thing for who and what all those subtle Victorian gestures really mean will leave your brain hurting, but stronger in the social skills department. Full Disclosure: I recently read Sense and Sensibility and really enjoyed it.
Dr. Oatley did suggest two books that he recently read that he thought men might enjoy: Netherland and The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Bottom line: make sure to mix in some fiction reading with your non-fiction selections. It will make you a better, more successful man.
To get some ideas for some male-oriented fiction to check out, see the following resources:
BULL Men’s Fiction (Great site and magazine dedicated to men’s fiction.)
100 Must Read Books For Men
9 Authors Carrying the Torch for Male Fiction
50 Best Fictional Adventure Books
|May 10th, 2012||#9|
Listen Up! Part II: 15 Techniques to Improve Our Listening
by A Manly Guest Contributor on May 8, 2012 · 14 comments
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Tony Valdes.
Welcome back to our three-part series on becoming better listeners. In the previous installment, we established that listening is a desirable ability to have as men. But how can we practically begin to exercise this ability and develop it in ourselves? There are active steps we can take to overcome obstacles and establish new listening habits. That is what we’ll tackle today.
Sharpening our listening skills is relatively easy to begin practicing since most of it is based on knowing what constitutes good listening and what doesn’t. Remember: listening is not a passive process, so all of the techniques below are active, including the ones that are not visible to the speaker.
1. Listen with an open mind
Be ready to hear and consider all sides of an issue. This does not mean that we have to agree with what is being said, but rather that we must avoid defensiveness. Another way to think of it is to go into an interaction ready to consider new viewpoints and ideas. If it helps, equate this with the scientific process we were taught ad nauseam during grade school. Every opinion and perspective we encounter while listening can be viewed as the hypothesis that we, as diligent pseudo-scientist listeners, can examine and experiment upon. And just as third grade science debunked my lack of faith that wet paper towels could actually cause a lima bean to sprout, our willingness to listen to a different perspective will sometimes yield surprising new insights for us.
2. Listen to the entire message without judging or refuting
Suppress the urge to let biases and prejudices prevent you from listening fully. We can only do one thing effectively at a time: listen, judge, or respond. Go in that order. You have to begin with listening to the entire message, then you can weigh your thoughts against what has been said, and finally respond. Allow each role to run its course in turn. When you are the listener, you cannot simultaneously be the judge. Our minds do not work in categories quite so neatly, but when we make this effort to suppress or postpone our desire to make premature judgments we become better listeners.
A great way to prepare for this in advance is to be aware of what your biases are and then try to reason out why you feel this way. What “buzz words” or topics generate a strong emotional reaction–either positive or negative–in you? If you judge and then speak too soon, you’ve opened the possibility of having missed a critical part of the message and thus embarrassing yourself by jumping to conclusions.
3. Determine the concepts and central ideas of the message
The best gauge to know whether you are listening or just hearing is whether or not you are actively looking for the central idea(s) of what is being said. This could easily morph into a whole other issue about the structure of a message, but that is not our focus here. Here, we are the listener, and if the message is well-constructed then our role will be easier, but we will not always have that luxury. A great technique, regardless of the speaker’s ability to construct a message, is to listen in such a way that you can summarize what you gleaned to be the central idea(s). What are the common threads–the ideas that seem to weave their way into everything being said? If the situation allows, you can then share your summary with the speaker and confirm (or revise) your understanding. Doing this builds your confidence as a listener, plus it proves to the speaker that you were listening.
4. Learn to adapt to the speaker’s appearance, personality, and delivery
Don’t allow a stereotype–either negative or positive–to influence your listening. Despite conventional wisdom against judging a book by its cover, we do so consciously and unconsciously every day. Appearance can be a major factor, and not everyone is blessed with dashing good looks or the sartorial wisdom we find here at The Art of Manliness. We’re just going to have to deal with it. After all, Abraham Lincoln was no George Clooney. The sixteenth president of the United States was a homely-looking fella, but his words changed the course of history.
Beyond appearance, we should also spend some time coming to peace with the fact that there are different personalities, styles, and levels of ability. As an English teacher, I have to weigh these elements with every paper I grade, so I understand how tedious it is to cope with things that run against your grain even if they aren’t necessarily “wrong.” Although it is far from a quick fix, it can be helpful to study rhetoric so that you can recognize what the speaker does well, thereby giving you something positive to focus on and making it easier to listen. Likewise, studying rhetoric allows you to understand where exactly a speaker falls short, thus eliminating phantom annoyances and allowing you to recognize and accept the stylistic and delivery shortcomings for what they are as you listen.
5. Curb and overcome distractions
It takes very little to jerk our attention away from the work of listening. We start out in life as good listeners. Think about how much a baby learns within the first few years of his or her life. Yet babies don’t attend classes, read textbooks, or go to seminars. They simply listen, and they do it so well that eventually they start behaving like little adults. Over time, however, a series of bad habits begins to sprout up. Dr. Paine shared the following statistics with us: when a teacher suddenly stopped in the middle of a lesson and asked students to explain the content of the lesson thus far, 90% of first grade students could do so successfully. That number drops to 80% in second graders, then plummets to 44% in middle school students, and a gut-wrenching 28% in high school. In other words, despite how well we start, our bad habits develop rather quickly.
If we are to become better listeners, we must learn to recognize the obstacles we face. Listening can be hard work and we are fickle–you might be surprised at how little it takes to derail us, especially when most of us were already at 28% recall as teenagers. Examples of obstacles we must overcome include:
External noises (beeping, humming, etc.)
Psychological activity (worry, self-consciousness, preoccupation, etc.)
Physical conditions (temperature, odors, lighting, visual distractions, etc.)
Physiological conditions (pain, hunger, fatigue, etc.)
Semantic distractions (dialects, accents, unfamiliar vocabulary, etc.)
Technological distractions (the urge to check your phone, surf the net, etc.)
Being aware of what is distracting us at any given moment is half the battle. However, when we find ourselves in a situation where we cannot overcome the obstacle, there is nothing wrong with letting the speaker know and suggesting a solution, such as a change of setting or having the discussion at another time. Doing so communicates that we want to give our full attention. Being aware of those times when we simply cannot muster the ability to do it is important too. Listening requires effort, and we cannot always exert effort in listening any more than we can always lift weights or solve crossword puzzles. It is okay to recognize limitations and the need for rest. It is also okay to admit when we have zoned-out or potentially misunderstood/misheard something. Everyone suffers from poor listening, and the speaker would be hard-pressed to condemn you for recognizing your lapse and making amends for it.
6. Attempt to find a connection to or personal interest in the speaker’s topic
Develop an attitude that there is always something potentially interesting or valuable to be gleaned, even if that means confirmation that you don’t find something interesting or valuable. After all, if you’re exerting the effort, you might as well take something away from it. If you’ve already predetermined that you are uninterested, it would be a Herculean effort for even the best speaker to make the topic interesting. But if we only did the things that were immediately interesting to us, think how much we would miss out on. Also consider how often seemingly useless information has served you well. Finding connections and personal interest requires self-discipline, but maintaining a positive attitude is essential to being a good listener, especially in those situations where we would rather not listen.
7. Remember that listening does not equal agreement
I’ll admit that, even after Dr. Paine’s lessons, one of my greatest obstacles to listening is the irrational fear that the speaker (or others) will perceive my listening as agreement. We should remember, however, that listening does not equal agreement. Listening does not force us to silence our own opinions, it just asks us to show respect to others. All that listening actually communicates is a willingness to communicate–and nothing more. I think Dr. Paine said it best in these two statements: “Listening demands neither surrender nor agreement; instead, listening demands an open mind” and “Listening actually provides a powerful way to bring about change because listening is thinking, because listening is action.”
8. Stop trying to jump in and talk
Pay attention for the “turn taking” signals that are normally a part of the ebb and flow of conversation. Suppressing the urge to voice our thoughts and opinions the moment they form makes us better listeners. At the root of this struggle we’ll often find our ego: we believe what we have to say is more important than what they have to say. However, whether we intend it to or not these interruptions devalue their message, and it is often rude and offensive. It’s not that we can’t share what we have to say, but we must train ourselves to wait until the appropriate time to do so. It is simply part of the social contract we have with others and honoring it is important–let the other person talk, and you can expect that they extend the same courtesy to you. Of course there is a time and a place for interruption, but there is no formula for it. It is at the mercy of your discretion, but when it becomes necessary to do so–or when the old habit rears its head–it is good to be apologetic and acknowledge that you are interrupting; that sort of awareness goes a long way towards mending your deliberate violation of the other person’s right to speak.
9. Show the speaker you’re listening
It is possible to listen without showing any external signs of it, but a stone-faced audience is rarely what anybody wants. Visibly and audibly demonstrating that we are listening–that we are engaged with and/or interested in what is being said–is just as important as the listening itself. The key is to provide appropriate feedback. As an added bonus, it helps the speaker to adjust his/her message to make it clearer and more interesting. Here are some of the things we can do to confirm to others that we are listening:
Maintaining eye contact
Taking notes when appropriate
Verbal affirmation (asking questions of clarification, answering questions posed by the speaker when appropriate, and brief affirmations like “mrm-hrm”)
By contrast, here are many of the things we do, deliberately or not, which imply to others that we are not listening:
Crossing our arms
Leaning away from the speaker
Failing to make steady eye contact
Failing to answer questions posed by the speaker
10. Pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal messages
Paying attention to body language is just as important as paying attention to the words. If you need proof of the importance of body language, just think about how much more difficult it is to detect something like sarcasm during a phone conversation or in a text message without the benefit of seeing the person’s face and body. Without the ability to see another person’s facial expression, hand gestures, and other movements, we lose tremendous portions of the communication. Don’t ignore it when you have the benefit of its presence!
11. Listen to silence
Like body language, an absence of words can be just as pregnant with meaning as the words themselves. The tricky thing is that silence can imply almost anything. It could signal anger (which of us has not been on the receiving end of the “silent treatment”?), anxiety, fear, shyness, or contentment, to name a few. It could be something as simple as the need to think. Not to complicate the matter, but silence can also mean nothing–literally. And sometimes silence is just a pause; it is a moment of rest, and that’s okay. In the film O Brother Where Art Thou?, Big Dan T the Bible salesman claims that the last thing you want is “air in the conversation,” which may be true if you are a fast-talking door-to-door salesman trying to push a product, but for the rest of us this couldn’t be further from the truth. Silence gives everyone a chance to rest and think. In fact, I find that the people I can have comfortable periods of silence with are those with whom I have the strongest relationships. Try not to surrender to the urge to break silence–a little air in the conversation doesn’t hurt. All of this should remind us of the importance of body language–listening is done with the eyes as much as it is with the ears. A person’s body language will often give us the clues we need to interpret both words and the absence of words.
12. Plan to respond in some fashion
The situation will dictate what is appropriate and what is not (don’t blurt out questions in the middle of a eulogy, guys) but you should plan to find some way to respond to a speaker. It might be simple non-verbal signals as the other person speaks. It might be sharing your opinions, insights, or questions when the speaker has finished, perhaps in an email or handwritten letter, but do something to respond, even if it is small.
13. Ask questions to clarify the message
This is a positive way to show someone that you are listening. I’m a high school teacher, so I know that makes me biased in this regard, but I believe the ability to ask questions is so important that we’ll be looking at it in great detail in the third part of this series. Sometimes asking a good question is more important than knowing the answer.
14. Take time to listen to yourself
We’ve already addressed the value of silence in a conversation and the pitfalls of the poor habits we so easily adopt. But sometimes our worst habits and the least amount of silence are directed at ourselves. Listening to yourself is a practice arena where you have unlimited opportunities to practice and the speaker (you) will be very forgiving when you stumble. By listening to yourself, you are also better able to cope with obstacles such as prejudices and internal “noise.” If your thoughts are in order, it will be much easier to attend to the thoughts of others.
Dr. Paine had entire assignments based wholly on listening to ourselves. He would make a point to emphasize that the phones, televisions, and music should be off and that we find a comfortable place to be alone. Eliminating the external distractions is only half the battle, though. When listening to yourself, the internal racket is sometimes the greatest enemy. Take time to sit in silence every so often–daily if you can–and listen to yourself without judgment or interruption. Give the whirlwind of your thoughts however much time it needs to settle down. What do you have to say to you? For those of us who find even our emotions (let alone the emotions of others) to be an enigma most of the time–a veritable swamp of foggy confusion–silence is an invaluable way to untangle the knots.
15. Avoid faking attention and pretending to listen
The unique challenge that comes with learning to listen well is that we now know how to fake it. But when someone thinks you were paying attention but in reality you weren’t, you are inviting trouble. If the speaker notices, you are insulting him/her. If you are asked to respond in some way, then you will be caught unawares and will most likely suffer embarrassment. And even if you can get away with it, you are gaining nothing except the reinforcement of bad habits.