Sharpen your listening skills

Are you listening……?


Like everyone else, the Brainready team often gets accused of not listening. It’s not that we don’t try; we just have so many thoughts running through our head and can’t focus on everything.

So how can we all avoid distractions, get rid of the brain fog and stop getting lost in our own thoughts?

Attentive listening is not only a skill, but also a process that can actually help focus your thoughts and stop your mind wandering.

Like your parents used to say – “pay attention’.

Attention is the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one aspect of the environment while ignoring other things.

The goal of attentive listening is to improve your understanding by focusing on what’s really been said and what they mean. It’s important to listen completely and understand the real meaning first, before reacting. In addition, attentive listeners have relational goals like giving a positive impression, advancing the relationship, or demonstrating care.

Of course this is nothing new. I was amazed to find out that as far back as 1890, William James, in his book Principles of Psychology, remarked:

“Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization and concentration of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and in a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state which in French is called distraction, and Zerstreutheit in German.”

Attention remains a major area of investigation within education, psychology and neuroscience. Many of the major debates of James' time remain unresolved. For example, although most scientists accept that attention can be split, strong proof has remained elusive. And there is still no widely accepted definition of attention more concrete than that given in the James quote above. This lack of progress has led many observers to speculate that attention refers to many separate processes without a common mechanism.

 So listening is actually an active behaviour rather than a passive one. Be in the present. Work hard at focusing on what’s being said, then digest the information.

 Don’t multi-task if you are supposed to be listening. You wind up listening to only part of what someone says, or pretending to listen while you think about something else. You also sacrifice important non-verbal clues and information about their underlying meaning.

 Wait until they finish making their points before you speak. Don't interrupt, even to agree with them, and don't jump in with your own suggestions before they explain what they have already done, plan to do, or have thought about doing. This includes being aware enough to stop yourself from doing any of the following:-

- Making critical or judgmental faces or sounds.

- Trying to "fix" their problem with a quick suggestion.

- Interrogating them to make them answer a question you have about their situation.

- Trying to cheer them up or tell them things aren't so bad.

- Criticizing them for getting into their situation.

- Telling them what you would do or have done in the past.

 If you don't understand or aren't sure about a point they are trying to make, repeat a brief portion of the part you didn't understand and ask them to tell you more about it to help you understand better.

 I think you’ll be amazed at the difference your mind has in processing information if you make the effort to listen in an attentive manner in the first place.

 Of course it takes a massive effort to concentrate for the time period you are listening. Don’t believe me? Let’s do a simple test to see how long you can focus your attention. I want you to look at the second hand on a clock, or the seconds on your digital watch. Now focus all your thoughts on the movement of that second hand. Don’t daydream. Whenever a thought interferes with your concentration, go back to your starting point and start again.

 It’s not as easy as you might think. If you can do thirty seconds that’s a great start, but way short of what should be your target goal. The more you do it though it will help your ability to keep your mind completely focused by concentrating on one thing. Do this exercise every morning and you’ll find it gets easier with practice.

 A great example of high levels of focused concentration is in the movie “For the Love of the Game”. It may not be a classic, although I loved it. Kevin Costner plays a veteran baseball pitcher and uses a phrase “clear the mechanism” to allow him to fully focus and clear all noise and distractions from his mind before a pitch. Maybe we could have our own phrase to trigger the thought process??

 Another way of doing this might be to set aside some time later in the day where we can focus on the issues that are worrying us or dominating our thoughts. By telling yourself that you’ll devote 30 minutes, say after dinner, to give time to those things that have been interrupting your concentration. Factor this in as a daily process and your mind will soon realize that it can take time to mull these issues over later – just make sure you keep to your schedule (unfortunately you can’t delude yourself).

 Whether it’s the key phrase or scheduling a later time that works for you, introduce some process that helps you focus and be more attentive.

 Naturally the Brainready team will take on this advice, do the secondhand test everyday to improve our concentration and develop a key phrase (maybe – Get my Brainready).

 If you have any other exercises you’d like to share, click on the comments link below.

 P.S. For those of you who download our podcasts, this skill will come in very handy. The next podcast will be available in a few days and it will contain a different voice, with a different accent, so be sure to practice your listening skills beforehand. And if you haven’t downloaded an audio podcast before, this is the perfect time to get it a go. Just email and he’ll guide you through the process.

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