Have you noticed how loud the world has become?
With the availability of portable electronics, we seem to be constantly inundated with buzzing and beeping and chirping. And even if you aren’t currently somewhere with an abundance of external noise—no car horns, no blaring television or radio, no one-sided phone conversations or miscellaneous white noise from those around you—chances are good you are still subjected to plenty of other, more stealthy bits of noise. Things like social media posts, internet stories, the chatter in your own head that constantly reminds you of your endless to-do list and how you’ll never have enough time, energy, [fill in the blank], etc., to achieve that goal of yours.
For some reason, when I think of our often chaotic, overstimulated society, I picture us all in a giant ballroom filled with hundreds and hundreds of other people sitting at elegantly set tables. Waiters wearing white coats with gold buttons rush around with trays of hors d’oeuvres and narrow champagne flutes. Amidst the clink of dinnerware, there’s the hum of classical music—tasteful and unobtrusive in its style and volume, yet played on a relentlessly endless loop—and of course, conversation. Everybody has something to say. Everybody wants to be heard. EVERYBODY is talking. And if everyone is talking, that means no one is listening.
You might wonder what listening has to do with making progress on goals.
I pondered that one myself and couldn’t come up with a single goal that doesn’t require some form of listening. If your goal is to start your own business, you must learn to listen to your instincts. If your goal is to become healthier, you must learn to listen to your body. A goal to build closer relationships with loved ones requires listening better to them. Listening to my creative mind is essential for attaining my goal to write a novel.
But if listening is so important, then how do we learn to do it well amid all the noise? This is a simultaneously simple and difficult task, but here are three ways to get started:
Make time every day to turn off and tune in. Turn off all the external noise—the TV, the phone, the computer, etc.—and find a way to turn off the internal noise (e.g. by practicing meditation, prayer, journaling) in order to tune into yourself. With the number of outside voices we encounter on a daily basis, it’s easy to lose the ability to hear our own. Turning off and tuning in every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes, can re-center our mind, refocus our attention, and remind us of our purpose, our goals, and our essentials.
Be present. As far as listening to other people goes, this one is kind of obvious. If we’re having a conversation with someone else, but while they’re talking we’re thinking about what we’re going to say next or regretting something we said two days ago or planning what to make for dinner, we’re not really engaged in that discussion. But staying in the current moment can also help with that internal chatter. Instead of holding onto negativity and criticism by replaying that interior video of past mistakes or wishing for a fast forward button, we’re more likely to stay positive and motivated and follow through on a goal if we listen to ourselves in the present tense.
Decide what to let in. This one is tricky. With so many options available to us, it’s hard not to get caught up in a fear-of-missing-out mindset. We want to do, see, and experience it all, but we have limited time, limited energy, and limited capacity for absorption. The cool thing is the choice is ours. We get to decide what outside noise we allow into our minds. We get to decide what music we listen to, which books we read, which shows we watch, who we spend time with. All of these things affect us both positively and negatively. They can weigh down or uplift our motivation, our mood, and even our energy. So choose and listen wisely.
What about you? What tools or tips do you or have you employed to learn to listen well in our often loud culture?