My mother is the kind of women who is always executing. For as long as I can remember and to this day, my mom is constantly on her feet doing something to make someone's day easier. Most of the time, no one explicitly asks for her help, she just picks up on something in a conversation with someone and realizes that they're in need of support and then she does whatever she can to help - no procrastinating, no double-thinking.
For example, when I moved into my new place and my furniture was being delivered. I had a plan. I would let them deliver the boxes, then I would make a cup of coffee and stare at the boxes for the rest of the day and then the next morning, bright and early, I would unpack them. Great plan right? Of course I didn't tell my mom this. To her, I simply said that the furniture was easy to assemble and if I needed help, I would just call one of my friends. But she wasn't having it. She showed up literally 30 minutes BEFORE the delivery truck arrived and was there assembling all my furniture with me the entire day. To be honest, if it wasn't for her I'd probably still be sitting among those boxes!
My mother epitomizes the 'show don't tell' philosophy. She never just politely backs off if someone says they don't need help. Instead, she reads between the lines and understands when there is a need that she can support on. We can all learn from her. How often have you offered to help someone and when they decline your offer, you feel a tad bit relieved? No judgement, we've all been there.
It's not that you don't want to help, the problem is you're taking the path of least resistance but that path likely does not actually align with your values. Embedded in our value system is a deep yearning for strong and trusting relationships. We want to fill our lives with these relationships because we know that good relationships are at the core of our happiness. We just don't want to do the hard-work it takes to actually create and maintain these relationships. Stephen Covey says it best in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, your principles are based on your value system and you will only be in harmony if your habits are in direct alignment with these principles.
Knowledge without action is fruitless. Values without habits are pointless.
According to Covey, every so often, we should be sitting down with ourselves and outlining our values within every aspect of our life (family, friends, work, self-growth, etc). We should then determine what role we want to play within each of these avenues of our lives and the principles we need to abide by in order to play these roles. The next part is the most important. We need to then outline the habits and actions we need to develop every single day that will aid us in living out these values and principles.
Each day that we do this will bring us deeper in alignment, closer to harmony and on a path to achieving ultimate fulfillment.
One day, on a cozy winter night at my parents place, my dad dropped another one of his one-liners. He was talking to me about conversation in relationships and he said, “Sometimes it’s important to add space to a conversation. Leave space for the other person and see what blooms. It’s beautiful.” The way he says beautiful is as if he can see beauty in his mind and is in absolute awe of it. My dad is wise, but I don’t think even he knows how wise he really is. I don’t think he had any idea how scientifically true that statement was.
I’ve always been fascinated with Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP)- the science behind our communication styles. NLP is a focus that teaches people how to make the most of their conversations by using proven communication techniques based in psychology. A principle component of NLP is Active Listening. Active Listening is the art of being fully present and intentional when listening to someone. Many of us think we’re good listeners because we care enough to hear about what the other person says and are able to contribute back to the conversation. But when was the last time you actually observed how you listen? How often do you interrupt the other person? Do you notice yourself getting impatient the more someone else speaks? Do you find yourself counting the minutes until you can contribute your great point to the conversation? I hate to break it to you, but if you said yes to any of the above questions, your listening skills could use some work. Most of us are really bad listeners under the disguise of great ones. If you’d like to have truly fulfilling conversations where no one leaves feeling misunderstood, it’s time to implement some active listening techniques.
Here are a few quick ways to help you get started:
Pay attention: Try your best not to zone out! We all do it. We’ve all had conversations where while the other person is talking, we’re thinking about what workout we can do that will keep us sane during quarantine, then we start thinking about the best time of day to do that workout, then we start thinking about what we’re going to eat after that workout and the groceries we’ll need to get and what recipes we should look up and then we remember we were supposed to send someone a copy of a recipe to a friend and then……and then we’re completely not listening to the person in front of us. It happens. Here’s how to fix it.
Leave space for the other person in the conversation and see what blooms. It can be beautiful.
They say gut feelings are guardian angels. That means we have guardian angels walking around with us all the time. Yet, we're still confused. Why is that? If your gut always knows what to do, why would we ever need to be confused about the direction we choose to go in?
It's because somewhere along the lines, we got really good at not listening to our gut As each one of us grew up, we began taking on other people's truths as our own. Their voices became ours and their gut feelings became what we saw as true. Most of the time we don't even realize we're doing it. But we are. All the time. Do you remember the last time you had a conversation with someone about a situation that just didn't feel right to you but they convinced you out of what you were feeling? The moment you said, "Maybe you're right." Their truth became you're own. This is of course not to say that we don't need our family and friends to be our sound boards and provide guidance. Of course we do. It's a blessing to have them. But no matter how amazing their intentions are, they don't know your truth. Your gut feelings should always trump another person's opinion.
Protect what's yours. We define ourselves by the boundaries we create in our life and in our relationships. Those boundaries don't need to cause friction in your relationships. Instead putting up a boundary is what causes respect to form within your relationships. Another way to think about it is to imagine the friction you'll cause internally by not putting up that boundary? You will always feel a sense of internal conflict if you don't put up the boundaries that define your truth.
Boundaries don't have to be aggressive. If you're a 'go with the flow' type of person saying no to someone is hard because you feel like you're disappointing them. There's two things to consider in this situation. The first is to determine what feels right to you in that moment. If saying no to them feels the best at your core, then say no politely. It doesn't have to be aggressive. Just say no. Once you do, don't explain it. Once you explain why you're putting a boundary up, you're admitting that you've done something wrong. Which you haven't. Secondly, practice saying no politely over and over again. I once had a life coach who told me to say no 7 times each week. It was hard at first, but the more I did it, the less I worried about disappointing people and the more control I felt like I had over my own life.
Owning what's yours starts with taking back the power over your boundaries. Listen to those guardian angels, they know what's up!