This state is also called 'Monkey-Mind Syndrome'. You might be surprised to learn that only 10% of us actually listen effectively and that we only remember roughly 50% of what was immediately said.
Attentive listening can help in relationships; it can help solve our problems and expand our understanding. In the workplace effective listening results in higher productivity and more efficiency. Approximately 60% of a typical manager’s day is spent listening.
So why do we struggle to focus and really listen?
Can you recall a time when you thought you were listening to someone and a random thought popped into your mind? By recognising that thought you have already unintentionally shifted your focus. You smile and politely nod to show you are listening, but you just can’t shake that thought. You are now no longer receptive to what is being said and your attention is no longer on the speaker, but on the thought process itself. Have you noticed that your awareness shifts in this way?
Studies have demonstrated that 45% of the time we distract ourselves by self-interruption through unintentional listening to thoughts and automatic emotional reactions. Factor in loud noises, past memories, future fantasies, colours and objects, and it’s therefore hardly a big surprise to learn that our minds spend almost 50% of the time wandering. When you are occupied with your own thoughts and emotional reactions you are not fully present in listening to the person talking to you. The key is to notice that your attention has wandered off and to re-establish the connection with the person speaking as often as needed. To do that you have to understand what awareness – the main component of attention – actually is and how to direct it.
The magic of active awareness
Awareness is the primal quality in the life of all living beings. This is the only instrument that enables us to establish an intimate contact with everything; being a bridge it is used to discover all objects. Although everyone possesses this potent instrument, its intentional and smart use is still largely unknown to the majority. People are accustomed to letting automatic emotional and mental reactions be the drivers in their lives. Although intentional application of awareness is the most underused potentiality today, it can and should be trained to be directed at will. Prioritising the use of awareness over emotional and mental processes is the pathway to opening up new qualities, profound wisdom and new knowledge.
When untrained, awareness is at risk of being ‘caught’ and 90% of the time your awareness is caught by random objects, including irrelevant thoughts. The question is, are these thoughts related to the task at hand? We don’t have to be at the mercy of our constant internal chatter, or addicted to external stimuli. Training the application of awareness develops the powers of concentration and will, enabling us to deliberately direct our focus to the task at hand and hold it there for as long as we need.
Training to use awareness in a systematic way allows you to dedicate your focus fully and therefore become more effective at listening. The longer you keep this connection and refrain from distraction the more you take in, understand and absorb. Effective listening isn’t the only practical result of training the application of awareness. Awareness also helps you to stay focused, manage time more effectively, and regulate emotional states and the mind better. Awareness is a multi-potentiality instrument and a universally-applicable skill that can be used to benefit all areas of work and life.
Helena Lass is a psychiatrist and founder of Wellness Orbit