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  • Adam L Washburn

Are You Essential in These 4 Areas? Part 3: Heart




This article is part three of a four-part article series looking at the essentials of Body, Mind, Heart, and Spirit. The ideas are a synthesis of concepts from Greg McKeown's book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and Stephen R. Covey's book The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness.


In Part 1: Body, we looked at how Tiny Habits can help you keep your body physically fit, how intermittent fasting can help you eat essentially, and how getting the right amount of sleep is critical.


In Part 2: Mind, we learned how having a growth mindset, reading (and re-reading) good books, getting enough sleep, learning to focus, and aligning with a deep purpose helps our minds be the best.


In Part 3: Heart, we will look at how we can best handle our emotions within ourselves and as we interact with others.



Assume everything you say about another they can overhear; now speak accordingly —Stephen R. Covey, The 8th Habit
Essentialists are powerful observers and listeners —Greg McKeown, Essentialism

We like to think that as rational beings, our minds drive our behavior.


While our logical minds do play an important role in our behavior, more than anything, we are driven by how we feel. As social-emotional beings, how we feel and how we make others feel often far outweighs what we or others think.


What is essential to feeling good? What is essential to helping others feel good around us?


1. Apologize and forgive. Stop colluding.

No human heart can harbor anger, hurt, malice, and resentment and still thrive. We have to let go of these feelings through forgiveness.


The Bus Ride

While in graduate school, I commuted daily by bus to get to campus. I had several friends and acquaintances that also rode the bus. Like others on the 20-30 minute commute, we would participate in a variety of activities to pass the time: studying, reading, talking, friendly banter, quiet napping.


Like most bus routes, there was a consistent crew of people that commuted each day, including a lady I'll call Linda. Linda lived in the same housing complex where I lived, and she worked at the university where I studied.


Linda rode the bus every day and would quietly read or write during the commute. Occasionally she would have a conversation with a fellow passenger. However, there was one thing that became apparent. Linda was easily bothered by people talking on the bus. Any talking louder than a quiet, two-person conversation distracted her.


Over many months of riding the bus together, I began to observe a pattern. A pair of friends or a small group would chat. If someone was over Linda's volume limit, she would frown and put her finger in her ear to block out the noise.


If the conversation continued like this for several minutes, she would stare and glare at the offender. When she reached her final destination, she would hop off the bus with a sour face in a disgusted huff. If it was early in the bus ride, she would get up and move to another part of the bus with a similar facial expression.


If you were a particularly bad offender, especially a repeat offender, you might get more than a dirty look. You would get a written note expressing displeasure at your un-civil public bus conduct.


While I was occasionally in a conversation that engendered a stare or glare, it mostly remained at that. I didn't want to rock the boat (or the bus), so I generally tried to remain inoffensive. There were even a few times I had a couple of (quiet) conversations with Linda. I hoped that some friendly personal interactions could lead to better mutual understanding and patience.


However, Linda's behavior patterns didn't ever really change. Over time, I came to really dislike the passive-aggressive behavior. It felt like a self-appointed bus monitor was trying to shame people into obeying the unwritten rules of 'proper' bus conduct.


Then finally it happened. One day I got involved in a more boisterous conversation with some fellow passengers. Linda stared and glared. I did not feel a need to quiet the conversation. By the middle of the bus ride, I got a note.


At that moment, the self-righteous complaint was too much to bear. It was time to take a stand. I wasn't going to ignore or quietly submit.


I went over to confront Linda. A kindly confrontation (I thought). But I was definitely angry.


While not rude, I firmly explained to Linda that she no right to dictate what people do on a public bus. There were no rules against talking on a bus. Many people liked to talk on the bus. Others could read or sit quietly on the bus. One person did not get to dictate the bus etiquette to the rest of the passengers.


I can't remember exactly how she responded. But after that day, we certainly did not have an excess of kind feelings towards each other. Mostly, I tried to ride the bus at an earlier time than she did.


Overall, I felt justified. I knew I was right. Linda was wrong.


But I never really felt good about the interaction. While I felt justified, I had not built a relationship or solved a problem. And I probably only made Linda feel more justified in her stance.



Collusion

If you are an astute observer, you will see that this is how many relational problems go. As Terry Warner describes in his masterful book Bonds That Make Us Free, this type of interaction can best be described as collusion.


What is relational collusion? We treat another person as an object—a thing to be fixed. They resent how we treat them—with blame, self-righteousness, correction. As a result, they feel more justified in how they are acting.


Think of it. The more Linda glared and stared, the more I felt justified in talking on the bus. The less careful I was about respecting her feelings, since she was obviously way off base is her assessment.


Then, the more I talked on the bus, the more she resented me.


She ratcheted up her behavior. I ratcheted up mine. It's almost as if we coordinated with each other to create a bigger problem. Thus, collusion.


There is one fortunate aspect to collusion. Although it takes two people to continue escalating the problem, it only takes one person to stop it.


Courage

Not many weeks after my "standing up" to Linda, I ended up changing my transportation routine. Ultimately, our family ended up moving away to a new state to pursue new job opportunities.


No more bus ride. No more conflict.


However, anger and conflict don't easily leave a heart—even when the problem lies dormant.


I don't recall the exact book, perhaps it was The 8th Habit, but sometime during my new work commute, I listened to a book or talk that created a pang of regret. While I still didn't agree with Linda's behavior, I realized that I was a crucial part of the relational collusion.


As a party to the collusion, I realized I hadn't done my part to end it. While I was usually responsible in most of my relationships with people, I realized that I still harbored some anger in this one that was never resolved.


I decided to take a step of courage.


I wrote a letter to Linda apologizing. I told her that while we didn't agree on certain things, I knew that my behavior could have been better, and that I had acted wrongly. My action of calling her out publicly on the bus was inappropriate. There were better ways to solve problems. There were better ways to maintain relationships with others.


I asked for her forgiveness.


I didn't know Linda's address or contact information. All I knew was her first name, what she looked like, and the complex where she lived.


So I wrote a letter to the complex and asked that they please try to give her the note in the sealed envelope. I left my contact information in case she wanted to reply back.


I wasn't sure anything would happen. But I was astounded when a few weeks later I got an email reply from Linda. She appreciated the note and accepted the apology and the courage to extend the apology. I don't recall everything she said, but I knew that we had both learned something. A relationship was healed.


I have never seen or interacted with Linda since moving away. I likely will never see her again. Why did I go to those lengths to heal a relationship that was essentially over?


No human heart can harbor anger, hurt, malice, and resentment and still thrive. We have to let go of these feelings through forgiveness.


We cannot continue to collude in anger. It is essential for us to apologize. It is essential for us to forgive. It is the only way a heart can continue to grow.


2. Let go


Don't hold on to emotions and recycle them over and over. Don't escalate them by continuing to act upon them. Don't ignore them and sweep them under the rug. Compassionately observe them come in, and then let them leave.

Managing emotion

Emotions are powerful drivers of behavior. How do we change our emotions?


Have you ever tried to 'snap out of it'? Or flip a frown upside down?


Have you ever tried to get someone else to change their emotional state?


Emotions don't change quickly on demand, do they?


However, does that mean we are at the mercy of our emotions in our daily lives? Do we just accept the emotional 'weather' as it passes through?


Or do we have power to change how we feel?


One of the best techniques I've learned for managing emotions is letting go, as described by David Hawkins in his book Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender. Similar ideas are taught by other thought leaders in books such as The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership or Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.


Without training or practice, most of us handle our negative emotions in one of two ways.


Option one: we hold on to our negative emotions, recycling thoughts and feelings over and over again.


This often happens with fear, anger, jealousy, shame. We feel bad, mad, sad, and we keep reviewing all the bad, mad, and sad thoughts and events that made us feel this way. This mental recycling keeps us in the same emotional state.


Option two: we repress our negative emotions. We bite our tongue and smile. We tell ourselves we shouldn't feel a certain way. We avoid feeling anything negative by avoidance and evasion. We try to ignore the negative feelings, even though that never quite makes them go away.


Unfortunately, this option never clears us of the negative emotions. If anything it makes them build up and get worse.


What if there were a better, third option? What if we could just let go of our negative emotions?


How do we do this?


First, we must fully feel our emotions. Rather than repressing, we acknowledge what we're feeling and where we are in our state of consciousness. We feel the feelings in our body that our emotions engender. The tight fists, the pit in the stomach, the knot in the throat, the tension in the shoulders.


After we fully feel our feelings, we can acknowledge where we're at in our level of consciousness.


Most people in the world operate on one level of a tiered series of negative emotions—shame, guilt, apathy, grief, fear, desire, anger, or pride. By simply feeling our feelings and acknowledging the level of consciousness we're operating under, we can begin the process of letting go.


Don't hold on to emotions and recycle them over and over. Don't escalate them by continuing to act upon them. Don't ignore them and sweep them under the rug. Compassionately observe them come in, and then let them leave.


We can then move on to a consciousness based on a higher state of consciousness. This includes states of courage, acceptance, reason, love, joy, and peace.




Letting go of work anxiety

Here's what this looks like for me.


I'm working and a deadline is looming. I have a report due in 2 hours. I also had plans to workout and have lunch with my family. Both can't happen.


I recognize that I'm under pressure. I feel anxiety about getting my work done in time and done well. I fear the consequences and response from others if I don't do my work well.


I also feel angry that the report due date got changed at the last minute. This was not my plan—someone else made it happen.


I feel frustrated that my plans are getting put on hold to meet someone else's agenda.


I feel shame and guilt that I committed to myself to exercise and committed to spend time with my family. I don't want to fail my commitments.


If I continue on default emotional handling, I'll probably 'tow the line' and get my work done and feel frustrated about the situation. I might keep thinking about it and let my frustrations simmer.


If a family member feels frustrated about the experience, that will only continue to magnify my frustrations.


And if this situation happens again, I'll let those feelings keep on stewing and simmering.


However, when I let go, I acknowledge all those feelings. I pause and let myself fully feel those feelings. Sometimes I describe them in words, sometimes I just feel the feeling without the right word to describe it.


I'm compassionate with myself. I recognize that fear, anxiety, and anger are all part of the human experience. I will always feel those feelings. But I don't have to let the feelings control me.


Then I ask myself the question, how could I handle this same situation operating from a place of courage, acceptance, reason, love, joy, or peace?


If my work is truly crucial, I'll recognize that I can make a sacrifice and get the work done. I'll make a specific plan to make up my lost commitment to myself to exercise and to spend time with my family. I'll move forward with my work in a focused way, knowing that acting from a basis of anxiety or anger will not help me or my work.


I can recognize and appreciate the pressure my co-workers are under and think about how my actions impact them. I can act in a way that shows care and consideration for them.


If my work is not truly crucial, I'll find a way to say 'no'. I don't have to fear my co-workers, but I can instead find a way to meet their needs in a way that also respects my needs. "I'm sorry, I won't be able to meet this new timeframe, but I can finish this by tomorrow."


I can appreciate my co-workers needs, but also recognize that the demands they are placing are not more important than what I owe to my body (exercise) and my family (quality time).


Although easily stated, learning to let go takes practice. We are often so adapted to our usual emotional responses that we hardly know what's happening. However, I have found that the more time I take to observe how I'm feeling, the better I get at letting go.


As I let go of my negative emotions, I put myself in a place to feel a more positive state of consciousness. I am able to meet the needs that face me and do it without being burdened by stress, anger, or fear.


Letting go is essential to managing our emotions and our hearts.


3. Listen


Stop and HEAR

How well do we listen to others?


When others talk do we think about what we're going to say next, or do we listen to what they are saying?


When we listen, are we listening only to the words, or do we observe the body language, intent, and emotional state of the speaker?


Do we try to understand the point of view of the other person?


Listening is a crucial skill to connecting with another person. But let's face it. Most of us are not naturally good listeners.


In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey teaches that we should first seek to understand and then seek to be understood.


He compares the feeling of being understood to that of breathing air. Unless we feel understood, we feel psychologically asphyxiated. Just by listening we grant the psychological air that others need.


How can we improve our ability to listen?


Jim Kwik gives an acronym that explains how we can better listen. While his ideas are geared towards education and learning, the same principles apply to listening and empathizing with another person. His acronym is HEAR:


  • Halt—stop what you're doing and focus on the other person.

  • Empathize—imagine yourself in the speaker's position.

  • Anticipate—what will the person say next?

  • Review—ponder and reflect on what the person has said.


These are fantastic strategies when you're working on learning during a university lecture or public talk. They can also be effective at listening to a family member, friend, or co-worker.


Others can tell when we're listening with the intent to understand and remember. When we ask questions for understanding, or reflect back what the other person is feeling of thinking, they know we are paying attention. We give them the psychological air they need.


HEAR a family member

Imagine a conversation that goes like this.


Your 12-year-old daughter comes up to talk to you while you're working at your computer. You realize that you can split your attention between your current task and your daughter. Or you can decide to listen to her with full attention.


You halt what you're doing and turn aside from your work to listen.


While she's talking, you try to imagine yourself in her shoes. She's trying to tell you that her brother is bothering her and he won't stop. You picture yourself in that situation and imagine how you would feel. You empathize with where she is coming from.


You anticipate what she might say next and invite her to tell you more about the situation, or you might ask if there's anything else bothering her.


When she's said everything, you review what she's said. You might ask a clarifying question. You might sum up what she just said to make sure you understood her correctly.


This is listening.


Now you can talk through the problem and come up with a solution. However, you've probably solved half the problem by just listening.


Pro Tip

I once participated in a problem solving session with a group of people. One phrase I found that was used consistently was "I hear where you're coming from, but..." or "I hear you, but...".


It's easy to feel like we're listening to someone when we superficially listen to what they are saying and then acknowledge it with "I hear you" or "I see where you're coming from." These aren't necessarily bad words to use. However, the addition of a "but" at the end negates any impact of the first words.


While you may think you are conveying that you are listening and respecting the other person, the phrases they are actually hearing are:


"I hear you, but you are always wrong"


"I hear you, but my idea is better"


"I hear you, but not really"


If you are truly listening, absorbing, empathizing, and understanding, you probably won't need to say "I hear you."


You may have a different idea for how to take the conversation. However, once the other person feels understood, you'll have space to explain your ideas. No 'buts' needed.


Practice

Let's face it—listening is not easy.


It will take practice to get better at it.


It will take mistakes and failures to learn.


Fortunately, we have opportunities every day to practice. I invite you to take your next conversation with a person and try to HEAR them.


Listening is essential to the growth of our hearts.



Up Next…

Focusing on the essentials for your Body and Mind are Steps 1 and 2. Essentials for your Heart is Step 3. What are the essential needs for your Spirit?


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