How do you live an honest and aware life?

“Live life as though nobody is watching and express yourself as though everyone is listening.”

Nelson Mandela

What does it mean to “live life as though nobody is watching?” For me, this is a call to live an authentic and purpose-driven life. To live without fear of judgment and comparison to others. It is the freedom to live a life that is unique and intentional and uniquely yours free of the need to perform based on on the expectations of others.

How about the phrase “express yourself as though everyone is listening?” For me, this is being highly aware of the power of your words and need to curate those worlds specifically and with great care. It is the knowledge that your words carry tremendous weight and must be aligned with your behaviors and actions. If you words aren’t chosen with car and thought then you run the risk of expressing yourself in a manner that is inconsistent with your beliefs and motivations.

Both of these things are so much easier said than done. It requires tremendous focus and the ability to balance two disparate aspects of your life and mind. It is the freedom to follow your calling and pursue your honest purpose and the ability to choose your words and deliver them with measured impact. It is being true to your calling, focused on the lighthouse over the horizon and yet be aware of the need to navigate wisely so as not to end up on the shoals represented by choosing your words poorly.

Freedom and focus. Honest and aware. That is the way to live…

gray and black rock formation
Photo by Michael Judkins on

The ultimate win/win…

“The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.”

Alfred Brendel

Listening might be the ultimate “win/win” strategy. You’ll learn something and the person that you are hearing is validated as important.

So ask good questions and then shut up and listen…

Listen up!

“Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self. ”

Dean Jackson

The ability to listen is a gift that every person is capable of giving, yet it is among the rarest of all gifts that we give to one another. To truly listen, you must make a conscious choice that says “for the next XYZ minutes the person that I am conversing with is more important than me and what I think.”

Easy to say, hard to do. Can you make the commitment to be fully engaged in one conversation today where you are putting someone else and what they have to say, ahead of your own needs?

Listening comes before learning…

“To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, completely and freshly, to what is before us, not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.”

Mark Nepo

You never know what you might learn when you really truly listen. I have to remind myself of this all the time. Sometimes we are all working so hard to listen only for what we want to hear that we forget that the real joy of listening is to learn. Once you have learned something, you can then be changed by it. You just have to commit to listen first. Easy to say, much harder to do…

Seek first…to serve…

“Grant that I may not so much seek…to be understood, as to understand…”

From the “Prayer of St. Francis” of Assisi

I always thought that “seek first to understand, and then to be understood,” was from Dr. Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Sounds like this wisdom has been been around for just a little while longer!

There is something so powerful that comes from asking a question with the intent to learn and truly hear what the other person has to say. Though I would argue that learning something new or different is likely the second most impactful outcome.

The most important, and meaningful, impact is on the person who is heard. They will be uplifted, encouraged, and feel valued. Seems like a pretty good deal to me. You learn, and you empower and enable at the same time. We could certainly use more of that in our world for sure.

Be still, and listen…

“I like to listen.

I have learned a great deal from listening carefully.

Most people never listen.”

Ernest Hemingway

The first thing that ran through my mind this morning when I read this quote was a verse from book of James; ‘Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;’ James 1:19

Oh how challenging it can be in today’s world to follow this advice and live it outwardly on a daily basis. There is so much going on that it can feel like you have to take advantage of any and all space to say what it is you want to say. In many ways ‘space’ in conversations or relationship has become uncomfortable and viewed as something that must be filled.

The challenge in our world today is that instead of listening to understand, or listening to learn, our society is wired to listen to speak, even if the person who wants to speak has little or no knowledge on a given subject. Everyone has something to say, very few have a willingness to really listen to what someone else might be thinking.

How many ways today can you find opportunities to listen, to really listen to what others have to say? Can you intentionally sit back and listen and turn off the voice in your mind that is crafting a response even as others speak? As written in the Old Testament there is ‘a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;’ Ecclesiastes 3:7

Just ask…

“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.”

John Crosby

Yesterday morning I had a most unique mentoring experience. I was hiking a trail with a new colleague and we were discussing a variety of topics. I bounced an idea off of him that I have been working through in my mind and received the most valuable and insightful input. It completely changed my thinking on a particular subject. It was some of the best mentoring I could have asked for and at just the right time. The quote above describes my experience yesterday in a perfect and beautiful way.

Throughout my life I have been blessed to have several powerful mentors who have been powerful influences and sounding boards as I navigate life and leadership. Unfortunately I have long thought of mentors as a “formal” relationships that I defined as “wise and sage counsel imparting knowledge.” This isn’t the case at all. Mentoring can happen between anyone, at any time, if you are simply willing to ask and listen. You just have to ask the questions…

The conversation in your head…

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”

Peter Drucker

Listening to the words that are being said is a hard proposition. All too often I catch myself listening just well enough to create my response. In many cases I, and most people, aren’t really listening at all, the mind is rehearsing its response to whatever is being said.

How do you achieve a higher level of listening which is more than hearing all the words? How do you listen well enough to understand the “why” of what is being said? Once you get to that level only then are you truly listening.

I have found two things that help me move past the natural tendency of my mind to be framing a response prematurely.

First, I remind myself to seek to understand the “why.” I want to do everything I can to be able to understand the why well enough to be able to see the conversation from the other side of the table or from another perspective.

Second, as I quiet my mind and truly listen to the words I remind myself to listen in order to ask questions. Listening to respond versus listening to ask questions takes a very different mindset. If one is focused on asking insightful questions in order to understand you can get closer to understanding the “why.”

Neither of these things are easy, and they are certainly not my natural tendency. Doing it well takes both diligence and intentional effort. In many ways it reminds me of a good meditation practice. When you fail, you catch yourself and simply begin again. Do it often enough, and with enough discipline, perhaps you can find yourself truly listening to the conversation that is going on and not just the one in your head…

Two types of silence…

“The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.”

Alfred Brendel

How can you truly listen if you aren’t silent? For the record that means both the external voice which is always ready to respond, and the internal voice that is constantly running in the background (at least mine is…). If you are going to seek to learn from others, then you must ready to be truly silent, physically and mentally. Otherwise you aren’t really listening. And if you aren’t listening, you aren’t learning…

Communication upgrade required…

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”

Bryant H. McGill

Over the past few weeks I have had a number of long conversations with my 10-year old daughter and is a joy to see her growing into a special and unique person with her own thoughts and I ideas. I have also become mindful of the fact that my listening and conversation style with her needs to mature and grow as she is doing the same. No longer are the conversations purely about answering “why” questions with her wanting to understand the world. Now she wants to express what she thinks and believes. Instead of simply listening to answer or respond back to her I need to listen to hear and understand what is going on in her mind and in her world.

This experience and awakening has been a good reminder to me of how easy it is to get into a “communication routine” and not really hear what another person is saying. I fully understand how powerful it is to truly hear what another is saying, but knowing and doing aren’t always the same thing. The good news is I now have another great person to practice this skill with.

What “communicate routines” do you need to upgrade?

Listen to learn…

“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.”

Margaret J. Wheatley

Why is such a simple act so hard to do? Heck, simply being present is hard to do sometimes. I find it so fascinating to observe the difference in my mindset when I am listening to learn versus listening to respond. Listening to learn has me leaning forward and seeking information as though I was in the desert desperate for water. Listening to respond has me leaning back just waiting for the opportunity to jump in with what I want to say.

I much prefer the attitude of listening to learn. It is a key area of focus for me and I have found that when one shuts down their “auto response” mechanism the things you can pick up are truly remarkable…

Surrender in order to learn…

“Earn the right to be heard by listening to others. Seek to understand a situation before making judgments about it.”

John Maxwell

When I read this quote I immediately thought of the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” I haven’t read this book in a number of years but it has long been one of my favorites. Habit #5 from the book is “Seek first to understand, then be understood” and it is probably one of my absolute favorites. I know that I use this phrase all the time when communicating with others about the importance of digging deep and trying to understand any situation.

I think the same principle either from that habit or from this quote applies when trying to understand oneself and our behavior. What are the deep questions that you ask yourself in challenging situations or even when you are just trying to grow and learn? How do you slow down to ensure that you are really thinking the right things through?

There is a key thought outlined in the quote above that is so important and bears further rumination. “Seek to understand a situation before making judgments about it.”  I think that is the aspect that so many folks, most certainly including myself, miss out on. We are listening (or at least we tell ourselves we are) but we are listening to find fault, or to prepare our side of the argument. Research shows that most people are simply listening to respond, not understand, and certainly not with judgment. How do you ensure that you have suspended judgment so that you can truly understand?

Maybe it is as simple as this. To understand, to truly understand without making judgments, one must surrender the need the be right. Much easier said than done of course however think through how liberating that could be when really getting deep into a topic or situation. I believe doing that is what enables the first part of this quote to happen. If you do this well, you earn the right to be heard…

Listening is power…

“Leaders who refuse to listen, will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing helpful to say”

Andy Stanley

I once heard someone say that if you want to be a more effective leader you have to be more interested, than interesting.  This was followed with with what I believe is some of the best advice I have ever received.  That as a leader, in order for you to really be effective, that the number of questions you ask must outweigh the number of statements that you make. This has always been incredibly convicting for me and is something that I continually work on improving.  

The dangers of talking more than listening seem obvious, but why do so few people actually practice the true art of listening?  Is it because they like the sound of their own voice?  That they believe what they have to say is the most important thing?  Or perhaps, they just don’t understand that the best way to impact and influence others comes through listening and seeking first to to understand BEFORE being understood.  

If you aren’t really listening, then as Andy says, you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by people who only tell you what you want to hear….  

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