This is the third in a series on Happiness – how breaking through barriers and developing soft skills will improve your level of happiness.
To maximise your happiness you might find it helpful to catch up first with the previous posts – Part 1 and Part 2.
The barrier we’re interested in here is Inward Focus, which cuts off our ability to communicate effectively, in personal and professional settings. So we’ll be:
- considering how we dissolve this barrier
- looking at the impact this has on our happiness
- learning a simple happiness-habit
In the previous post we looked at Backward Focus, the barrier that’s caused when we’re ‘boxed in’ by others’ opinions and societal norms, which limits our ability to develop our own perspective and to act on our potential.
The barrier we’re looking at here is almost the opposite, because the barrier of Inward Focus is caused when your attention is caught up in…you!
When Inward Focus is operating:
- we become wrapped up in ourself
- it’s hard to recognise that other perspectives are as valid as ours
- our inner voice drowns out someone else’s story
- we can’t relate to another’s experience – except as it relates to us
This barrier can take extreme forms – for example, a narcissist has no empathy, and operates in a bubble that cuts them off completely from the ability to be sensitive to another’s feelings.
But for most of us, Inward Focus takes less dramatic forms and causes an over-focus on ‘self’ that cuts us off from others.
Some would argue that this barrier is particularly prevalent nowadays, and research suggests this is the case – for example, according to the Personality and Social Psychology Review, college students have been scoring lower and lower on a standardised empathy test, with scores dropping 48% since 1980 on ’empathic concern’ (the tendency to feel and respond to others’ emotions).
“The biggest deficit that we have in our society and in the world right now
is an empathy deficit.
We are in great need of people being able to stand in somebody else’s shoes
and see the world through their eyes”
Perhaps our instinct is to think that giving empathy is more likely to benefit those to whom we show empathy.
That we’re giving something away.
But that’s not the case.
Empathy Is The Antidote To Inward Focus.
There are massively important reasons why empathy is important at a societal level…
“The most important quality we must all strengthen in ourselves
is that of deep human empathy,
for that will provide the most hope of all,
and the foundation for our collective survival.”
But while there is a global need for increased empathy, our concern here is how we can increase our personal happiness. So let’s consider how we can use empathy to dissolve the barrier of Inward Focus, and why that has positive repercussions for us as individuals.
Inward Focus Is Fine…Sometimes
Firstly, to clarify, Inward Focus is not an entirely negative thing. I’m sure you can imagine many situations where you need Inward Focus, such as when you’re studying, creating something, meditating, daydreaming even. At these times, self-absorption is the way to go.
However, Inward Focus, as with all the barriers, becomes a hindrance when it affects us too much and too often, and at times when it’s detrimental to ourselves and others.
“Empathy is really important,
and only when our clever brain and our human heart work together in harmony
can we achieve our full potential.”
Think about your work, and your personal life, and the times when you need Inward Focus, and the times when it will be harmful.
For example, putting my musician’s hat on, I need heaps of Inward Focus when I’m practicing my instrument or composing, and will spend hours in isolation without being aware of the outside world.
Particularly if I’m working on something original, my job is to determine what I want to say, irrespective of others’ opinions, and to critique and edit myself from that Inward Focus standpoint.
Inward Focus Is Not Fine…A Lot
But, as a musician, what happens if I carry that same attitude into a rehearsal situation with a group, when I’m working with my ‘team’?
How well will I be able to communicate with them if I can only see things from my perspective?
How well will I collaborate?
Will I be able to hear their ideas?
Will I be able to learn from what they have to contribute, and from their different take on things?
“Learning is a result of listening,
which in turn leads to even better listening and attentiveness
to the other person.”
Then what happens when I need to find a gig, to promote my work…how effective will I be at networking, if I’m not interested in other people but am still wrapped up in ‘me, me, me’?
In fact, with that attitude, can I ever enjoy the full experience of meeting new people?
And having been offered the gig, will I be able to negotiate the best deal if I don’t have a handle on the other party’s perspective or situation, and so can’t frame a deal to answer their needs and concerns?
“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success
is knowing how to get along with people.”
Want To Be A Bulldozer?
Ok, so if you’re a narcissist, or if you want to bulldoze your way through your life, then maintaining Inward Focus is the way to go!
And for those folk that could be their idea of happiness!
But for most of us, this Inward Focus approach is not going to bring us joy.
Not in our professional lives, nor in our personal relationships.
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word,
a listening ear, an honest compliment,
or the smallest act of caring,
all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
So developing empathy dissolves the barrier of Inward Focus, and allows us to develop skills such as listening, collaborating, communicating, networking, negotiating, teamworking, and more.
It’s a sure-fire way to improve the way we interact with others.
And improving our relationships brings us happiness. In the Harvard Study of Adult Development the most important lesson learnt so far in this 75-year-old research project, is that happiness is not about about wealth, or fame, or working harder and harder. The clearest message is…
”Good relationships keep us happier and healthier, period”
Robert Waldinger, Director of Harvard Study of Adult Development
The study shows that it’s not about whether you’re married or have numerous friends…your happiness over the long term is about the quality of relationships that you have. And while we cannot control everything in our lives, we can ensure that we have quality relationships…by using empathy.
“We must support each other and empathize with each other
because each of us is more alike than we are unalike.”
Happiness Habit: Listening
A simple way to check in on your levels of empathy, and to dissolve the barrier of Inward Focus, is to monitor how you listen to others.
Most of us are not good at listening.
We hear so little of what others say because we’re too busy planning our response..
Or criticising what they’re saying…
Or thinking about something similar that happened to us…
Or itching to butt in!
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand;
they listen with the intent to reply”
So to develop this week’s happiness habit:
- Be really aware of how you listen
- Notice which tactics you use to distract yourself from what someone else is saying
- Try to shush your own internal chatter so you can really hear others speak
- Once you are listening to them, be aware of how much more you hear, and whether you become more aware of not only their words, but also what lies behind their words
- Allow silence to happen if it’s called for, because…
“Silence is a great source of strength”
I hope you enjoy your listening week. You’ll be breaking through the barrier of Inward Focus, developing all those ‘empathic’ soft skills that Inward Focus blocks, improving your relationships as you do so, and building up you happiness level too :)
In the next post we’ll be looking at how to dissolve the barrier of Downward Focus. Be warned! This barrier can take you to some dark and dangerous places…
…but never fear, the antidote is near!
If you’d like to share any of your listening experiences I’d love to hear about them, as always.
And if you’d like some additional reading to help you on your barrier-breaking way, pick up a copy of How To BreakThru the 5 Barriers To Happiness.
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