Understand and Be Understood

Habit number five in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen R. Covey is Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. It sounds complicated, but it is actually fairly simple in practice and absolutely necessary to effective communication habits.

How many times have you found yourself in conversation with someone and you are only thinking about what you are going to say when they ever stop talking? Concentrated on your reply and not what they are actually saying.

Often times, we may not even hear what they are saying, especially in highly emotional conversations. The reply in our heads coupled with anger or fear or sadness blocks out every word they say to us. We wait only to pounce with our heated reply or disagreement or accusation.

Many times, we seek only to be understood first. We want people to hear us. We want to make our point. What the other person has to say takes away from our time to be understood, or so we believe.

We can listen selectively, focusing on words that make us more angry, more sad, more afraid and leaving out the context of what someone is saying entirely. We can filter everything someone else is being said through our own frame of reference and experience. Not hearing anything about the other person’s personal story in the words.

We can jump to conclusions about what someone else means by their words before they even finish speaking. In today’s climate this is particularly true when what one person says does not line up with what another person thinks or feels, immediate judgment comes without ever taking the time to actually listen to the other person.

We respond usually in one of four ways when we are not seeking to understand. We judge what is being said and then either agree or disagree. We ask questions but only from our own frame of reference. We give advice or solutions to the problem. We analyze the other person’s motives and behaviors based on our own experiences or beliefs.

When we seek to understand we intentionally listen to the other person, even to the point of making notes if we have to in order to actually hear and see what they are saying. When they are finished speaking, we paraphrase or repeat back what we heard them say such as “I heard you say” or “I hear you saying”. And then asking them if what you say you heard is actually what they said.

Without intentional listening, repeating back, asking for correction if what we repeat back is not what they said, and then responding with I statements, we end up with reactive responses having actually heard nothing from the other person. This results in misunderstanding, blame, and repetitive arguments. Common ground is nowhere to be seen and no one understands anything about the other person.

Deep communication is intentional. It requires effort and the ability to resist being reactionary. But practiced over time this habit can transform relationships.

“If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ~ Dr. Stephen R. Covey

Choose Happy

Mindful Montana Wellness, LLC Professional Counseling Services Blog

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “Most folks are as happy as they make their minds up to be.” When I present happiness as a choice to many people, they will many times look at me as if I have lobsters coming out of my head. As if this is an absolutely false statement and that there is no way people can choose to be happy.

While they are looking at me in disbelief, they are also telling me all the reasons they cannot choose to be happy. They were sexually or physically abused, their parents divorced or their parents abandoned them in some way, their family was or is dysfunctional, they were or are being bullied, their relationships with family and others were or are bad or difficult, they believe they are bad or damaged or ugly or stupid or any number of other negative thoughts and lies they have told themselves, people have done or are doing this and it MAKES them unhappy, or any number of other things as a reason for why they cannot be happy. They go on to say how they just can’t let that go and choose to be happy.

Why not? People choose to be unhappy. They choose to let the past, events, people, their own thoughts make them sad or anxious. We aren’t born sad. We become sad because we let the things that happen to us and around us make us believe negative things about ourselves. We feel responsible and blame ourselves or we feel victimized and blame others or events. Then we become unhappy. We are made unhappy by our own thoughts about people and events.

I am not saying that traumatic events are not sad or upsetting, they are. It is natural to feel these emotions at the time of the events and even for some time after, but when they become the thing that drives every emotion, every choice, every thought after that every day of your life – you are making a choice every day when you wake up that unhappy is how you will feel. No other emotion or thought is given a chance to see the light of day.

How then do you choose happy? You come to the truth of what started you on the path of unhappiness. You process exactly what happened, who was at fault, and how to walk through it not live in it. Sometimes people need help to do this and that is where counseling comes in. Once you have made this journey, you can then begin to let those things go as rulers of your life and mind. And replace them with what is happening right now, this moment and making the choice every single day and yes every single moment to choose happy. Just as the choice was made up to this point to be unhappy over and over millions of times a day, the choice can be made to be happy over and over millions of times a day.

Today, when the negative thoughts and emotions you have return, take a few seconds and counter them with a positive. There are always, always positives if you look for them, notice them, say them, write them down. They can be big or very very small things. Today, for every negative thought, emotion, memory insert something positive. If you have hours a day to spend on negative things, you have hours a day to spend on positive. It is all in what you think, what yous say, what you do, what you let go of, what you replace.

You have the power, not events, not people, not the past, not the future, to make you happy or unhappy. Choose happy.

Until next time,

Mindful Montana Wellness, LLC is accepting new clients in Billings Montana (and video/online clients in all of Montana) – girls and women – for professional counseling. To schedule a FREE initial consultation call 406-413-9904, email mindfulmontanawellness@gmail.com or visit our Facebook page Mindful Montana Wellness on Facebook

Don’t Take Anything Personally

In Michael Ruiz book The Four Agreements, the second agreement is Don’t Take Anything Personally. This may be the agreement that we as humans make with others and with ourselves and one of the most destructive to our lives.

We make agreements with others and with ourselves from the day we are born taking things personally. As a baby, someone in our lives may continually tell us that we are “such a pretty baby”, “such a smart baby”, “such a happy baby” or in some cases “such a slow learner”, “such a slow walker” “cry all the time”. We as humans make agreements with what is being said and if we believe those agreements we embody those things and they become who we are. If we believe we are pretty, smart, and happy because we agreed and took personally what someone else said – this becomes our reality. If we believe we are stupid, slow, and unhappy because we agreed and took personally what someone else said – this becomes our reality.

In the Four Agreements, Ruiz states something over and over – Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. Read that statement again. Now say it out loud. Now make an agreement with yourself that this is the truth. Nothing anyone else says or does is because of you. It is because of their own agreements, emotions, truths. Not yours. It only becomes yours after you agree with them and begin to believe it as truth.

We make agreements with ourselves in the same way. The things that we tell ourselves everyday, over and over, we choose to agree or disagree with, we choose to believe or to not believe. Almost all of these things have their root in something someone else has said or done to us and we have already agreed, so the belief is already started in our minds. We water it with repeating it, with believing it, with becoming it until it grows into a tree in our minds with deep roots that are hard to move.

How can we make changes to agreements we have made for years with others and ourselves? First, we must become aware of the things we have agreed to and confront those that need to change. Second, we must want to change more than we want to stay as we are. Third, we must have patience. Undoing trees with deep roots takes time and work, hard work. And fourth, we must repeat, repeat, repeat to ourselves as many times as it takes the replacement agreement we want to make. Such as, the old agreement – I am stupid and the new agreement – I can learn to do anything or it was my fault with I did the best I could at the time.

Remember,nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. Don’t take anything personally. The second step of freedom on the path of the Four Agreements.

Until next time,


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