I'll let you into a secret. I don't like New Year's Resolutions - I've written about it before, and that's not the secret by the way! The secret is I actually made one this year! It is to improve my skills around empathy.
There was a lot of emphasis on empathy in the counselling course I completed last year, it got me thinking that I have sometimes spent a lot of time contemplating my own naval, rather than looking outwardly and putting myself fully in other peoples' situations. Yoga and other mindfulness practices do encourage this inward gazing quality, which can be great for personal growth, but I feel we can end up too far into the realm of self-study if it means we are forgetting to engage with all the things going on around us.
So I came up with a loosely structured plan. Here is a summary of what I came up with.
1. Using visualisations to completely take myself into someone else's situation. This has been a difficult one, as over the past year most of us have been living in survival mode to some degree and there feels like less space in our brain to be imagining someone else's situation. But I stuck at it and I have got better at putting myself into someone else's shoes. Some situations have arisen where it has been a perfect (but incredibly challenging) opportunity to do this. I've really had to dig deep to try to understand why some people have the views they have and behave in the ways they do. To leave judgement to one side and put my energy into reflecting on why they feel/behave the way they do.
2. Understanding that empathy is the core of human nature. I did some reading around the subject of empathy, from neuroscientists, psychologists, life coaches and other yoga teachers and what I gleaned from them (who are infinitely more wise than me) is that empathy is the core of human nature. I really do believe this - yes lots of things get in the way of this and it can remain hidden but there is evidence and there have been some decent studies out there that prove this is the case. I have reminded myself of this often.
3. Much of the counselling course focused on listening skills. So I have been practicing these - I sometimes have an annoying tendency to interupt people with some insight or something I have learned relating to what they are talking about. But I realise that when I do this - I am not fully present, as I'm thinking about what to say next, instead of fully attending to the person in front of me (or the person at the other end of the phone line) This past year has helped, in that many interactions have been by email and this has been surprisingly useful for me. I am reading and re-reading emails in order to fully understand what people are conveying. Then I can respond with more thought and consideration, but yes, there is still room for improvement here too!
4. Learning about people. I've also been deliberately reading more blogs written by people with very different backgrounds, lives and views to myself, this can be challenging, as often there is an instant reaction to disagree. But stepping back and reflecting on why that person has those views can give us more insight into their lives and what they have experienced. (Of course it is easier to empathise with people who are very much like ourselves)
5. Maintaining curiosity about other peoples' lives is another approach which links into the previous point. I know someone who is naturally like this - always asking questions with a genuine interest and curiosity about other people. This person has been an inspiration for me to look outwardly a little bit more. Being a natural introvert, plus practicing yoga for many years has to some extent exacerbated this inward gazing tendency, but with this plan for increased empathy, I feel this will improve how I operate in the world.
Many of you reading this will naturally be much more empathic than I am, but I do think it is something we can all practise and improve on, with a bit of awareness and a capacity to place ourselves in someone else's situation.
So there is my confession - I made a New Year's resolution - but I do think it is a worthwhile one especially for 2021.
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