Listen for the Signal

Listen for the Signal

Moss Jackson, PhD
Clinical Psychologist and Success Coach

Welcome back to the Navigating For Success blog series. The purpose of these posts is to provide you with a powerful toolkit to use in Creating a life you deserve, one of long life, success, accomplishment and happiness. This is the art of Life Navigation and my mission is to be a resource and guide for you in designing and navigating a life you can be proud of.

Today I want to share some insights into listening for the SIGNAL and avoiding paying attention to the surrounding noise. Let me start with a short story. Many years ago I had the opportunity to work with an Indian guide, learning survival skills in the forest. As we began our first foray into the NJ Pine Barrens, walking along a dirt path layered over with pine needles, I breathed in the delicious aroma of the surrounding trees. My guide stopped and asked me what I was hearing. I think I said, “some birds and the wind through the branches.” He smiled and followed up with “yes, but what birds, where are they located and what is their message?” I looked at him and mumbled something not very intelligent. He smiled and told me the answers to these questions, along with considerable insights about the woods, bird songs, danger alerts, changes in weather and other reflections on listening for the signals that could keep you safe and alive and ignoring the extraneous noise and chatter that are always there but serve little purpose for your own good.

Life, much like sounds in the forest, is filled with noise. Perhaps we can use the wisdom of the Indian guide and learn to listen for the relevant signals while reducing our attention to irrelevant noises. I had a recent client, for example, who expressed considerable upset over her daughter’s brusque manner and cool demeanor. Her daughter would breeze into the house after school, rarely say hello or stop to talk, grab a snack and disappear into her bedroom to do her homework.

Her mom reacted to this pattern by taking it personally, feeling hurt and rejected and eventually lashing out with accusations toward her daughter; she accused her daughter of being selfish, nasty, and inconsiderate, and followed the accusations up with withdrawal of her privileges. This, in turn, provoked her daughter to yell back and call her mother crazy. Power struggles resulted in both parties feeling disconnected, hurt and resentful.

The “noise” in this situation was the mom’s reading too much into the daughter s isolation, taking it personally and lashing out with blame and punishment. The daughter was not emotionally mature or skillful enough to handle the uproar and her only defense was to attack back. They both overreacted with little attempt to clarify, understand and negotiate a better way to take care of their needs.

The SIGNAL here was simply the daughter not being very socially engaged and her quick dash to her room. When they both came in for a joint session, the daughter was able to explain her behavior. Her schedule was bursting with club and sport activities and she had little time for homework and studying. The only time available to her was the couple of hours immediately after school. She said she did not mean to be disrespectful and she was worried about her grades and upsetting her parents if she did not perform well.

In situations like this there is much room for misinterpretation when you react to the noise without attempting to understand the intended signal. The key navigational skill here is to recognize the daughter’s behavior, give her some space and later seek out connection without blame or attacks. Perhaps, by expressing interest, smiling and being curious about the isolating behavior, mom might be in a better position to understand the correct SIGNAL and acknowledge the pressure the daughter was experiencing. She might even ask if the daughter wanted some more alone time and act accordingly.

In the forest, danger, accidents and death can result from not knowing how to read the SIGNALS that are important. In our family and social lives, we create danger and distress by misreading what is going on, jumping to conclusions and taking things too personally. So walk your path with discernment. Like my Guide would suggest, “Walk like a deer and listen like a fox!”

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