The Uncomfortable Listener (& Former Problem-Solver). ~ Jeff Sanders

Via Jeff Sanders
on Jun 3, 2014
get elephant's newsletter, my name is Jeff and I am a problem solver. If you have a question, concern, issue or dilemma, I have an answer—or will find one.

It is one of the things that supported my success in business. I could find solutions and develop systems to ensure safety, stability and efficiency. I am extremely good at it.

During the evolutionary process of writing a book, I fundamentally changed my perception of problem solving, how I communicate, why I communicate and my primary motive for communication.

I realized that as a problem solver I was looking to affirm, maintain or encourage my own safety, to ensure a continued zone of comfort. Problem solving kept me in my happy place.

I spoke to convince people or things to change into something that I was more comfortable with, to alter or change to something to keep it within my existing value and belief systems.

I talked because I was fearful of the future. If I could assist the people around me to be comfortable and safe THEN I could be comfortable and safe. I was habitually determining my safety based upon my perception and interpretation of my environment and those in it and my projections about what might happen at some point in the future.

When I judged “now” as less than safe, I would try to fix it. To appease my fears, I would make an effort to control, manipulate and seduce circumstances. Those efforts were the solutions I offered, the advice I gave and the options I highlighted.

If my partner, children, friends, associates, or employees were less than my vision of perfect (non-threatening), I would look to “help them” into being safer” so that I would feel safer.

I had convinced myself I was trying to help; that I wanted only what was best for them, that I was being logical or highlighting options. I was problem solving!

I complimented myself for being overtly sympathetic and delightfully empathetic.

But now, I am feeling like I was … just being epically pathetic and disgustingly emetic.

(Emetic: to cause nausea or vomiting)

This realization led me to seek silence, to become a listener. I started with my partner and daughters, as they are the people I talk to (and try to regulate) the most. Years ago, I would spend hours talking to my younger daughter, trying to convince her to think and act in a way that I assured her would be “better” but in reality, it just felt safer for me. It was extremely ineffective.

In my new role as “the listener,” I would listen, affirm what they were saying, track the discomfort associated with my fears, and watch for the urges to direct, redirect, convince or coerce them into thinking, feeling and acting differently (in some way that was acceptable and comfortable for me).

I gradually got better at it.

Initially, it was “@#$%, I did it again” some time after the conversation ended.

Then, it was “@#$%, I’m doing it again” during the conversation.

And finally, “Success! I stopped myself from doing it.”

Now, it is unusual to succumb to the urge. It is easier to listen because I am allowing my safety to be determined internally.

When I realized I was seeking my safety externally, I began to evaluate my actual safety. The overwhelming majority of the time, I am safe regardless of what happens around me. Moreover, if I am safe, I can stop spending energy trying to control something that doesn’t need to be controlled.

If I am not depleting myself, my actual safety increases.

I finally gleaned that my safety was not externally determined.

Glean: To gather by degrees, to accumulate with patient and minute labor; to pick out; to obtain, to make a collection. (Fun fact: a glean of herrings is 25, as decreed by Edward I in the 13th Century.)

The by-product and the biggest benefit I have gained from this practice is my acceptance of those around me, who they are, where they are and how they are. I am able to be more intimate and present because I am not generating future scenarios and the possible solutions to some fictional future.

Recognizing my internal safety as they navigate their lives allows me to love people more fully without trying to make them better. 

But, don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely cured. If they ask for my opinion … or want a problem solved, I am still their guy.

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Photo: Flickr/Richard Baxter


About Jeff Sanders

Jeff Sanders is a Jnana Yogi and the author of “The Discomfort of Happiness, Mastering the Art of Vitality.” The book includes 51 lessons. Each lesson has a paradigm-shifting concept, a physical movement, a mental/emotional exercise to increase subtle awareness, and a list of questions to help clarify existing habits, patterns and beliefs.

Jeff offers phone consultations, energy healing and workshops. The offerings will help to develop subtle awareness and identify paradigms, habitual patterns, ingrained images and unfounded beliefs. Jeff gives personalized tools, exercises and meditations to fast-track growth, reduce resistance and increase vitality. To schedule a consultation or book Jeff for your venue or studio, contact him at [email protected] or on Facebook. Jeff is offering a special to EJ readers, check it out here.

After 27 years running his own business, Jeff Sanders sold everything, and spent the next seven years teaching yoga, completing a four-year healing program and designing a new modality, The Art of Vitality. He is a mountain biker, motorcyclist, trail runner and is avidly curious. He has two incredible daughters and a precocious granddaughter. He lives, works and plays in beautiful Central Oregon with his amazing and loving partner, Kelly, and the wonder dog, Ed.


6 Responses to “The Uncomfortable Listener (& Former Problem-Solver). ~ Jeff Sanders”

  1. Kristin says:

    I love this, and feel like I could have written it myself (only I'm at an earlier stage in the process of letting go of this urge to 'fix'/'help' 🙂 )- thanks very much to Jeff for writing and sharing this- it was exactly what I needed to read today and very helpful for me!

  2. Kimberly says:

    As I type this, I'm sitting here bawling my eyes out. You have opened me up to something I didn't realize about myself. I'm not the problem solver as you describe yourself. But I recognize that I am afraid, of what I don't know, and have a severe need to control everything around me to keep me safe. Maybe your article can be a starting point for me to figure me out. Thanks

  3. JeffSanders says:

    Kristin, You are welcome! I'm not one of those that is thankful for the hard lessons I have learned. Truth be told, I would rather learn the easy way. Fix=Control=Fear was not an easy lesson but I am very grateful it is no longer part of my equation.

    Kimberly, After you realize you control because you are afraid, the next step is to examine your fear of success. Control puts limits on outcomes. When you unlimit your potential outcomes, you increase possibilities. Increased possibilities can quickly take you out of your comfort zone. Please feel free to email me ([email protected]) if you have any questions and thank you.

  4. Donia says:

    You're definitely not cured, considering you made efforts to fix what you assumed to be a problem for your readers by explaining what certain words meant instead of trusting that your readers were intelligent enough to know those words or look them up for themselves. Wishing you the best of luck on your journey to recovery!

  5. JeffSanders says:

    Donia, Not sure what you are trying to convey with your comments. My response to previous comments was an effort to connect, deepen the conversation and put a voice to my appreciation. Writing 500 words and fully exploring an idea is not as easy as it might seem. I always feel like there is more to be said, some subtlety to explore. I am infinitely curious, it has nothing to do with trusting the intelligence of the readers. Thank you for the time you spent to give me your comment. Please feel free to contact me personally if you would like to explore your motivations. [email protected]

  6. Donia says:

    My comment had nothing to do with your response to other commenters, but with your article itself. My motivation is good writing. I know writing, especially briefly and on a tight deadline, is not easy. I've worked as a journalist. It is exactly that type of assumption (the reader doesn't what words mean or how hard writing is) that undermines the credibility of what you are trying to say ( "I've become a good listener who doesn't try to solve problems I assume the reader has by stopping in mid-article to tell them what words mean or later telling them how hard writing is").

    In newspaper writing, I am expected to write on a basic English level to ensure everyone who is reading understands what I am writing, but not to assume the readers will be unable to understand what I am writing. The job is writing to explain, not condescend. Once again, I wish you the greatest success in your journey toward becoming a more mindful listener and shedding assumptions, which are as difficult as writing 500 words while fully exploring an idea. Namaste.