Listening to What Matters: A Young Adult’s Guide to Listening in a World Full of Noise

young woman covering face with hands in a crowd of people

We live in a world full of noise, both audio and video, in our minds and on our screens. How often do you look at your phone and read texts, emails, or scroll through social media before you even get out of bed each morning? Noise. How often are you bombarded with the latest headlines of tragedy in our nation and around the world? Noise. All day long you’re getting notifications from everyone you follow on social media, giving their opinions on the latest hot topic. Noise. To be clear, some of those things are important and worth your time and attention. But how do you filter out what is simply noise and what actually matters? 

Who Are You Listening To?

I would argue that exploring who you are listening to is a good place to start. Begin by identifying who in your life has earned the right to uninterrupted and unconditional listening. Likely the list isn’t too long, but includes your closest family and friends. These are the people whose phone calls you will take in the middle of the night, drop your plans when they say they need to talk right now, and who have demonstrated reciprocal sharing and listening in a meaningful way. 

Next, consider who (or what) sources get the most attention in what you are consuming, whether it be through news, books, podcasts or social media. Are the sources you are consuming relatively unbiased and factual? Are these sources reliable?  Are these sources seeming to always garner an emotional reaction or is their goal more educational, informational or something else that is worthwhile? This isn’t to say that we should only consume sources that align perfectly with our worldviews, but it is a warning to not give as much of our time and attention to sources that are intentionally biased or emotionally inflammatory. Is it time to unfollow someone, stop reading news from a certain outlet or start checking the reliability of the sources you frequent? 

Setting Technology Boundaries

There are certainly many benefits to instant access to technology, news and the people in our lives but it can also be dangerous in excess. So often even after we have turned off our devices, our minds are left reeling with the exorbitant amount of input we consume throughout the day. Even if we are more mindful of what we choose to consume and from who, there is no shortage of notifications and updates waiting for our attention. 

Therefore, it is important to intentionally set boundaries around how you use technology. These boundaries will look slightly different for each person, but having boundaries at all is somewhat countercultural today. 

Here are a few suggestions: 

  • Set a time each day where you will not look at your phone until then. Maybe it’s after you’ve showered or eaten breakfast or taken a walk. Giving your mind time to wake up before being inundated with information makes a huge difference. You can even set screen limits for your apps on your device for extra accountability.
  • Decide to limit how much news you will consume each day. Maybe you have one or two email subscriptions to trusted news outlets and you allow those to be the only news you consume for each day instead of constantly reading every update. 
  • Set limits on how you’ll use technology around others. Create a “no phones at the table” rule, resist scrolling when sitting with friends, and avoid checking emails anytime you have a free minute. Choose to be PRESENT and leave your phone in your pocket when you are with others. 
  • Consider turning off badge notifications so that they only appear when you’ve opened the app instead of anytime a new notification occurs. Consider whether you really need to know exactly when each notification is coming in. 

Show Up For Your People

 Once you have identified who has your undivided attention and have set boundaries around how you’ll use technology, it’s time to show up. In the age of a global pandemic, this may look different than it has in other seasons, but it’s important that we show up for the people that matter whether in person or virtually. 

As often as possible, spend face-to-face time and give that person your full attention. Put your phone down, attempt to quiet your mind and mental to-do list, and choose to be present to actively listen. It’s when we choose to be fully present that we have opportunities to ask the right follow-up question or to dig below the surface of what someone is saying. One of my favorite questions to get people talking is “what are you learning about yourself lately?” Ask the question and then really listen to what they have to say. 

If you’re showing up virtually, choose to be present there too. We’re all guilty of multi-tasking when talking using technology, but how often do we miss the important stuff when our attention is divided? Close your other tabs when on a video call, don’t scroll your feeds as you talk on the phone, and consider how you can offer the best of yourself for the important conversations. Send the check-in text, call just to “say hi”,  and set up video dates with those you can’t see regularly. 

When we prove that we show up for our people, those people feel safe to share knowing that you will be there to listen. Would you like some support setting boundaries around social media? Could you use guidance on how to show up and be more present to the people in your life that really matter? Reach out to us at Milestones Counseling at 443-574-4295. We would love to connect you with a therapist that is the right fit for you!

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