Do you ever know how someone really feels? It’s hard to tell, as we live in a time of so much noise and distraction. People are tuning in less to each other and paying more attention to the technology, social media, advertising messages, the news, and other external disturbances around them.
Being able to recognize someone’s feelings means you’re tuned into their verbal and non-verbal cues. This is your window of opportunity to understand what’s really going on in someone’s life. When you ask the people around you, including your family members, the question, “How are you?” You may hear a two-word response. “I’m fine.” However, verbal cues and body language may say something different.
You wouldn’t know there was any kind of discomfort unless you’re fully present, aware, and reading these signals. I used to think I was tuned in. However, after the unexpected passing of my stepdaughter, Noelle, I realized that I had a lot of work to do in this area. Then, after launching a two-year passion project to understand how millennials were thinking and feeling, I also realized I wasn’t alone.
It’s Your Choice to Be Present
Today, tuning in and being present with my family is my #1 priority. As much as I love my career, being 100% present with our “kids”, who, by the way, are adult millennials, takes center stage. I’m still on a journey to fully understand what being present means and how it can make a difference in my interactions and relationships.
In my experience, there are three ways to get present quickly. It all comes down to the choices you make. Whatever you select as your daily priority gets attention. Once you make the choice to be present, here are some practices to help you move into a more aware state of being.
#1. Cut back on technology. As much as I love technology, and I use it as a part of my career as a communications strategist, I still limit technology in-take. This means some strict guidelines:
- I don’t check email 10-times a day. There are certain times I check-in to make sure my clients are doing well and there are no “issues” popping up that involve my training or consulting services.
- I’ve turned off notifications on my smartphone and my computer. Hearing those pings and bings, are distracting. They act as a dopamine hit — enticing me to go online.
- I’m keeping my smartphone in the other room when I’m with family members, so that I’m not looking at anything, as they’re speaking with me. The other day, I went shopping with my daughter and I left my smartphone at home for hours!
#2. Limit social media time. I use social media for business, and I’ve almost completely cut back on social media personally. When Noelle was alive, I remember spending time visiting with her in Spain. There were so many beautiful plazas, statues, and the architecture there was beautiful. There was a picture waiting to be taken around every corner. However, as I was framing the perfect shot, selecting filters, and figuring out photo descriptions, I was missing the in-person moments. I would give anything to get those moments back. But that’s not how it works.
Social media is designed to make you engage more; to be curious about what friends are doing and saying, and to check who’s liking and praising you. Suddenly your minutes and then hours and soon days are filled with seeing what everyone else is doing. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) becomes real. Guess what? When you feed into FOMO you begin to miss out on real-life moments with the people who matter the most.
Of course, during a global pandemic, social media was and still is a way to stay connected. We couldn’t congregate together indoors and meeting at restaurants, bars, sporting events or just about any activity was curtailed. Eliminating social media may not be an option. However, making it a point to be fully present when people are with you, and finding time for social media when family isn’t around, is a better balance.
#3. Practice being mindful. Being “mindful” and “mindfulness” have become big buzz words. However, let’s not underestimate the importance. When you’re mindful, you’re present and you’re also aware of what’s around you. As a result, you’re able to recognize someone else’s feelings. I’ve been meditating for about two years now. I can tell when someone close to me says one thing, yet their body, and pitch and tone of voice, say something else.
For example, I notice body language from eye contact or lack thereof, nervous hand motions or feet that shake. Lip pursing or biting your lip says a lot too. Mouth or nose touching when speaking signals discomfort. You may not be able to solve what’s going on with your family member immediately. However, you can recognize when your mother, father, brother, sister, grandparent, or child is having a bit of a difficult time. Then, you can adjust your tone, pitch, and body language to send a signal of comfort to them.
Exploring Feelings in Your Home
Feelings are meant to be shared although they’re not always conveyed. Setting up an environment in the home where parents and children can explore feelings is very important. With everything that’s going on in this world, parents may be tense, and the feelings trickle down to children. Helping children to feel comfortable and to share all their feelings brings you closer together. If parents can tune out the noise and tune into their kids, then you can capture those precious moments.
Learning to Be Present Starts Today
My family has learned in a very difficult manner what happens when distractions are numerous, and you miss the special moments. They’re long gone, and you don’t get them back. We can’t recreate. However, we can focus on today, and sharing the importance of being present. My husband, Mark, and I are on a mission to bring families together and to explore feelings and values. No matter what goes on in this world, it’s time to tune in, actively listen, hear our loved ones, and share with them, which becomes a choice and a priority.
As a part of our journey, we’ve written two children’s books, “A Whisper From Noelle” and “Grandpa Don’t Worry” to focus on feelings and values, and to honor Noelle’s memory. From the happy feelings to love, kindness, caring, worry, fear and confusion, our books are a reminder for families to tune in and to cherish the moments.
We’re proud to be partnered with The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), which has set up the Noelle Skrobola Outstanding Research Scholar Award. All the proceeds of our books go to this fund. Noelle is not with us physically today. However, she was always reminding us to slow down, enjoy the moment and to be present. We’ve made great strides and, in her legacy, will continue to help other parents do the same.
Author: Deirdre Breakenridge Skrobola