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Listen now. When people talk listen completely. Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say. Most people never listen. Nor do they observe. You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that. If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling.

Ernest Hemingway

A growing sense of foreboding permeated every waking hour. For weeks, he’d watched as the situation worsened. Unsure. Fearful. He prayed. He cried. He struggled. Again and again, he rallied to bolster his attitude only to hit the wall of doubt hiding just beyond hopefulness. “Today will be better,” he’d whisper to himself as he rolled out of bed, silently wishing that the declaration might convince the universe to give him a break. The days passed but the cloud remained, deepening its dark, invisible hold on his most optimistic inclinations.

Time passed but his dark feelings remained. His self-doubt hardened into habit. The fear turned into resentment and from there, it was a short walk to blame: others, the economy, his health, his age, his family, his community. Finally he reached the point at which he blamed everything except his behavior. Sure, he blamed his failings as a person, but not his choices. Responsibility for his situation finally rested on everything outside of his control.

Unfortunately, the story above is not unusual. It reflects the slippery slope we all walk as we navigate the trials of life. Circumstances change but the broader narrative remains maddeningly consistent: the setback, the struggle, the emotional rollercoaster moving us through highs and lows, the resolution (in one way or another), the repeat. We live always looking forward, always hoping it will get better, and always frustrated when the next challenge comes along.

Curiously, we all feel that our situation is unique; that our truth is somehow different from what anyone else experiences. We live in a time of relative truth so it is easy to believe the narrative we develop as we struggle. No one else can understand my truth because it is unique to me. Here, we find isolation. Here, we find justification. Here, we lose hope.

What is truth? Google says “Accurate or exact. In accordance with fact or reality.” Is my reality different from your reality? Only to the extent to which we see it differently. As you embrace your truth, how I see your reality doesn’t matter. However, your inability to discern the truth of your reality often lies at the heart of the problem.

We cannot be trusted. Our assessment of our own realities is notoriously inaccurate. Why? Because we are biased. We rationalize. We justify. We react. We feel. How often during the day do you begin a sentence with “I feel…”? As you say it, you are beginning a reaction. I feel hopeless. I feel sad. I feel hungry. I feel frustrated. Your next thought or action comes from that feeling. Often we confuse our feelings with instincts – our gut – as we make decisions. That is a dangerous place to choose direction.

If we cannot trust ourselves, where do we find the truth? Not OUR truth, but THE truth. Ernest Hemingway’s approach to writing offers a suggestion: watch and listen. Hemingway challenges us to observe. Step back from the voices raging in our head and externalize our senses. What is happening around us? What are others doing or saying? What do we see or hear when we get beyond ourself? How might my situation look from another’s point of view?

The insular fears we harbor conspire to cut us off from the truth, whispering doubtful, deceitful words directly into our subconscience. When we externalize, we tap into a more objective source. Looking outside of ourself opens up a new channel and enables us to move beyond the feeling aspect of our situation and inch closer to reality, to truth. Here, we can re-engage our rational engine to objectively sort out the reality of our situation.

What would you say about your situation if you were standing in shoes outside of your own?

What does it look like on the outside? Who do they say you are? What is redeeming in your person? What gifts do you have? You are not objective with yourself or your situation. You will almost always overstate the dire nature of your circumstance while understating the gifts you have to overcome it. What would you tell yourself looking from the outside in? What would your future self say to you looking back on this moment?

An honest answer to the question above is great progress but only the first step to moving forward. Next, we need to focus. But, on what should we focus? The way forward of course! With an honest assessment, the truth, in hand, our problem solving brain kicks-in. There are always options. Focus on assessing them and choosing those which help you move forward. Allow your best self to emerge and slay the dragon.

If it is a business problem, what are the three things you should be doing today to improve the situation? Do them. If it is a family problem, what is your first priority? Do it. If it is a health problem, look for the first step, even if it seems tiny, and take it. Truth brings clarity, focus brings hope, and action builds momentum.

Before we can move forward, we have to find the truth of our situation and engage it with our complete focus. To be true to ourself, and to those around us, we must face reality and turn all of our powers toward it. Otherwise, we will never move through or beyond it.

To be fully alive is to see with clarity the mountains standing in your way and face them with compete honesty. Only then will you find the creative energies necessary to overcome their impossibilities.

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings.

David Whyte, Everything Is Waiting For You

Hemingway’s approach to writing shows us a path to truth and focus. At the heart of his counsel to observe and listen lies the message to put yourself in the position of another to see what they are seeing. To feel what they are feeling. To understand what they may understand, if possible, without judgment.

Turned in your direction, their view and understanding of your truth may reveal something you can’t see. With truth, and its clarity, in sight, you can bring your focus to bear on your most intractable problems. Here, you can effectively engage the fighting virtue of hope to confront your darkest demons and set the pattern for managing the fear and doubt when it returns.