How I’m Learning to Listen to Myself

I was a half click away from learning “The 4 Exercises Everyone Over 40 Should Avoid” when I caught myself. Wait, who is this guy, anyways?

A young, fit stranger stared at me, eager for my thumb to set him into video motion. His open hands reached toward me, as if they held the very thing I needed to know. I had never heard his name before. Why do I think he has the answers? What am I doing?

I have a Doctorate in Physical Therapy. Still, I was about to devote five minutes of my life to a Facebook sponsored video of an “expert” outlining workout taboos for the middle years.

But it’s not what I was doing that is most important here. It’s why.

In those Facebook nanoseconds, I thought he had the answers.

My moment of truth is marked by the image of my right thumb held in midair. I could continue dropping my thumb, finding the answers to questions I never asked but suddenly needed to know, suspending who I am and what I already know for the rush that comes with the tiniest morsel of new information.

Or I could leave it hovering—connected to the rest of my body and practice believing that what is already inside of me is valuable.

I never learned the 4 Exercises I Should Avoid. Skipping that video was relatively easy, given my educational background.

What was harder was facing the reality that, in recent years, my desire for new content, to know things, had mutated into a need.

Ten weeks into 2018, fourteen books lined my “Completed” shelf, nearly all of them nonfiction. I rarely found myself behind the wheel without the company of a podcast.

From the latest meditation book to the newest Enneagram podcast, my self-improvement content consumption was at an all-time high. Yet I didn’t feel like a better person. In fact, something about taking in this much information just didn’t feel right.

My reading and listening habits looked and felt good, but the truth is they reflected a deep-seated, unhealthy belief: I am not enough. And they are. The answers are outside of me.

I needed everyone else’s ideas and insights and approaches and systems to be enough. I had nothing to contribute. I trusted “experts” more than myself.

Perhaps even more unsettling, I tuned into a small, steady voice from within that whispered this: “Stop with the experts.”

At that time, my definition of “expert” was loose—anyone with something to say and a platform on which to say it. I knew what the voice rising up inside of me was asking me to do: take a break from nonfiction books, podcasts, and clicking to learn.

My mind needed clearing, and so did my bookshelves.

As I roamed the house to collect nonfiction titles to return to the library, I explained what I was doing to a friend. I told her about the new meditation book by Dan Harris that I was dying to read, and how hard it was to add to the return pile.

I felt grief for all the unopened books whose pages held the potential to change my life. With compassion, she gently reminded me, “They’ll still be there later.”

Keeping up with the latest titles, blog posts and podcast episodes can feel like keeping up with fashion or Apple gadgets: later will be too late.

But in this content-free season of challenging myself to live as if I believe in there is a Spirit within me that has some important things to say, learning to trust the voice that arises from within me more than the words of strangers, and practicing the belief that I already am enough, later matters.

Content can wait. Valuing myself can’t.

As I write this, I am in an adjustment period.

Over the past two weeks, I have added only one novel to my “Completed” shelf. I am podcast-free. New discoveries include the meditative feeling of driving in silence and the joy of listening to jazz.

I keep my Bullet Journal near these days, to keep track of ideas that pop into my head now that I am listening to me.

At the same time, I miss my books and podcasts. Learning from everyone else was easier. Trying out the ideas of others felt safer.

Nearly every day, I hear of a new book I want to read and am tempted to put it on hold at the library. But I don’t. Instead, I put it on my “For Later” shelf.

Because now is for listening to me.


Holly Pennington is a middle-aged mom learning to listen to - and trust - the whisper of her soul in this noisy world. She lives in Seattle and writes at hollypennington.com.

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30 Comments

  1. Terri L Gartman

    Thank you for the insightful thoughts on slowing down and not trying to absorb everything that is thrown at us these days. It can and is overwhelming at times. I appreciate the nudge to not try to keep up with the latest and greatest.

    • Holly Pennington

      Hi Terri,
      Thank you for reading and sharing. I am glad to know there are others out there who struggle with this too!

  2. Jess

    I feel like I could have written this post. My 2018 was like this too. It is so good to hear that other people are learning the same lessons, isn’t it? Thanks for your artful words.

    • Holly Pennington

      Oh wow! Yes, knowing my story resonates with others is so reassuring! Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  3. Barb johns

    Honestly, I think I’ve needed an intervention at times when it comes to my thirst and quest for more information. I know what you are saying here is right. I’m taking it to heart. I want to honor myself by giving room and time and listening to the wisdom that has lasted accumulated inside of me. Thank you.

    • Holly Pennington

      Hi Barb,
      I definitely needed the support and accountability of friends to make the changes I did. Reading and learning a lot just seemed so…good. But it’s so easy to forget that too much of a good thing is not good! Yes, please do honor yourself! Your heart has so much to tell you and you have incredible, unique insights to share with the world too.

  4. Lauren

    Thank you so much for sharing this! Totally describes my year and such a good reminder to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance instead of listening to all of the outside world. We have all that we need inside of us.

    • Holly Pennington

      Hi Lauren,
      Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts. We really do have all we need inside of us – a truth that is so easy to forget when experts surround us! So good to know you are a fellow traveler on this Spirit-filled journey.

  5. Debby

    I’ve been feeling much the same and was reconciling it to age as I’ve got quite a few years on you. Then I read an article in the New York Times that gave it a name: JOMO – the Joy of Missing Out. I’m enjoying this season and your reminder to listen to what’s inside. Well said, thank you.

    • Holly Pennington

      Hi Debby,
      I LOVE that: JOMO. I will hold that near and dear! Thank you for sharing. There certainly is joy in the missing out. More than I ever could have imagined.

  6. Megan K

    Thank you. This is just what I needed to hear. It’s a weird type of FOMO…that feels more “dignified,” but its still unfulfilling and keeps that annoying hum in the background.

    • Holly Pennington

      Hi Megan,
      I relate to your word, “dignified.” It is so hard to stop taking in even though you never feel full! Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  7. Kate Laymon

    I can so relate with this. I’m inspired by your putting down of all the things. I have cut, but have not gone cold turkey. I too struggle with believing my own inner wisdom and the voice of Jesus that is accessible to me if I would simply stop to listen. Thank you for inspiring me!

    • Holly Pennington

      Hi Kate (and fellow Hope Writer and Seattleite 🙂 🙂 :),
      So great to hear from you! Thank you for being the inspiration YOU are. I pray your listening journey evolves just as it is meant to, however that looks and whenever that is!

  8. Rachel Nordgren

    Mmm, this is a good word, and such a good reminder that we can sometimes be our own best teachers. Thank you for sharing where YOU are and what’s working for you! Personally, I’ve been diving into the Enneagram lately after a couple years of putting it off, because it’s now the right season to do that work.

    • Holly Pennington

      Hi Rachel,
      I LOVE the Enneagram! I hope you enjoy your season of looking within through that lens. I believe I am a 5 (and my information overload problem would fit that one!) but I am still learning – what about you?

  9. Ginger

    Thank you! This is me! I have been feeling the anxiety of overloading on self-help, especially in my area of nutrition. A period of dead stop is exactly what I need. And reading fiction.

    • Holly Pennington

      Hi Ginger,
      It is so good to know my story resonates with others. I wish you cozy fiction reading this fall that fills your soul! It will be so worth it!

  10. Michelle

    Yes! Love this! This entire year for me (well, really, from September 2017) has been about listening to myself. I’ve had to go on a full news cleanse (honestly, something that turned out to be much harder than anticipated) because I was devouring so much information that I broke down one day. Yes, I actually broke down from negative and information overload.
    It feels so good to cancel out all the noise, or at least most of it, and focus on your own thoughts.

    • Holly Pennington

      Hi Michelle,
      So good to know someone else relates to how hard this is!! I relate to your breakdown – you are not alone! Your heart has so much to say to you! I am glad you are on the journey with me.

  11. Elizabeth

    Wow! This could be me… Gut check.

    • Holly Pennnington

      Hi Elizabeth,
      I am glad I am not alone! Thank you for reading this and letting me know.

  12. Aimee

    Thank you for sharing this! I so needed to hear this today.

    • Holly Pennington

      Hi Aimee,
      Thank you for reading! It is so good to know that you relate!

  13. Kris

    I can so relate to this. I was recently recognizing that nearly every book I’ve read in the past 2 years has been non-fiction and mostly self-help in some form. (I read a lot of children’s books including middle grade and ya fiction, but I don’t really count that). I’m not sure I’m ready to completely forgo the nonfiction, but I’ve started a novel and plan to read more of them. And write more. Especially write more.

    • Holly Pennington

      Hi Kris,
      Write more! The world needs YOUR words too! I commend you for your journey – it won’t be easy but it will be so worth it. And enjoy the fiction – what a perfect season for wrapping up in a blanket with a book that touches your heart 🙂

  14. Sally Deslandes

    Thank you so much for writing this insightful piece. You have provided me with a true “light bulb moment” that has brought clarity to my endless searching and need for reading about what I value. Whilst it was useful to begin with, I now realise that I understand and have read enough; it is time to be my own teacher and to live and practice what I have learned and value. Thank you for your wisdom and honesty.

  15. Amanda W

    Yes, yes, yes! I’ve been thinking the same things lately. I listen Nichole Nordeman’s song “Listen to Your Life” on repeat when I need a reminder. Thank you for sharing!

  16. Jana

    Holly, this felt as if you were reading my mind. When I saw in the comments that you are an Enneagram 5, I thought, “AHA!!” Your words, “I believe I am 5. . . but am still learning” also resonate with me; that is exactly my story. In my quiet times of being without books or podcasts, it has occurred to me that Fives may never have enough information to satisfy their need to know if we truly are Fives!

  17. Nadean Snow

    I needed this so much! Just last week I realized that I was spending more time listening to and reading self-help books and podcasts and thinking about them than I was implementing them, let alone just living my life. This has been a really reassuring read for me. Thank you!

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