Can Hearing Less Ever Help You Understand More?

I have always been a conscientious student, so at my recent yoga teacher training, I worked hard to hear every word the teachers said. I arrived early to position myself in a good seat that had clear sight lines for lipreading but also avoided the loud ceiling fan that the mid-day heat often forced us to run. I concentrated, I listened actively, and I took notes to solidify the concepts into my notebook for later review. It was effective, but also exhausting.

When I mentioned how tired I was at dinner one night, my instructor offered a strange suggestion. “I think you should try to hear less,” he told me. “The most important information will be repeated multiple times. Focus on that, not on getting every detail. Hearing everything will only wear you down.”

Living With Hearing Loss | A Hearing Loss Blog

At first I was astonished by his comment, and a little insulted. Did he not think I could do what everyone else could do? Was he saying that because of my hearing loss I should lower the high expectations I had for myself to learn the material? That I should not expect to absorb the information as well as the students with typical hearing? That I was not capable of taking the class on my own terms?

Feeling like I had something to prove, the next day I redoubled my efforts to catch every detail in class, but by nightfall I was once again weary and depleted. The same thing happened the next day, and the next.

I thought about an unrelated comment he had made at another dinnertime conversation. “In international teacher trainings the ESL (english as a second language) students typically do the best. Rather than trying to understand and learn everything — they only have the bandwidth to absorb the most important things — the themes that were repeated most often.” he said.

Maybe I should take a lesson from them. Perhaps in some situations, hearing less allows you to understand more, and with a lot less effort.

The next day I tried it his way. I forgave myself when I didn’t hear every single word and realized that the main ideas were always discussed several times. I relaxed and while it was still hard work, I had more energy left at the end of the day to follow-up on anything I had missed or wanted to clarify. And I was still able to complete my homework assignments with good results.

Adding ease to the process made it more fun, less stressful, and still got me to the same general place — but with a lighter physical toll.

I wondered if I could apply this tactic to the communication challenges I face daily as a person with hearing loss. Could a more Zen attitude save me from hearing loss exhaustion but still allow me to communicate effectively?

The answer is: It depends. At a doctor’s appointment or other critical meeting where hearing every detail is absolutely critical, this strategy is counterproductive, but at a social gathering, it might work. A more relaxed expectation for hearing everything could help me go with the flow a bit better, keep my communication frustration in tighter check and allow me to enjoy myself more. It is certainly worth a try.

Readers, how comfortable are you letting yourself hear less in certain situations?

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10 thoughts on “Can Hearing Less Ever Help You Understand More?

  1. Often, the only way to get “Zen” is to let go… let go of thoughts, words, lists, demands…whatever.

    A stream moves through space, not because anyone pushes it.

    Gravity and air flow have an effect.

    When one lets go of what feels like external pressure, then, breathing and movement become effortless.

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  2. When I went back to school at age 61, I found that my young classmates were taking verbatim notes on their computers. I am unable to do that, and took only occasional handwritten notes. Instead I focused on understanding the content being discussed. There is research to suggest that handwritten notes, like those I took, are more effective in learning material, because it is actually being processed in meaningful ways. Trying to get every word may be an obstacle to understanding.

    Jon

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  3. I find myself doing this in family gatherings when everyone is talking at once. It’s impossible to hear everything, and asking people to repeat over and over and over is annoying. My strategy is to hear what I can, and enjoy watching the action. Then ask questions after the fact. With family, which is a bit different than with strangers or even acquaintances, it’s likely the important pieces of conversation will come up again. If you can handle the oft repeated “I thought you were part of the discussion comment” without getting angry, you usually pick up the important pieces second hand. I suspect that those of us who are grandparent age, who started losing hearing when we were decades younger, handle this a bit differently than those who become hard of hearing as retirees. No question about it…listening fatigue is very real.

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