I don’t know how many times I’ve said this (and it’s kinda ironic that I’m saying it on a blog!), but we do live in a Digital Age that is getting digital-er by the second. Our whole lives can be focused around our electronic devices. And one thing that’s gotten lost in the world of 140-character tweets, email, text talk, and emojis is the art of a good conversation. The beauty of this is that nothing can ever replace a meaningful, face-to-face conversation, but all too often we throw away those opportunities to hone this skill, because having a good talk simply isn’t as important as it used to be.
I hope you enjoy these tips and that they help you to improve your own conversational skills!
Do listen more than you are listened to.
Y’know those people who talk and talk and talk…and talk…andtalkandtalkandtalk? Don’t be like that. The number one sign of a skilled conversationalist is that she is willing to hear what you have to say. Pay attention to the reactions of the person(s) you’re talking to — if you notice that they’re struggling to get a word in edgewise, then that’s a good sign that you’re dominating the conversation, and you need to take a break. Approach the conversation from a humble perspective, that the other person has something important to say. And no matter what s/he has to talk about, listen attentively, and try to show them that you care.
Do be confident
That being said, I also don’t think that you should be afraid to express your opinions. A conversation goes several directions — that’s part of the beauty of it. While you need to ensure that no one is getting left out, you also have to make sure that your opinion is heard, and yet you can’t be pushy, overbearing, or domineering. Finding this balance isn’t easy. Personally, I ere on the side of silence — I’d rather just go unheard then risk embarrassment — but I tend to take this trait to an extreme. My challenge is to actively provide a useful contribution to a conversation; yours might be to tone it down and hear what other people have to say.
Do listen attentively and let them know that you care.
Here we go again with the whole electronics obsession. Do not — I repeat for emphasis — DO NOT pull out your phone when you’re talking to someone unless its an absolute emergency. There’s nothing that can turn the other person off like looking at a screen instead of their face. It’s like telling them that your virtual life is more important then your real one. Make direct eye contact so that they know you’re listening, even if you couldn’t care less about what they have to say. And no matter what they’re saying, react pleasantly. Express your opinion without being aggressive. Don’t dismiss their ideas. If they need a few words of comfort? Give it to them. Do they need advice? Do your very best to help them out. Ask questions, and try to get involved in what they’re saying.
Do try to find something that you can relate to.
This is especially true when you’re trying to talk to someone who you have never met before, say at a party. Don’t stick to the standard conversational cliches — where are you from, etc. Instead, make a list of awesome conversation starters (this is a blog post that I’ll definitely write in the future) and introductions that are unusual, interesting, or will make your listener smile. Don’t start a new relationship on a sentence as worn out and cliche as “so where you from?”
Don’t talk about yourself
Now I realize that if everybody followed this rule, then conversations wouldn’t happen. But in my experience, we naturally want to talk about ourselves. That’s human. There’s nothing wrong with it. But let’s be honest — it can also drive your listeners crazy, because everybody wants to talk about themselves too. Trust me, I’ve been subjected to this several times, and I’m sure I’ve subjected a good many people to it unknowingly. Your role as a good conversationalist is to listen to the other person(s), and to talk about things that they can relate to or are interested in.
Don’t be superficial;
Have you ever gotten stuck in a conversation with a good friend who is obsessed with The Avengers or Harry Potter or Once Upon A Time or ____________ (you fill in the blank)? And the conversation just won’t go anywhere else, even though you really want to tell her about ________? Yep, I’ve been there too. Even if you’re just as obsessed, I think that you should make an effort to create an intelligent, meaningful conversation when you can. Now I’m not saying you should only have deep philosophical discussions on the meaning of life and Immanuel Kant. Your favorite TV shows, music, or movies, or nerdy fangirling, all make for great, fun conversations. Again: balance is key. It’s not necessarily a good thing if your conversations is totally comprised of such topics, because what does that say about the people who are carrying on the conversation?
Don’t shut up like a clam
This is one of the most awkward things that can happen in any conversation. After you’ve exhausted the standard exchange (this problem can be avoided altogether if you use tip #3!), an ominous silence descends. The two of you smile at each other blankly while each thinks “UGGGGHHH. Sooooo AWKWARD.” I’ve been there. So if it gets bad, then don’t stop talking. Do whatever you need to do, but keep the words coming until the conversation picks up again. If you’re in this situation, then it’s ok to talk until the other person has something to say.
One of the most important things that I’ve learned from my study of Western Civ is that our culture has been shaped and defined by the literature it produces. I think that it is vital that every person who wants to be educated about the society that she lives in — and that should be all of us — needs to have an understanding, however basic, of their civilization’s history. And the easiest way to accomplish this is to read as extensively and systematically as you can.
This year, I’m embarking on a mission to read as many book as possible, following the guidelines of The Well Educated Mind. (More on this in a later post.) Whether you join me or no, I hope that at the very least you will take the time and effort to read these 12 books, and become a more literate, intelligent person for it. It certainly isn’t an easy task, especially in today’s world of the internet and instant gratification. But believe me — it is a process and a journey that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
You might have read a few of these books before. Maybe you were assigned them in high school or college English classes, and the memory makes you quake. Perhaps several of the titles sound intimidating, difficult, and overwhelming. I’m right there with you. But let’s to this. Let’s approach it from a different perspective — not that of drudgery, or a boring duty, but from the perspective of an ongoing quest to learn something new. Let’s face the challenge head on…and be all the better because we struggled through it.
1. The Iliad and The Odyssey // Homer
First of all, I know that this is actually two titles. Read at least one, two if you can. These are significant because they epitomized the characteristics of ancient Greek culture that would be passed down to our own time — the glorification of reason, the belief in man’s ability to make his own decisions, etc. Not to mention that they’re incredibly vivid poems that serve as a cultural icon of our time.
2. The Gospels // Various
Whether you’re a Christian or not, there is no denying that Christianity has been the most influential religion to shape the West. It has contributed to some of the greatest wars, movements, and events of our history. The four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are worth reading for that reason alone, if for no other.
3. The Divine Comedy // Dante
Since the beginning of time, there has been a marked struggle between church and state. Dante’s work clearly reflects this conflict, which was especially pronounced in the 13th century when he wrote. Moreover, his poem is considered a literary masterpiece by linguists all around the world.
4. The Prince // Machiavelli
This book is important because it epitomized the Renaissance thought which swept through the West in the 15th century, a “rebirth” of classical tradition and ideals. The Prince continued the tradition of confidence in man’s ability, and introduced for the first time to the world a structure of society and government based on man, with no reference to God or morality.
5. Romeo and Juliet // Shakespeare
It’s unlikely that you haven’t read at least one Shakespeare play in your lifetime. But return to them with a fresh perspective, and you’ll be able to appreciate the beauty and power that the famous playwright created in his work. Shakespeare is one of the most famous English authors of all time, and he deserves your best shot.
6. Don Quixote // Cervantes
This book has been given the powerful title of first novel ever written. It satired the medieval romances of chivalry and knights errant, by telling the story of an old man who loses his mind through such tales.
7. Common Sense // Paine
If you live in America (and even if you don’t), you probably know why this book is so important. It encouraged the American colonists to break away from Britain altogether, and became instantly popular with the public. Reading it in our day and age is an incredible reminder of the ideals on which our liberty is based, and the price at which it was won.
8. Pride & Prejudice // Austen
In my personal opinion, all of Austen’s novels are a pleasure more than a duty to read, simply for their literary excellence. Every single one of her works are brilliantly witty, sparkling with delightful characters, while dosing out moral insight in a way that never becomes stifling. Moreover, they offer pointed social commentary of the English culture during and after the Enlightenment era.
9. Mein Kampf and/or The Communist Manifesto // Hitler & Marx
Despite the fact that socialism is a theory you probably don’t agree with, and that totalitarian regimes don’t seem to be an imminent threat in today’s world, we still need to understand the fundamental tenets of philosophies that brought about the mass destruction of the 20th century. And being educated about these ideas is the first step in fighting them.
10. The Great Gatsby // Fitzgerald
Another incredibly written novel that portrays the euphoria and cultural dynamic of the “Roaring Twenties,” while pointing towards the lack of morality and purpose beneath its glittering surface. Worth reading for the applicability to today’s culture, if for nothing else.
11. 1984 // Orwell
Written right after the destruction and horror of two world wars, this novel is an incredibly chilling, dystopian depiction of what might happen under the influence of an utterly totalitarian government with control of the latest technologies. While emotionally and even psychologically disturbing, it forces upon each of us the responsibility to protect our liberty and rights.
12. Fahrenheit 451 // Bradbury
And finally, the story of a society where books are burned as unlawful, and highly advanced information systems and virtual realities provide all the stimulus and knowledge that humanity requires; where lasting knowledge is forbidden and dangerous, and our focus is only on the present. It serves as a very present warning that technology does not drown out the wisdom and lessons of the ages.
This list was incredibly difficult to compile. There are so many great books that have been written, that choosing the definitive 12 would be an impossible task. This is my own opinion, and for every book I use, a dozen more pop into my head. I hope that this list motivates and encourages you to start reading something, and that it will take you forward into even more literary explorations.
In one of my more popular posts, 10 Things to Do Every Morning for A More Productive Day, I mentioned that you shouldn’t wake yourself up by scrolling through your Instagram (or doing something on your phone). Judging from the response I got, I discovered that A LOT of people struggle with this, and find it a hard habit to break — myself included. And it’s not just during the mornings that I have this problem. It’s an ongoing problem, and one we need to be aware of.
Why should you take time off your phone?
In the morning, your phone (and all the additional media on it) provides way too much stimulation for your brain, especially when it’s just waking up. Your mind just isn’t ready yet.
Constantly staring at a screen distracts you from reality and the important things in it. I’m not saying that the stuff on your device isn’t important — it is. But there’s a big, beautiful world out there, and you deserve to experience it first hand…not on the periphery of a screen. At any time of day, your phone can be a huge distraction from your duties, tasks, and goals for the day, and keeping you from being productive.
And let’s be honest, sometimes we need to take a step back. Our world is one of instant gratification and unlimited information at our fingertips, but it’s important to remember that life is about so much more than that. Taking those five minutes you would have spent on Twitter and enjoying something trivial and small for what it is is so, so worth it. Not to mention that the constant influx of stimulation can really tire your brain out.
The light from an LED screen when used constantly at night can seriously mess up your sleep cycle, not to mention your eyes, and your health in general. Enough said.
Constantly being on your phone can really damage your relationships with other people. A skill that is fast disappearing in our world is the ability to communicate well and maintain a healthy relationship, largely due to our culture’s obsession with our electronics!
1. Set up a morning routine that doesn’t include your phone.
I do devotions first thing in the morning, for 15-30 minutes. You might take a few to meditate, shower, plan out your day, or journal. Do something that will get your mind going, without the instant stimulus of your bright phone screen.
2. Don’t use it as an alarm.
I know, I know, the alarm on your phone is so super convenient. I’m guilty too! But when you reach to turn it off, chances are you’re going to get sucked into it. And if you’re not depending on it for an alarm, you can put in on the other side of the room, so you don’t check it during the night, or reach for it first thing in the morning.
During the day:
1. Turn off notifications
There’s something seriously inviting about that ding indicating that someone liked your photo, or commented on your post. Turning off all such noises, buzzes, and lights can make a huge difference in your ability to focus and stay on task.
2. Make phone time into an incentive
For example: “I will allow myself to check my Instagram feed once I have worked on _____ for this much time and completed _____.” This helps you to not get too distracted because you’re constantly checking your phone, and helps you to focus on getting the task accomplished.
3. Schedule daily blocks of time to unplug
Literally place these sessions into your daily planner, so that you have a visual and mental reminder forcing you to do it. Use these times to focus on the people you’re interacting with (especially your family), the work you need to get done, and/or the world going on around you.
4. Try to keep your phone out of reach
You’ll be that much more tempted to check it if it’s two feet away. Put it somewhere out of sight and far enough away that you can’t grab it without standing up and walking over there.
1. Put the phone on the other side of the room.
And don’t touch it. Do not do it. It won’t be easy, believe me. Don’t do it.
2. Find something else to occupy your mind
Preferably, this would be something that will help your brain wind down, such as reading a book, journaling about your day, or just chatting with the people who matter to you. You could even take up knitting. Just do something that’s not related to your device, and you’re good to go.
3. And if you’re gonna (or gotta)
I’m currently writing this post in bed. And it’s night time. So I totally get it that sometimes you just HAVE (or really, really want) to be on your device before you go to sleep. If that’s the case, I would highly recommend getting apps on your computer/iPhone that will adjust the light on your screen to eliminate the blue light at night, which will make late-night surfing way less dangerous. (I use F.lux on my computer, and it works great.)
In the end, the key to the whole situation is exercising self control. No matter what external measures you take, at some point, you just have to force yourself to do it. There’s no other way around it. You are the only one who can take of yourself, and part of that responsibility is unplugging from your smartphone daily, even though it’s so, so hard. I’m challenging you to make yourself take time off your phone every day for the next 30 days. See how it goes. And once you get into the habit, never stop.
So way back when, I started a series to replace my “Inspiration Wednesday” posts called Links I’m Loving. Yeah…that was a while ago. I haven’t done any since the first one, but I really did enjoy putting the post together, and it got a pretty good response. So I’m doing another one. Hope you enjoy!
17 Delicious Make-Ahead Breakfasts // My Domaine // I love how portable these are. If you’re like me, mornings might be a bit crazy and rushed, and you have the tendency to skip breakfast in the interests of time. Not good. Breakfast is soso important for having a productive, happy day. Making it ahead seems like the perfect solution to the problem.
How to Click Photos with Your iPhone // It’s Pink Pot // Chaitra has offered some free stock photos that are taken with her phone and they are absolutely gorgeous, so this girl knows her stuff. I’ve found that her tips for phoneography have helped me a lot with the images for both this blog and for Instagram.
How to Look Effortlessly Chic // Cotton & Dot // “Effortlessly chic” is a phrase that perfectly describes the look I go for on a daily basis — not overdone or theatric, but still maintaining a touch of elegance. I thought that this post had some great tips and ideas for this style.
30 Places to Promote Your Blog Post // Oh She Blogs // For all my fellow blogging buddies out there…these are all fairly basic ideas, but some of them I still need to get started on. It would be great to go through this, and make a list of all the communities you have yet to join. When I started promoting regularly on many of these platforms, I saw a huge increase in pageviews/comments.
9 Essential Organization Tips // Coming Up Roses // I’m not gonna lie. I’m an organizational freak, so this post was right up my alley. Whether you’re at school or you work at a day job, organization is the key to productivity (along with breakfast, obvies).
Weekend Creativity Reboot // Ingenue X // I don’t know about you, but I often wake up on Saturday morning with a long list of things I want to accomplish and go to bed on Sunday night with maybe three things checked off that list. If you have this problem, you might want to check out the beautiful journal that Lisa has put together to reboot your creative juices over the weekend.
A World Full of Quotes // Samantha Carraro // Featuring Samantha’s beautiful bullet journal (makes me want to start my own!). This post talks about several wonderful quotes that are all inspiring, motivating, and empowering. Have a read!
25 Things Every Woman Should Do Before They’re 25 // Simply Sapough // Even if you’ve already passed 25, these are little things that every girl should do her best to apply. They’ll just make you a nicer, better, more fun person to be around, and who doesn’t want that?
An Insider’s Guide to Blogging // Back to Buckley // This is an absolutely gorgeous infographic, and it’s obvious that Jess put a lot of work into it. It contains lots of useful stats and tips, and you definitely need to be sharing it on social media because it is so beautiful and flawless.
I can hardly believe that the summer is already drawing to a close. I feel like it just started, and yet I’m facing the beginning semester of school. I wonder just exactly that happened. I am looking forward to the routine and order of the school year, yet part of me doesn’t want to let go of those golden summer days quite yet.
With this in mind, I thought that I’d put together a list of things that everyone needs to do before summer ends. I hope you get to do at least one, if not all of them, in the next few weeks. Even if you have a day job, you should still try to check a couple things off this list. Summer is for having fun. This post is all about you — making sure that you get to take some quality time for yourself before settling back in to a routine of hard work.
1. Wake up early and watch the sun rise.
I personally think this is the most fun during the summer because the weather is so perfect. Do it alone or with a loved one, with whom you can sit in companionable silence. It is so special to watch the first rays of light and hear the first chirps of birdsong, and enjoy the breathtaking mix of color in the sky. You’ll come back in feeling refreshed, invigorated, and ready for rest of the day.
2. Get in the pool
It is more than likely that most of you have already done this at least once this summer. But if you haven’t, or even if you have, take the time to do it at least once more. Enjoy the feeling of the sun on your back, the wind in your hair, the droplets of water on your skin. You won’t get to do this again for several more months, so savor it.
3. Go buy yourself an ice cream
Because this is a quintessential summer thing. Even if you’ve eaten more ice cream this summer than you care to admit, get one more. Order all the toppings you want, the works. Eat it in the sun, slowly enough that it melts and trickles down over the edge of the cone. And don’t forget to snap a picture for Instagram.
4. Get started on that idea/dream/hobby
You know the one. You think about it at night. You do internet searches about it. It’s something you’ve wanted to try for a while, and for some reason you just haven’t. Do it. Right now. There’s no time better than the last few weeks of summer to buckle down and start experimenting with your ideas. And if you get started now, you’ll be so glad you did a little later down the road.
5. Check those things of your to-do list that you should have done ages ago.
We all have those tasks rankling in the back of our mind, or maybe written on a sticky note that lost its stickiness a long time ago. The to-do’s that always make you think “I’ll do that later.” Well, now is later. Take five minutes every day to cross those things off your list, and enjoy the feeling of not having them bother anymore. It’ll feel really good, I promise.
6. Binge-watch your favorite TV show (or movie).
This isn’t exactly an activity that I would recommend regularly. But I’m making an exceptions, because I did this this past summer, and had a great time fangirling all on my own. And you deserve the same experience. So indulge for a weekend, without feeling pangs of conscience. And fangirl to your heart’s content. I’m not judging.
7. Read a book
This might sound boring, cliche, or worse. But especially if you don’t read that much, then use a few of your free hours (which are usually more numerous in the summer) to start cultivating the habit. It might seem hard at first, but it is sosososo worth it, and once you have started, there are no limits to where reading will take you.
8. Start a journal.
Please don’t let the days go by before you’ve done your best to capture them; whether it be in photos, memorabilia, or words. And then don’t ever stop. You’ll be able to look back at it in the future and be transported to the present — it’s almost like a time capsule that will last for your children and their children. (Read more here or here)
9. Do whatever makes you happy.
You might have heard this a million times before. But even more so at this time of the year, prioritize those things that you are passionate about. Make a little more time for them than you normally would. But whatever you do, ensure that you’re doing something that just makes you a more joyful person.
Maybe you’ve been putting them off because you feel like you have all the rest of the summer left. Me too. Or perhaps you’ve had a crazy whirlwind of a summer, and you haven’t made any time for some of the simplest pleasures that you need to savor. Me too. You might even have dedicated your summer to other people — and that’s great! I’m just encouraging you to use the last few days of summer to take a few moments to enjoy the little things in life, and gear yourself up for whatever’s next.
It can be hard to find time for this kind of thing in an already busy schedule (even if it is summer), but if you do, then you absolutely will not regret it.
Thanks for reading! What thing on this list are YOU going to do before summer ends? Tell me in the comments…and then commit to it. Do it.