From those that I have spent time with on-on-one, most people don’t really think too much about how they learn. I’m not talking about formal education, but how they learn how to live in relationships. They just subconsciously adopt ways to think and act around others.

Generally, you may think that learning comes naturally. You listen to someone speak either in conversation and you simply absorb what they are saying, right? Maybe so, Maybe no. I find that as I get older, real learning takes more effort. The more I have filled my brain with facts, figures, and experience, the less room I have for new ideas. Plus, now that I have lived more than a few decades I have all sorts of opinions that may discredit the ideas being presented just because I have an opposing opinion. Knowing that, I’m trying to stay open to ideas that are different than what I have carried around for years.

For me to mature, to respond to my environment more often in an appropriate manner, the desire to do so should always outweigh my desire to be right. The world is changing and new ideas pop up every day; incorporating them into my life will keep me engaged with life in a way that is exciting. It’s about being aware of the correct time and place to behave and knowing when to act, according to the circumstances around me. By taking the position of being a student, a clearer comprehension of life’s purpose has developed and all of that contributes to the feeling that life is meaningful.

The following are the methods I use to stay open and think critically; which is really just another way of saying I am teachable. I’ve shown these to others people because they have benefited myself by trying them out; they may just work for you too, no matter how old you may be.

Try to Quiet Your Inner Voice

It’s that little voice that offers up a commentary when you are listening to someone. It’s the voice that brings up your own opinion about the information being provided; so it’s judging instead of observing. And it is all too easy to pay more attention to the inner voice than the person who is speaking. That voice often keeps you from listening openly for good information and can often make you shut down before you have heard the entire premise. Focus less on what your brain has to say and more on the speaker. Seek similarities instead of differences. You may be surprised at what you discern by trying to discover a commonality with another soul.

Challenge Your Thoughts

If you can’t quiet the inner voice, and just observe, use your busy mind to your advantage. Every time you hear yourself contradicting the person speaking, pause. Consider all the reasons why the speaker may be correct and you may be wrong. In the best case you may open yourself to the information being provided. If that doesn’t work, you will have at least strengthen your own viewpoint.

Get Curious

Next time you are listening to someone share some new information, try to ask relevant questions. If you are listening instead of thinking about what you will say, you’ll likely learn more, and the action of thinking up questions will help process the concepts in your brain.

Focus on the Message; Not the Messenger

Often people shut out learning due to the person who’s delivering the information. Whether it’s a boring lecturer, someone physically unappealing, or a member of the opposite political party, the person presenting the message often impacts your learning. Even friends can disrupt the learning process since there may be too much history and familiarity to see them as an authority on a topic. Separate the material from the provider. Pretend you don’t know the person or their beliefs so you can hear the information objectively.

Look, you’re a human, I’m a human. We’re breathing the same air. We all have problems and we’re trying to get through our day doing the best we can. That means learning not just how to get by, but also get along. If that can happen, your life will be better because perhaps one of the best ways to evaluate the quality of a person’s life is by examining the quality of their personal relationships.

The quality of a person’s life can be determined by the quality of their relationships

All to often, what a person considers as “the truth” is only how they have processed the information that they have. When emotions are involved, the “facts” get adjusted to support what we want to believe. What I mean by that is when I feel that I have been done wrong, I will seek out the reasons why and dismiss anything that doesn’t support my position. The process of the personal inventory allows for me to get past this and see not just the evidence that I am attached to, but also the facts that I have an aversion to.

When doing my personal inventory it became more and more obvious that I had problems in my relationships. Like every one of them. Of course the only common denominator was myself. Sure I already knew that I have been stubborn, rebellious, arrogant and outright mean at times but it was really surprising to me that I had gone forty-something years without ever having a moment of extent of this. I don’t think that would have ever happened without doing a personal inventory- which is just an exercise in taking subjective perspectives and reviewing them objectively.

I have a pretty well developed imagination. What I mean by that is not just that I am creative but I am also able to envision scenarios. When those of the opposite sex are involved, I would call it being romantic. Picturing how good we will be together. How we will not have any problems and life will be oh so wonderful. Then when we do share life and its not as I expect it to be, resentments begin to happen. This anger is directed towards them and myself. My imagination once again is attached to ideas that something or someone should be different than it really is. My subjective viewpoint is the core reason why I believe things that are not completely real. My estimations and expectations of what is right and wrong in all of my relationships are skewed because of only recognizing things my way. And I didn’t really know what was happening so I could not change it. That is not until I did my Fourth Step.

Now that I have done the personal inventory repeatedly, and led many other’s through it too, I have concluded that the only reason many people don’t open their hearts and minds to other people is that these people trigger confusion in us. It’s because we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to fully deal with all that is involved. So a lot of us repress and rationalize what’s going on. Over and over again. That’s why living life on life’s term is so difficult. We don’t like what life is giving us, we try to control the relationship, that backfires, we get upset, then we adjust reality by getting high.

Staying sober requires an honesty that surpasses what has been done before. Chronic justification led me to an incomprehensible hopelessness because I could not be honest with myself and therefore others as well.


Relationships are the most important factor in having a meaningful and satisfying life. My life was not any of that, so I had to learn how to see myself and the world differently if the quality of life was to improve. And by doing the fourth Step, this exercise in rigorous honesty, I was able to begin to having hope for a better future. But know that being rigorously honest does not mean just focusing on all the wrongs we each have done. Remember, this is about being objective. There are always assets in every person’s character. They just seem to get overshadowed by the liabilities. For me, that was me practicing self-pity; which is me imaging that I deserve something different than what is really happening.

To the degree that we each look clearly and compassionately at ourselves do we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. When that does happen a better life is unfolding. Doing a personal inventory is the first step in doing that. The fourth Step is the beginning of better relationships. And the quality of a person’s life can always be determined by the quality of their relationships.

I didn’t use to allow myself to feel other people’s love for me – not family, not friends, no one. I lived in extreme fear of intimacy and vulnerability and I self-medicated to the extreme when I couldn’t tolerate my feelings. Any therapist, teacher, mentor, healer who I’ve worked with reading this post knows this to be true of me. It’s been a long road for me to build the resources within myself to feel safe enough to let love in and to trust that life is happening for me and not to me and to stay present with my feelings. Today, I’m grateful.