life’s most important skill

We are weakest at the most important part of life: honestly listening to our own hearts.

“Knowing what is right is like deep water in the heart; a wise person draws from the well within.” (Proverbs 20:5, The Message Bible)

In the mostly dark house, I stop and listen to the morning. The furnace has kicked on quietly, and the wood floor creaks a bit as it heats. There is coffee percolating. Even my feet make gently noises as they move on the carpet under the kitchen table. Interesting, I think. I can feel the clicks on these computer keys, but barely hear them. Listening.

I have taught graduate-level “active listening” for almost thirty years. I think that most of us are, at best, marginal listeners. We aren’t great at listening to the world, to others, or to God. But we are weakest at the most important part of listening: listening to ourselves. Listening to yourself, or self-awareness, is life’s most important skill.

“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”                                                           – Psychologist Carl Jung

Self-awareness is looking inside. It is, at the core, our ability to accurately perceive our own internal states, values, and emotions and then effectively manage or follow them. It is our ability listen to our inner world, and to discern our own emotions, preferences, resources and thoughts. It is about noticing and monitoring our own hearts.

There are signs when we aren’t listening to ourselves. For example:

  • On the outside we are doing fine in life — but we are not really happy.
  • We’re churning or discouraged today — and we don’t know why.
  • We’re feel stuck in our job or relationship — but we can’t be sure another one will be better.
  • We lack the energy to do good, important things — but don’t know where to start changing.
  • We keep making the same poor choices — and we’re not learning from the hard lessons.
  • We’re coasting in life — and we’re not even sure who we are or what we believe anymore.
  • Our closest family and friends seem distant — and honestly, we don’t really care.
  • We are confused when we try to sort the thoughts in our own head — are these ideas mine or simply echoes from others or my inner-critic?
  • We are generally discontent with our lives — and have been for too long.

When we are unsure of our own heart, we flounder half-numb. We drift with the waters around us, an iceberg at the whim of ever-changing currents. Our family, our friends, our TVs, and our historic wounds set our direction. To awaken, we must look honestly inside our own heart. We must listen to ourselves. It is then that we discover what we really are, who we really are, and what we truly believe. We awaken. Our vision for living can begin to become clear. Until we really listen to ourselves, our honest core, our real self, remains significantly hidden.

Admitting the truth is the first step to change. Pause for a minute today to ask yourself,

How well am I listening to my own heart?

How well am I aware of what’s going on inside me right now?

Do I know myself well?

Have I listened to my own heart today?

What was your answer? In another post, I offer some proven ways to effectively listen to your own heart. If you’re hunting, please join me for Finding the Real You.


Photomontage of an iceberg by Uwe Kils. 


  1. Brad,
    thanks for returning to your blog. Appreciate your desire to connect with others, to be a bridge builder, and to help us connect with our own selves ( and ultimately ) with God.

  2. Thanks Brad – needed reminding of the need to listen to my deepest thoughts and prayers. Life is so busy – it is important to STOP and really listen.
    Thanks for your important work here.


    • Five weeks ago, I was finally hired by a great company in a good job. But something inside my soul still feels missing. I still feel as if I haven’t discovered my niche, my true calling.

      Don’t get me wrong I’m truly thankful for my new job. But after reading your article I’m going to ask God for clarity. I’m 60 years old now. I don’t want to squander my life. Thank you for writing this.

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