Being attuned to another person starts with being attuned to oneself

Being attuned to others, being on another’s wavelength, is a vital but much neglected skill. “You’re not hearing me”, is a frequently stated complaint by people who feel others aren’t understanding or appreciating their standpoint. Thus do conflicts occur. Empathy too, the ability to see a matter from another’s perspective is rightly emphasised in leadership development but it is very common to find this skill to be lacking in emerging leaders. It is often also missing in couples who don’t get along together. To have empathy, we first need to tune into another and have clear perception.

Attunement to another involves being attuned to ourselves. That’s where we learn it, as too from a parent who pays us attention, listens to us, and gets us. If we didn’t get that attunement from a parent, we can still learn it later ourselves. Here’s where mindfulness can give us the ability to learn to tune into ourselves, on a regular basis if you have a mindfulness practice. Simply by attending to the flow of the mind while keeping an open, non-judgemental perspective, you can notice, monitor and modify your own state, your feelings and your thoughts. You can get finely attuned to your different moods and to how your body feels, and how you react to different situations. You can get to know yourself very well this way. This sensitivity to yourself can then be extended to others.

Knowing ourselves from the inside

This is the process of interoception, the skill of perceiving inside ourselves and being able to sense what is going on. A mental body scan does this quite well, and with practice you can do it fairly quickly. We use the mind to scan, so to speak, through the body, tuning into sensations and feelings, pains and discomforts, unaccessed emotions, tension, energy, unmet need, longings, desires. Then you can use the practice of mindfulness to observe what comes up and, with practice, you can yet stay detached from it. Then you can learn also how to manage it differently through this state of being the non-judgemental accepting witness of what occurs rather than thinking that this is you. This then also applies to your attunement to others.

As we learn to be better attuned to ourselves and understand what that means, we are more alert and aware with others too. In fact through our attunement to ourselves we can learn to recognise senses and feelings that can also tell us about another and their needs, and to discriminate between what is our stuff and what might be another’s. This growing knowledge helps us with empathy towards others and our ability to support them. Then of course we need to recognise when we are perceiving others through our own coloured glasses of our stuff, and when we not, and when we can set our own glasses on one side and truly be there for another, what in Gestalt Therapy is called “the rule of √©poch√©”, or bracketing off our own stuff. To make this distinction is very important. Self awareness is key here.

People who work with others, like therapists or coaches, often need to do this work on themselves if they are to be more effective in helping others. This also applies to leaders, although relatively few take this journey to any serious degree. More’s the pity since the world would be a better place if they did.

Do you worry that your mind keeps you awake?

It’s a dilemma when you can’t sleep at night because your mind is busy, and then you start to worry that your mind is keeping you awake. Your mind might be churning things over and then you’re fearful that it is doing this and stopping you sleeping. Worrying that we can’t sleep is a major factor in insomnia, and having a busy mind is a major contributor to the problem. It’s a very good reason to learn to manage your mind and is where mindfulness can be so powerful.

You might for example lie down after a busy day in which you have been very mentally active and then find yourself staying awake, unable to sleep, or so it seems, your mind going over certain issues that are concerning you. Then, as time ticks by, and the thought that you need to be up early comes to you, there’s that stabbing feeling in your gut as you feel the anxiety that this thinking is keeping you awake, that you’ve got a sleepless night ahead and that you still have to get up early. It’s like that deadline gives you an imperative that you must sleep and you believe you need that sleep, and still you’re thinking things over, and you’re worried that you’re doing it!

Time to pause and get what’s going on! And let go!

Not so easy until you’ve done some work on all this and can see the pattern, what you’re doing to yourself, and can interrupt that pattern and work to manage your thoughts and let go. It takes, in a sense, training and practice.

The idea that we can manage our thoughts can be a challenging one to people who feel they are prisoners to their thoughts. Yet this is precisely what we need to do. Very often it is about becoming aware that your mind is busy, catching yourself doing it, challenging the pattern and stopping it in some way. It is something that can be consciously done, but as I said, it needs awareness – and coaching.

The role of mindfulness

Mindfulness practice plays a big part, learning to be aware of your thoughts but not caught up in them. With mindfulness you can become the aware witness of your thoughts, but unattached to them, so that they can pass you by. This too takes practice, and meditation is a very valuable tool to help you learn to do it effectively.

Then you know you have inside you a calm, steady, centred place that you can go to. You can learn to let go of thinking and be still and in the moment. You can let go of thinking and of anxiety too, and be present. You can be unattached to deadlines, and to how things “ought” to be, and just let things be, just as they are.

As you calm yourself and let go of thoughts, you can then let your natural sleepiness to come to you, of its own accord.

Just as we can have bliss be present too, our natural joy and contentment.

Further help

I give coaching to help people manage their minds and practice mindfulness. To contact me, click here.

There is an excellent online CBT-based course on Sleeping that also uses mindfulness in a part of it. Click here.