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Deepen your research with this 3-step deep listening technique

Academics are not very good at listening. We prefer the life of the mind, and in our minds, we can get stuck in a loop of listening to ourselves telling the same stories over and over.

“I have to say yes to this committee obligation.”
“There’s not enough time for self-care.”
“I can’t be my true self in academe.”

As we enter the season of spring and its principle of opening this month, let’s begin by using our ears, which are always open, to go beyond hearing those internal stories into listening to the larger world.

Step 1: Listen to the world. Spend some time today listening to all the beautiful sounds all around you. Start where you live. Listen to the hum of your refrigerator filled with food, or the heat in your building keeping you warm. Listen to what is always vibrating in its own beauty that you don’t usually take the time to notice.

Then go outside. Listen to the birds. The traffic. The airplane overhead. Perhaps you will hear children’s voices. Music on the radio. The wind in the trees.

Now go about your day, your ears opened to all the beauty that we take for granted and overlook in the world.  Listen to your own heartbeat. Listen to the silence between the sounds.

Realize that the world is making music for us all the time, and in order to be in harmony, all we have to do is listen with open ears and an open mind. After spending a day listening in this open way, take ten minutes to record what you heard. Try to list every sound you remember. You might find that the sounds themselves live on the page, too. You might find yourself writing a poem—or a song.

Step 2: Listen to someone else. You may have someone in your life you take for granted. Perhaps this is an acquaintance or a neighbor that you are friendly with but have never really listened to before. Perhaps it is a complete stranger who catches your eye in the subway or a coffee shop. Perhaps it is a dear friend or family member that you haven’t contacted in a while.

Decide that for ten minutes, you will listen. Really listen. Try to hear the song underneath the song that they are singing.

What are the feelings behind the words that they are saying?
How can you listen in a way that lets this person know s/he is being heard?
How can your listening be a gift that enables this person to sing a deeper, more meaningful song?

After listening, turn to your journal to reflect on the experience. What did your companion say? How did you listen in a new way? Were you quiet or did you respond? What came out that was enabled by your mindful listening?

Step 3: Now listen to yourself. Write in your journal for 1 minute in response to each of the following statements. Time yourself so you put sacred boundaries around your writing. This will enable you to go deeper, knowing that the time is limited and you must go directly into the truth of what you want to say and that you will be able to come back up from that deep place of truth fairly soon. Write whatever comes. Do not censor or criticize or cross out. Keep writing. Allow yourself to say what needs to be said.

What I want my research to say is…
I am afraid to write about…
I dream of writing about…
If I had the courage, my research would focus on…

Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D., is a writing coach who specializes in working with women academics. Her 13th book, Earth Joy Writing, will be released this year on Earth Day. Learn more about her work, including her online program called The Feminar, at her website

Read these other articles by Cassie Premo Steele:

Creating balance through writing and nature

The three biggest mistakes academic writers make

The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Text and Academic Authors Association. Read more about TAA guest posts here.