I belong to the group of people that usually have many New Year’s resolutions.
Not one or two, but four or five — and maybe even seven. The thinking goes that with so many options for how to be a better person, or have a happier year ahead, surely one of those resolutions can be achieved. So, why not aim large?
Or said in a more calculated way, reduce our risk of resolution failure?
This year is different, though. I have only one resolution, and it’s all of three words. Yes, 2020 has been the year where we learned that less is more. I just didn’t know that my New Year’s resolution would fall prey to this truism.
Before I share the three words, a brief recap is in order of what has been less in 2020. This is a partial rundown because “less is more” also applies to lists. We have less:
— Of our preferred cleaning supplies (yes, we are making do)
— Satisfying socializing (trying to make do)
— Patience (forget it!)
— Clarity about certain relationships (are we relating?)
— Career confidence (about that path… )
In the interest of fairness, there is also a 2020 “more” list that I will treat with equal brevity. We have more:
— Streaming of shows (Britbox is my favorite)
— Zoom (obviously)
— Emotional fatigue (unfortunately)
— Comfort food (I’ve dusted off my homemade mac’n cheese skills)
— Clarity about what matters (which of course matters most)
So with this as background, my skinny three-word resolution is, “Count to Five.”
There are many places we could go with a Count to Five resolution, but for me, there is just one: I want to become a better listener. I know that I hear people, and I usually remember what they said when I later playback the conversation. But in the heat of the moment, I too often interrupt with a need to affirm my view.
Unfortunately, I am in good company. We have become a nation of “hearers” and counter-punchers. There are probably many reasons why — our sour pandemic mood, divisive politics, a compulsion to find quick answers, the echo chambers we build, and our lack of time in a rush-rush world. Even during Covid, where we are stuck at home, we struggle to complete our long to-do list.
Given our mood, I believe that my Count to Five resolution makes perfect sense. When someone has stated something that elicits a response, I will first count to five, ensuring that I have truly given their words some thought.
It is important to note that Count to Five will not be five full seconds, where as a child, I learned to add the word “Mississippi” to each number to achieve the full measure. That would simply take too long, and people might fidget while they waited for me to speak.
I like that the rule is versatile and can apply to almost anything — work conundrums, politics, criticisms and topics as banal as “What’s for dinner?” Since my daughter has been working on her listening skills with noticeable improvement, I am particularly motivated to keep pace.
Just imagine how Count to Five might help in the following manufactured scenarios:
— You’ve just been told not to apply for “the job” because you lack the right skill set. Rather than proclaiming your many skills that perfectly match the description, you ask questions. You listen, you count, you respond.
— Your son has just informed you that his diet is now raw vegan. Instead of immediately citing nutritional risks, you ask why and (mostly) let him talk. After you do the count, you avoid ranting and ask which leafy greens he likes best.
— Your kids ask for a puppy. Rather than do an immediate takedown, you explore how much they really understand dog ownership. You gently enlighten. You’ve counted to five multiple times during the discussion, and your temperament has changed from boiling to simmer (says the owner of two dogs).
Maybe the Count to Five rule can lead us on a path towards civility with tolerance as a welcome byproduct. One word of caution: Just because Count to Five sounds straightforward, do not be deceived that it is easy. My initial experience says otherwise.
However, it’s worth persevering when we consider the upside — opening our minds and helping people feel heard. To quote Teddy Roosevelt, “Anything worth having is worth fighting for” (forgetting that he was a bad listener).
So let’s fight for a Count to Five.