I’ve discovered over the past few years that I am an introvert who can still happily engage in public settings and enjoys going out but – – I recharge when I’m alone or in very small groups of people (no more than two including myself is my favorite). The reason crowds of people exhaust me is that I am constantly trying to read and understand the feelings and motivations of those around me. I used to wish I could just go through life talking and not listening, hearing but not processing, alone time and time in groups wouldn’t be so different for me. But I can’t, and now I understand that I shouldn’t – – I’m this way for a reason.

I’ve spent so much time and effort learning how to understand the people around me, honestly way more time than I have on anything else in my life. I always wanted to know so badly why I was so “weird” and why I couldn’t just be like everyone else and not notice all these things or feel so much. My mind is like a hamster wheel – – always wondering, always thinking and always feeling things. Every personality test and career skills test I’ve taken puts EMPATHY at the top of my list of “talents” and personality attributes.

Empathy is a skill that is lost in our society today. We are all so busy that we forget to actually empathize with people –  – we don’t listen to understand; we listen to fix and move on. I personally have always had a crazy emotional impact from the vibes of other people – if they’re happy I feel energized, if they’re sad my heart hurts, if they’re angry my body seezes up and on and on. I was born full of empathy and learned that it is a skill that I should not be ashamed of.

Here are a few ideas on how to develop your empathy:

Actually listen when people confide in you. Before someone is has finished talking to you, you most likely have already formulated your response, and you can’t wait to spit it out.
Next time you find yourself doing this, STOP. Force yourself to genuinely listen without thinking about anything but the words you’re hearing.

Observe and Wonder
Put down your cell phone. Instead of obsessing over facebook and Instagram, reading articles while you wait for an appointment or are stuck in a traffic jam, look at the people around you and imagine who they might be, what they might be thinking and feeling, and where they are trying to go right now. Are they frustrated? Happy? Do they live here or are they from out of town? Have they had a nice day? Try to actually observe and care.

Know Your Rivals
Maybe “rivials” is an overemphasis here, but think about a tense, ongoing dispute you have with someone. Maybe it’s a co-worker in a competing role for how you should do some critical part of your work. Maybe it’s a family member you’re constantly struggling with for some reason. Stop engaging and distance yourself – – try to put yourself in their shoes and understand why they’re acting this way instead of getting so upset yourself.

How many of you actually practice empathy? I hope you will give it a try, and I hope it improves your life and the lives of those around you even if just a little. I think the impact of practicing empathy will improve your life in ways you’d never imagine.