Life Is Like A Wave On The Sand: Using Self-Awareness To Live In The Present
If you’ve been dabbling lately in refining your self-awareness in both your career and your personal life, you’ve taken one of the most important measures for acquiring emotional intelligence. I hope my recent article The Self-Awareness Challenge has inspired you to take a deep breath, as well as a journey inside your own head to pinpoint the roadblocks, vulnerabilities, anxieties and misjudgments that can slow down your career.
Despite the EQ progress you’ve been making, we’re not done with our self-awareness exploration quite yet! Far from it, in fact. Self-awareness is a life-long journey, a constant challenge, and an ever-changing state of being. While we talk about the importance of living in the present, we must also acknowledge that the concept is abstract to the point of near-impossibility. Many factors, mostly predictable, are working against our intentions to stay present, much like the wind can transform a perfectly contented, flat desert into a landscape of wavy dunes.
Allow me to share some examples of how life is like a wave on the sand, and how you can take away some lessons and learn to go with the flow by employing some self-awareness when it counts.
Existence Is Fluid.
To paraphrase the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “No woman ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and she’s not the same woman.” Poignant, fascinating, and diversely applicable, even in the modern era. In the business realm, this sentiment can serve to indicate that professionals like you and me show up differently depending upon the situation at hand. It’s a reminder of how tricky it is to “catch ourselves” in a moment, because when you’re in the moment, it’s gone, much like any specific rush of water! On one level, this might demonstrate that living in the present is paradoxical. On another level, it shows just how ahead-of-the-game you can stay when you practice self-awareness in all situations.
Adaptation Has Its Rewards.
Think about when you did something for the first time, like driving a car. In the beginning you may have been unsure of yourself, even a little white-knuckled. You were discovering that what everybody else does almost effortlessly is actually difficult to coordinate. How do you maintain a speed, change gear, stay in your lane, check all those mirrors, and avoid that pedestrian who just ran in front of the car? But only a month later, you were cruising along while singing along with the radio, practically on autopilot! The point is there are emotions involved with your learning curve, but you’re performing the exact same act, in this case, driving. Your self-awareness has allowed you to evolve, keeping you in the present. Now the open road is yours to travel!
When We’re Distracted, We’re Not Ourselves.
A humorous scenario played out for me when I went to my first meditation retreat. As I pulled into the parking lot, I encountered a thousand other cars, and nearly turned around and went home. For an introvert like me, the intimidation of penetrating a group of strangers that large was too much to bear. But I resisted the temptation to leave, and instead marched into the building, not realizing how distracted I was by my anxiety. I was being brave, but my head was stuck in the future, not the present. As a result, I inadvertently cut the registration line! In looking back on what turned out to be a life-changing retreat, I can only be self-compassionate and laugh about my goof. I learned, I grew, and I became more self-aware, which allowed me to get the most out of similar retreats going forward.
Putting Yourself Under The Microscope.
It’s purely scientific. We as humans are walking, talking chemistry sets, and emotions are our elements. You may usually be prepared, engaged and poised during team meetings, but because you’re preparing for a big event (like moving into a new home) or are experiencing little drags on your energy (like having a hard time sleeping), you may come across in a meeting as scattered and short-tempered. Even if you currently have no preoccupations, your emotions and thoughts can change throughout a meeting. There is no inner doorbell to announce the arrival of fear or embarrassment. A solid self-awareness is the most effective tool for keeping your behaviors and actions present and in-check, and serves as the best defense against your emotional chemistry bubbling over.
Understand What Pushes Your Buttons.
Have you ever noticed there are certain people who just make you feel good? They are like fountains as opposed to drains, and it’s emotionally healthy to be around them. Then there are other folks who are drains. They can scratch at your patience to the point that you turn toxic. Often you don’t even realize it’s happening, and before you know it, you’re not showing up the way you intend to. Self-awareness, again, comes in handy when your buttons are being pushed, helping you acknowledge that your toxicity is not your own, and reminding you to steer your thoughts and emotions back into the present.
Hang in there with me for my next self-awareness article, which will illustrate how losing focus and drawing conclusions can create blind spots in your communications.