The Self-Awareness Challenge: A Look Inside Our Own Heads
As you’ve likely been discovering for yourself, the dynamic virtue of Self-Awareness is tricky to acquire and sustain. According to EQ specialist Travis Bradberry, only 36% of the population is aware of their own emotions as they occur. In my recent articles Know Thyself and Going One Step Deeper, I illustrated how self-awareness is a challenge because it’s a two-step process. This, however, is not the entire story. Allow me to reveal some of the other reasons that self-awareness becomes a worthy, but perpetual challenge, starting with a look inside our own heads.
Which Way To The Present?
Psychologist, author and my meditation guide Tara Brach explains that most of us go through life “in-trance”. We’re constantly thinking in the past with regret and guilt; “I shoulda done this, I coulda done that, if only…” When we’re not fretting over spilled milk, we’re projecting towards the future, anxious about everything that could possibly go wrong, fearful of consequences. This is unfortunate, since the only way to live in the present is to be fully mindful in the moment, without ruminating on the past and fretting over the future. And it is only in this space that you can connect with your emotions, your thoughts and your actions.
Are you ready to arrive in the present? Right now, in this very moment, I invite you to take one breath— one long, rich inhale, and feel it. Literally follow its progression and experience it. Appreciate the richness of your lungs filling with air or notice the temperature of that air hitting your nostrils as it’s pulled into your passageways. Then exhale, slowly. Notice how calm you can feel in just one breath. Be decadent and repeat. Welcome to the present!
Don’t Let Technology Speed Up Time!
Do you feel like you’re always rushing to get onto the ‘next thing’? It unfolds a little something like this: Your mind is already thinking about the next thing when you’re working on the current thing because you’re worried that you’ll run out of time to tend to the thing after the next thing! The result? Indigestion!
To complicate matters, the mainstreaming of digital devices has embedded a whole new communicative challenge into our daily pressures. Granted, our society has always been fast-paced. But with the advent of instant messaging and 140-character info bytes, it’s nearly impossible to catch up before ten more messages arrive. This need for speed has recalibrated our sense of urgency by dialing it way up, keeping us running on a hamster wheel of worry— about the future. And when your mind is in the future, it can’t be in the present. The only way to fight back is to scrupulously manage your technology.
For many, the race begins first thing in the morning. If you are one of the majority who check their email upon rising, consider that when you do this, you’re handing your pacing power over to others. You’re starting your day in reactive mode, or worse, you’re looking for a morning fix of dopamine from your inbox. In either scenario, you know the result….more on your to-do list in the form of answering the ever-growing mountain of email. My advice is simple: rein in your digital habits. It’s perfectly okay not to be like everyone else. For some direction here, check out my article on Transcending The Inbox Enigma.
Go With The Gut.
In the business world, we’re encouraged to leave our emotions at the door. A Big Law contact of mine even once asked me to remove the word “emotional” from a proposal I sent her about a presentation on Emotional Intelligence in Leadership Development. Many of us are told that a gut instinct is an old wives’ tale, and that unconscious bias needs to be suppressed instead of acknowledged and managed. But this clampdown on our emotions essentially amounts to moving on instead of taking time to understand the root of those emotions. The process of “doing what we think we’re supposed to do instead of what we think is right” is only detrimental to our self-awareness and serves to defeat our optimism and the clear-headedness that’s necessary for a successful career.
Instead, I recommend doing personal “gut checks”, which take zero time. Before dialing into your next conference call or walking into your next business meeting, as you’re taking one of those delicious mindful inhales, ask yourself, “How do I feel? Do I have a flutter in my stomach? Is this nervousness? Excitement? Hunger?” Then, in the middle of the call or meeting, do another gut check. Begin to embed this into your daily work routine, knowing that you’ve successfully tapped into your own head to find your self-awareness is expanding. I’ll stay on-topic with some further insight on self-awareness in my next article, which will demonstrate poetically how life is like a wave on the sand.