“It takes courage to endure the sharp pains of self-discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives” -Marianne Williamson
It’s been a while since I wrote last on a public forum. Well friends, initially it was deliberate to focus on my work and then spending dedicated time with family which was followed with bouts of procrastination. The hangover of procrastination continued for long and to be honest I struggled to sit for hours gathering ideas to write. I must admit past few months have been periods of total confusion. A year ago upon reading few books, listening to a handful of inspirational podcasts and audiobooks I thought I had better awareness of self than most, at least in my age group. When confined in the boundary of my study room, I used to feel confident about self with the perception that I have mastered certain topics of life (Be it emotional intelligence, science of motivation, self-improvement) than most.
Well friends, I was positively wrong. Coming out of comfort zone is not easy. It exposes you to your grey areas, the ones you need to develop. Confronting a large crowd and speaking out words of influence takes toll and lot of courage. Over the period I realized that talking fancy words of inspiration is one thing and living those words on a consistent basis is other, desire to have a super-fit body is one thing and getting out of bed in the wee hours running for a couple of miles on a daily basis is other, wishing to have a Leadership and position of influence is one thing and doing all that it takes to become a true leader is other, having the will to win is one thing and sacrificing and sweating out what it takes to win is other, Friends, I realized that I am not walking my talk.
Interestingly in this period, I did a lot of things that is far from my true nature (at least I think so in over 30 years with myself), like investing in an expensive electronic gadget (purchased a phone of over 70K INR) when I opined I just need the basic one that would do the work, I went to places which broadcasts excessive materialism, famous amongst others but not of much significance to me (for I love places of peace and serenity), I met and spent time with people who are all about ‘taking’ and ‘absolutely no-giving’ ( I believe associations matter and avoid company of negative influences). Although I ask my wife and kids in family to watch less of mindless tv programs, I felt guilty but still watched tv wasting most precious asset of my life, ‘TIME’ and this I did time and again. I was feeling, thinking, saying, doing and behaving something that was not reflective of the person I want to be. I felt anxious and periods of self-pity and frustration ruled over mind but did not do much about it for a certain period.
Yes Friends, I felt I was missing the purpose or rather I had forgotten the purpose of my life. The dust that had gotten over real meaning of my life needed to be wiped out.Several questions aroused in my mind to which I sought answer like who am I? What do I want? What is my truest of purpose? And so on. While people go on pilgrimages searching for moral and spiritual significance, I developed a deep desire to go on a personal odyssey, a journey within. A deep urge to know myself better, I felt never like before need to know myself better. I wanted to plunge deep and deep into my real self.
Today I present to you what I learnt from my online research and books I read over past few weeks.
Awareness of awareness
Many years ago, I came across this quote on a social networking site – one of the most powerful words in English dictionary is ATTITUDE, the moment you change your attitude, you change your life; even it scores a perfect 100 (given the alphabets of the word be summed up such that A =1, B = 2, … Z = 26). While I agree with all my heart, a strong positive attitude is the reason between a good moment and a bad one; there is even more powerful word that can create more miracles than one could imagine. And that word is ‘AWARENESS’ (it scores 105 with the same logic). Sadly most of us do not have the awareness of awareness.
Per Wikipedia, Awareness is the ‘ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects, thoughts, emotions, or sensory patterns.’ Awareness is a wide topic; it’s like an ocean in the wisdom literature, one cannot be fully aware of all things even in one hundred lives – be it the financial awareness, social awareness, mental awareness, emotional awareness, physical awareness, environmental awareness and so on. Of all the awareness the most critical is the awareness of self or self-awareness.
What is Self-Awareness?
‘Most of us remain ignorant of ourselves because the process of self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion.’ Aldous Huxley, English Writer
|Who am I really?
While the central theme of my life has been to improve myself on a daily basis and be my super-best on the last day of my life, I lately realized self-improvement is not about just finishing a book, attending a leadership conference or watching a handful of ted talks. There is much more to it. The late, great Maya Angelou once said ‘when you know better you do better.’ I strongly feel true self-improvement cannot happen without knowing yourself. Self –awareness is the foundation of personal growth.
Aristotle said knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. The greatest service one can do to mankind is knowing himself or herself. Many ancient literatures have stressed upon the significance of knowing oneself, be it the ancient Greek ‘Know Thyself’ or ‘nosce teipsum’ (in Latin).
Self-awareness is having the most transparent and brutally honest perception of one’s personality, skills, strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, opinions, beliefs, true motivations, attitudes and emotions. It is learning to better understand why we feel the way we feel and why we behave the way we behave? Self-awareness fosters a strong and blissful life.
Famous breathe therapist, Dane Brule says self-awareness allows us to get out of our mind and observe it in actions. Self-awareness starts with self-inquiry. In the words of reverent Ramana Maharshi, self-inquiry is the constant attention of the awareness of “I” or “I am”. Self-awareness has a deep spiritual connotation which I am not touching upon in this blog post. If I may, I urge each one of you to read Echart Tolle’s book: A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, it’s a must read book for anyone who wants to connect to his higher-self.
Asking question to ourselves, like: ‘who am I? What is my true self? What are my strengths and weaknesses? What do I want? What is my purpose of life? Where I am going and why I am going there?’ helps us to connect to higher selves and know ourselves better which helps us lead a more meaningful life. As we become more clear about who we really are, we will be better able to decide instinctively what is best for us.
Why is Self-Awareness so critical?
Friends, until we become aware in the moment and what controls our thoughts, emotions, words, and behavior, we will have difficulty making changes in the direction of our life, we will have least control over our own life. Swiss Psychotherapist, Carl C Jung, says it most elegantly “until you make your unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
Self-awareness is vital to every single human existence because when we have a better understanding of ourselves, we are able to experience ourselves as unique and separate individuals. We are then empowered to make changes and build upon our areas of strength as well as identify areas where we would like to make improvements. When we become more self-aware we begin to see dimensions of our personality and behavior that we didn’t notice earlier. Having self-awareness allows us to see where our thoughts and emotions are taking us. It helps us to see the controls of our emotions, thoughts and behaviors so that we can make changes the way we want.
I will give an example from personal life. Last few weeks, as I said earlier I struggled to sit for long gathering ideas to write this blog. I did best but was unable to control my ‘monkey mind’. It was wandering like never before. At one moment it would think of career aspirations, the other moment it would think of family commitments which I am not doing, after few minutes it would worry about the body weight I have gained in my days of ignorance, the other moment this monkey mind would think of the ‘fantasies for body pleasure’ and so on. It was like a never ending cycle. One fine day, I sat and wrote over 20 pages in my personal journal about the sources of distractions, list of things that are worrying me, what do I want in life and so on. It helped me a lot to refocus and complete this blog eventually.
Benefits of Self-Awareness:
Amit Ray, author of Meditation: Insights and Inspiration, says “you are your master. Only you have the master keys to open your inner locks.” Friends, it is extremely valuable to know ourselves in order to leverage our potentialities.
Self –awareness is often a first step to goal-setting. It helps in being conscious of what ‘I’ (our individual self) am good at, while acknowledging what ‘I’ am not good at. This also includes admitting when ‘I’ don’t have the answers and owning up to our mistakes.
It helps increase our ability to focus, trains our monkey mind to observe vs race, be attentive and truly live in the present moment. Self-awareness simplifies our lives, removes distractions. Better self-awareness provides greater mental clarity resulting in an increased ability to learn and more effectively apply knowledge. It also helps increase in our ability to manage mind and emotions, become aware of stress, anger or the situations that create stress and anger and subsequently release them. It further helps improve out physical and mental health.
Self-awareness helps us know our vulnerabilities and distressing emotions to check them and to prevent asserting them inappropriately in non-value creating ways. Furthermore, it helps us discover unconscious sabotage patterns. It lets go of our ego self.
When we are not aware of our selves, people around us have a better sense of our strengths and weaknesses than we do and there are chances we may lose our credibility. People with enhanced level of self-awareness have the opportunity and freedom to change things about themselves thereby creating a life of their dreams. We become fully self-expressed resulting in more authentic and empowering relationships.
Am I self-aware?
Eckhart Tolle in his book, A New Earth mentions most of us lack self-awareness. There are many who remain unconscious trapped in their ego throughout their lives. A simple way to understand if we lack self-awareness is described by author of book The Motivation Manifesto, Brendon Burchard,what he calls as ‘the death of self-awareness’ or ‘the four horsemen of self-awareness’.
Lack of Direction (Directionless): Do ‘I’ have a sense of direction in my life? When we show up unconsciously to the world in a reactive state without signs of pro-active and conscious idealization of who we are and what we want in life?
Detached:How do ‘I’ see positive and negative emotions? If we detach ourselves from all negative feelings, we are at risk of losing connection with even positive feelings. In such a state we become emotionless and detach from celebrating.
As Brendon says “you have to be passionate and must feel your experiences and moments. It’s time to connect to reality and sensation of life once more.”
Dissociated: We must accept our ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. American Psychotherapist and Writer, Nathaniel Branden rightly said “The first step towards change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” We should strive to live in our ideal selves.
Distraction: Last year I had written a blogon the major distractions of life in modern times. Friends, distraction is the greatest thief of life, of light and of awareness. We must do all we can do to minimize the inconsequential in our lives. If we are constantly scatter brained we can never immerse ourselves in the magic of each moment. Distraction kills the joy of present moment. One of the prime aim and focus of our lives should be to live in every moment.
An honest answer in your journal with discussion with a mentor or a like-minded friend would help understand your current state. On a personal front, I realized I lack direction in certain aspects of life; I also need to know the ‘not-so-good’ side of me and at present moment I feel highly distracted.
How can I be more self-aware?
Self-awareness can be attained by paying close attention to what am I thinking? How am I feeling? Why am I feeling so? How am I behaving? What is the reason for such a behavior of mine? What am I speaking? What am I revealing and importantly what am I hiding? Is this my real self? Do others see myself the way I do? And so on.
Johari window developed by American Psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham is a profound tool for self-analysis and raising self-awareness. It provides the four basic forms of the self – the known, the hidden, the blind and the unknown. Filling in the four quadrants with a wise peer or a mentor can make us aware of the things that ‘we don’t know that we know’ and even the things that ‘we don’t know that we don’t know’. This further helps in growing self-awareness.
Known Self Q1
(Things we know about ourselves and others know about us)
Hidden Self Q2
(Things we know about ourselves that others do not know)
Blind Self Q3
(Things others know about us that we do not know)
Unknown Self Q4
(Things neither we know nor others know about us)
Personality test helps us know our personality types. Such tests reveal certain aspects of a person’s psychological make-up. It helps us understand to an extent how we interact with the world around us personally and professionally. Myers-Briggs personality test
often called MBTI is most recommended test to assess our personality inventory.
Reflecting on a daily basis:
Taking pause allowing a moment of reflection when we gain clarity and realize our mistakes is so vital to cultivating self-awareness. A good practice is to ask a series of questions to ourselves: ‘Did I do what was required of me? Did I spend my time wisely and efficiently? What did I learn today that was useful? Was I kind and helpful to others and self in my best capacity? Did I listen properly? Were the words coming out of my mouth empowering and uplifting? And so on’ such questions keep us on track in quest to knowing ourselves better.
Writing in a journal on a daily basis:
Friends, writing in journal is remarkably powerful way to become a clear thinker, build massive amounts of self-awareness and record intended outcomes. Although I have been maintaining personal diary for several years now, last 2 years I have been journaling almost on a daily basis. I write my experiences, learning’s, frustrations, accomplishments, failures, and importantly gratitude’s of my daily affair. It helps me keep track of my progress and take necessary action steps. It helps me think through the why’s and the how’s. In addition to clarifying thoughts and feelings, journaling helps to reduce stress and solve problems more effectively. I urge each one of you reading me please, please – start journaling today itself, it has unbelievable power.
Meditation is a robust method to study our own selves. It helps us examine out own mind and employ it vigorously in most productive pursuits.
Is there any specific quote, mantra, passage from a book, song or a person that inspire you in times of despair and discouragement? Switching to such sources helps refocus our energies to stop procrastinating and actually do the work.
Do we really need to be self-aware?
To be honest, to survive in this ego-centric world we don’t need to be self-aware, most people are not. Thanks to the unending sources of distractions. We can survive without being self-aware, even one can be successful to a certain extent, but…but we can’t be fully ourselves and fully alive. We can’t experience the depths of joy, intimacy, authenticity, connection, peace and fulfillment without seeking self-awareness.
My Final Words
Friends, self-awareness is the gateway to a long journey, a journey within ourselves. Each one of us are at different levels of self-awareness. It is like a muscle that grows with time and effort and ultimately provides us strength. Although the process of exercising self-awareness is not easy, it is certainly worth it. The more we learn to become conscious of our impulses, thoughts and actions, while also keeping in mind our principles that foster practical wisdom, we can more easily become our best selves.
Famous Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said he who know others is wise, he who knows himself is enlightened. Eminent Buddhist and prolific author, Pema Chordon writes “the most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently. Friends, it is simply a dis-service to humanity and our individual selves if we die without exploring our true selves, without connecting to our higher selves.
Friends, how can we sense life if we don’t have the intention to do so? We must bring more and even more consciousness to our days that will help us feel more connected, energetic and eventually enlightened. This is how self-awareness will lead to our personal evolution, detaching us from our ego-self and aligning more to our higher self. I wish you the very best in your personal journey, the journey within.
“When you know the knower within, you don’t need to know further. When you know the meditator within you don’t need to meditate further. When you know the worshipper within you are to be worshipped” – Amit Ray, author, The Transforming Power