“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” ~Eckhart Tolle
Self-awareness is one of those terms you hear thrown around a lot in the personal development world.
It's a phrase you sorta, kinda understand. But if someone asked you to define it or describe how YOU are self-aware, it might be hard to put into words. “I am self-aware because . . .” Can you fill in the blank?
Buzz phrases like self-awareness, being fully-conscious, having emotional intelligence, being evolved, and living authentically sound lovely in theory. However, most of us aren't so sure how to practice them or what practical skills are required in order to apply them to day-to-day life.
I'm all about making things simple and manageable when it comes to being a better person. I love philosophical concepts and pithy phrases as much as the next personal development blogger, but they don't mean much if you can't apply them for a useful purpose in your life.
As I was doing research for this post, I read about self-awareness and behaviors, relationships, personality, thought processes, etc. It was all good and interesting information, but it doesn't have to be so complicated.
Self-awareness simply means paying attention.
You pay attention to . . .
- what you are thinking
- what you are speaking
- how you are acting
- how you are feeling
- what you are eating
- how you are reacting
- what (and who) you are attracting
- what you are hiding
- what patterns you are seeing in your life
- how your body is responding
When you pay attention, you are consciously tuning in. You are proactively viewing yourself from the position of your higher self (another buzz phrase, but a good one). And when your higher self observes your thoughts, feelings, decisions, and actions, you are forced to make a decision.
Be present as the watcher of your mind — of your thoughts and emotions as well as your reactions in various situations. Be at least as interested in your reactions as in the situation or person that causes you to react. Notice also how often your attention is in the past or future. Don't judge or analyze what you observe. Watch the thought, feel the emotion, observe the reaction. Don't make a personal problem out of them. You will then feel something more powerful than any of those things that you observe: the still, observing presence itself behind the content of your mind, the silent watcher. ~Eckhart Tolle
As the watcher, you are compelled to decide whether the thing you are observing about yourself align with the person you want to be. Does it align with your integrity, your values, your purpose, your passion, your spirituality, with the core of who you are?
And sometimes it forces you to acknowledge you haven't defined your integrity, your values, your purpose, your passion, your spirituality, or the core of who you are.
So when you begin paying attention . . .
1. You discern whether or not what you are doing/thinking/feeling/deciding is aligned with who you are or wish to be as defined by your integrity, values, etc.;
2. Or you don't know who you are or who you wish to be because you haven't defined the best version of yourself, but you have an intuition (from that higher self again) that what you are doing/thinking/feeling/deciding is positive or negative, life-affirming or life-destroying, peaceful or agitating.
Either way, paying attention is a call to act.
And acting on a call from your higher consciousness is the point of not only reaching self-awareness, but also a point of personal evolution. You see where you are not fully yourself, and you act on it.
So why do you really need self-awareness?
From my casual observation of people, it appears most of us long for self-awareness but not many can identify the longing. And for those of us who actively seek self-awareness, paying attention and being the watcher is harder than it sounds.
Paying attention requires that we . . .
- remove distractions;
- focus on the present moment;
- train our “monkey minds” to observe rather than race;
- let go of our “ego self;”
- acknowledge how we have strayed from who we want to be.
These things are hard to do because we don't live in a society and culture that supports paying attention. In fact, everything around us tries to pull us away from paying attention to our true selves.
We have to be strong.
We have to retrain ourselves.
We must remain disciplined.
But what is the reward of being disciplined and remaining attentive to our thoughts, feelings, actions, and choices? Why do we really need self-awareness?
Look around and you'll see that most people are unaware.
Most people aren't paying attention.
Most people are eternally distracted by the world around them.
We can survive without self-awareness. We can be successful. We can even be happy to a certain extent.
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 constantly seeking self-awareness.
We can't be fully ourselves and fully alive. We can't experience the depths of joy, intimacy, authenticity, connection, peace, and fulfillment without constantly seeking self-awareness.
Once you practice paying attention to your thoughts/feelings/behaviors/choices/reactions, you will no longer be satisfied with living on the surface of life. And as you gain more and more self-awareness, your experience of life will expand exponentially. You won't completely understand the impact of this amazing benefit of self-awareness until you begin the practice of paying attention.
If you'd like to begin paying attention and observing your way of being in the world, ask yourself the following questions and pay attention to your reactions to them. Answer them as honestly as you can, thinking carefully about each question and the truth of your answers.
1. Do you have clearly defined values, integrity, and beliefs?
2. Do you have a passion or purpose for your life?
3. Have you made the personal choice to pay attention and to be fully alive and self-aware for the rest of your life?
4. Do you struggle with a need to be right, in control, or seen in the best light possible?
5. Do you have unresolved issues in your life?
6. Are you addicted or overly attached to substances, people, or behaviors?
7. Are you living a lie in some way?
8. Do you frequently react with anger, defensiveness, or self-pity?
9. Do you find yourself pulled in many different directions from outside demands or influences?
10. Do you frequently have relationship conflicts?
11. Do you feel out-of-balance or agitated about the direction your life is going?
12. Do you find yourself over-thinking, worrying, or fretting about things?
13. Do you tend to over-react to minor upsets?
14. Do you have a hard time apologizing for your mistakes or do you hold grudges against people who have hurt you?
15. Do you make choices or take actions based primarily on what others might think of you or how they might react?
As you consider your answer to these questions, you are shining the light of self-awareness on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Now that you see the truth of who you are today, how can you use this self-awareness to grow into the person you want to be for tomorrow?
Follow these 3 steps:
- Take the time to define your core values, the most important principles for your life. Be clear about your integrity — what you consider to be right or wrong, good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable.
- Define the type of person you want to be in relationships. How do you want to behave, react, and interact with the people closet to you?
- As much as possible, stay focused in the present. This is the core of reality — not the past or future. Life happens in the present moment.
Then several times throughout your day, pay attention. Are you focused on the present moment or off somewhere in your head in the past or future? Are you thinking, feeling, and behaving in the way the person you want to be would think, feel, or behave? And finally, are your actions and reactions reflective of your values and integrity?
If you answer “no” to any of these questions, then take swift and immediate action to realign yourself so you can answer “yes.” This is how self-awareness leads to personal evolution. It's how you detach from your ego self and align more with your higher self.
“As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love – even the most simple action.” ~Eckhart Tolle
Would you consider yourself self-aware? How has paying attention and being the observer allowed you to live with more of a sense of quality, care, and love? How has self-awareness improved your life?