Self Awareness is based on one, seemingly simple principle - that you are not your thoughts. On the surface, though, that statement can feel very alien. How could I possibly not be my thoughts? My thoughts are me, right? They’re the narrative of my experiences, and the conjurings of my imagination.
Well, the thing is, this isn’t strictly true. You’re actually the awareness that observes your thoughts, and not the thoughts themselves.
Sounds weird, doesn’t it? The spiritual teacher Mooji put it best when he described our thoughts as being like clouds that move across the sky, with the sky itself being our awareness. The awareness simply is, it’s always up there, but the thoughts, they come and go like clouds.
If we’ve been fine up until now not recognising that our mind is actually broken down into these two parts, then what difference does it make whether we are self aware or not?
The most important reason for practising self awareness is that it helps us to grow as individuals. By paying attention to our thoughts and feelings, by questioning and evaluating them, we’re starting on the road to understanding why we think and feel the way that we do.
This is a central component to getting a handle on those negative thoughts and feelings that may sometimes dominate our lives. It helps us to understand our relationships with others, to better judge what we can actually achieve, and to manage our emotions when things get tough.
Being more self aware helps us to make better decisions, because we’re not acting on misunderstood impulses or biases - we know enough about ourselves to be able to understand the reasoning behind our choices, and to question ourselves if we feel that a decision or action doesn’t align to what we would expect.
So that’s why self awareness is useful. How do we recognise it?
I’m going to walk you through an example with our fictional character “John”.
John is a team leader in a marketing firm. He’s quite an angry person. He tends to let his emotions get the better of him, often raising his voice and denigrating his work colleagues when he loses his cool. After one of his outbursts, where he’s complaining about the quality of a campaign that another team has put together, he’s surprised to overhear a conversation that two people are having in the break room. They mention that they don’t think he’s particularly professional and don’t really like him very much.
John is surprised by this. In his mind, he thinks he’s very professional. He gets everything done on time and to a high standard, he tells himself, and people listen to him when he has something to say. He also thinks he’s quite likeable, being the life and soul of the party whenever he goes along to drinks after work, and getting in the rounds.
What he doesn’t recognise, however, is that people remember him more for his lack of self control than the quality of his output, or the generosity he exhibits when he’s out.
There are a number of things that John isn’t aware of in this scenario. Firstly, he’s not considering the impact that his actions or behaviour may have on others. He might be quite confident in himself, but he’s not recognising that other people might take it quite hard when he openly criticizes their work.
He’s also not thinking about what’s triggering this anger within him. What series of events and experiences has led him to this point, where he finds it difficult to manage these emotions?
John decides to take some anger management classes to see if he can get to the bottom of it. After talking with the helper for a few sessions, he recognises that a lot of his anger comes from the fear of being held accountable for work that isn’t perfect. Following the path back, he realises that this all comes from his childhood, where he struggled to please a parent that only ever gave him conditional love.
With a bit of help, he’s managed to follow the breadcrumbs of his negative emotions back to the source.
What would your journey into Self Awareness look like, and what tools could you use to help you move towards it?
The first thing I could suggest is to look into meditation. It’s designed to turn our powerful torch of consciousness inwards and helps us to cultivate reflective introspection. When meditating, we are observing our thoughts without being attached to them, which eventually leads to that somewhat alien yet powerful realisation I mentioned at the beginning – that we are not our thoughts.
It’s also worth taking some time to reflect. Part of practicing self awareness is being questioning and inquisitive over what we’ve done and how we’ve acted. Have you behaved the way you would expect yourself to, or did something happen that made you act out of character, or evoke some unpleasant emotions that stayed with you for the day?
Get feedback from others. There’s no better reference point than to look at how other people react to us, and to ask them what they think about how we reacted or behaved in a certain situation. Other people are mirrors in which we can see ourselves, and judge how we’re being received if we take the time to look.
Most of all, be kind to yourself as you begin on the road to self awareness. It’s a difficult and sometimes treacherous path, where we can uncover things that will challenge our sense of identity. Give yourself time to reflect, and don’t rush it.