Awareness is the ‘secret sauce’ of personal change
Most people experience problems in their life at work and at home—it’s part of the human condition. Awareness is what allows you to see either what’s creating the problem, and what you can do about it, or recognize there is nothing to be done and you have to put up with it. Each has its value.
Somewhere around 99% of people live on autopilot in a world of routine with a static level of awareness. Because they currently face no drastic changes and feel they are moderately successful as they are, they continue to do what they do now, in the way they presently do it. Any counter-productive and dysfunctional behaviors they have—and they will have some, we all do—are ignored.
They are blind to what is going on. Their attitude limits even necessary change, let alone new information or new experiences.
Their awareness has come to a standstill.
The 1 or 2% who are proactively seeking greater awareness don’t wait to be forced into change. They go to meet it. They read, attend classes, welcome new ideas and perspectives, try new things, seek out others different from themselves and look for challenges and stimulation.
As they do this, their awareness expands. They aren’t so focused on ‘me’. They stand at a higher point on the mountain, more able to see how their past has created their present and how their presence is creating their future.
How does awareness work?
As you increase your awareness, you will gain clarity on the patterns of cause and effect in your life. You’ll understand how effects flow from internal beliefs and assumptions about reality. Many people discover what they thought was reality is just an effect of what they believed was true—not reality at all. A deeper awareness lets you grasp how your thoughts, actions, and beliefs combine to create life’s experience through an ‘internal’ reality that determines how you feel, how you behave and how you give meaning to whatever happens ‘out there’.
If you do this, you’ll give yourself much more choice over what happens in your life. Awareness creates choice. As you watch your thoughts, feelings, and what they lead to, you’ll learn how to take more control over them. Life won’t just happen to you as you bumble along. You’ll become an active partner in bringing it about.
The downsides of being unaware
Being unaware and going through life on autopilot means carrying your past into your future—repeating the same patterns more or less blindly. People who are unaware have no grasp of their internal map of reality. They live unconsciously. They carry forward the bad along with the good and never know why.
If you aren’t aware of the links between your internal map of reality and your behavior, you have no choice in how you behave—no awareness of the consequences of thoughts or actions. You’ll repeat self-limiting ideas and behaviors over and over again—even those you know are self-destructive.
For the unaware, all this is happening on autopilot. They are unconsciously self-selecting the people, circumstances, events, and interpretations that allow it to happen, while unconsciously rejecting everything that may point to the contrary.
Awareness is not the same as knowing
Being aware of what is going on in your mind is not the same as knowing that you do something. This is important. The unaware know they engage in self-limiting and self-sabotaging behavior, but they don’t stop because they can’t grasp what is causing it to happen. They may want to change—desperately—but feel it’s not possible.
Awareness is seeing that what you do ‘inside’ creates an outcome— and seeing that while you’re doing it.
Take belief as an example. A belief is a thought you think is true. To feel secure with that ‘truth’, your mind locks into an unconscious circular pattern of perception and thinking that goes like this:
This is true for me and I want it to stay that way, so I’ll unconsciously behave in a way that allows my belief to be right. I won’t notice how I focus first on people, events, and circumstances that act as confirming evidence. I’ll unthinkingly treat those with different ideas as jerks, so I’ll be able to ignore them and continue to attract people and circumstances that support my pre-existing belief. Should that fail, I’ll blindly interpret my experience in a way that makes me right; and if I find there are still numerous interpretations available to me, I’ll unconsciously choose the one that supports my belief.
If you become aware, you’ll notice this as it’s taking place—which means you’ll be able to intervene and turn into another direction. Those who are unaware only grasp what they’ve done after the event. It’s that “Oh no! I did it again!” feeling. By then, it’s too late., even if they are able to work out what caused the problem.
Awareness comes with a cost
The usual upshot of becoming more aware is that you discover what a good deal of you have taken for granted to be ‘true’ is an illusion. If you cannot face this, as many cannot, awareness is not for you.
Becoming aware also takes effort, purposefulness, and consistent practice. Only if you choose to pay the price will you experience a world where self-limiting and self-sabotaging thoughts are caught before they inflict any more harm. A world where you can let go and suffer less pain since much of it is caused by trying to hang on for dear life to old ways. A world where the causes of anxiety, stress, depression, and a host of other negative feelings are made clear and open to change. By coming to terms with the cause-and-effect nature of life, you’ll be aware of how your internal state affects your experience and make more conscious, healthier choices.
A strategy to gain awareness
Here are some practices to support your capacity to become more aware.
- Daily meditation.
- Spending ten minutes several times each day observing your internal pictures, scripts, and dialogs, and noticing how they affect your experience. Playback the ‘tape of your day’ in the evening. Re-visit an experience or two and observe how your internal patterns affected the outcome.
- Explore your internal state when you experience strong feelings. What goes on in you at those times? What beliefs, thoughts, feelings, or emotions fuel the fire?
- Practice, practice, practice. Practice will make you, if not perfect, much better. You’ll discover a new ‘you’. You won’t create self-sabotaging states and more without seeing what you’re doing.
Observing your unconscious internal processes with an active curiosity lets you discover what doesn’t serve you. When you let go of those self-limiting and self-sabotaging thoughts, you’ll experience a fresh sense of aliveness and enthusiasm. All that’s needed is a deep awareness that your life doesn’t have to be this way.
Here are some questions for self-reflection:
- How well do you know yourself? Are you aware of your thoughts and emotions? Do you see how they automatically produce your experience?
- Do you feel uncomfortable with anything that does not conform to your current beliefs or ideas of reality? Do you unconsciously search for ways to prove these existing views are right? What if they aren’t?
- Are you open to discovering new possibilities and insights about yourself? Are you willing to give up any belief or premise that you find is no longer serving you? Where might that take you?
- Would you say you are more or less self-aware than you were last year, two years ago, or five years ago? Remember, awareness is being conscious of what’s happening deep inside you when it’s happening, not just knowing more about yourself after the event. Are you growing or standing still?