The secret to self-awareness is that there isn’t one. I either have your complete attention now, or I have lost you, which means that this post wasn’t for you to begin with. Bye.
For those of you still with me…
The cornerstone of my coaching (and my massage and bodywork, for that matter) involves working with a client to drive self-awareness. While studying Sport Psychology, I learned a ton about Motivation Theory, Goal-Setting, Optimal Arousal Levels. All that good stuff. The problem: there was something foundational missing.
That something was self-awareness.
In preparing a senior project for my undergrad, I stumbled upon a piece of research that noted that Harvard Business school identified self-awareness as the most critical attribute of successful leaders. Not intelligence, not experience…self-awareness. This actually makes perfect sense: if you lack the ability to know yourself and the ability to objectively evaluate yourself, improvement and growth is difficult, if not impossible. I led PLENTY of Sailors in the Navy that could not move forward because they were not self-aware. By failing to accurately know themselves, they also were unable to take my feedback for what it was worth. In essence, because they didn’t know themselves, they were able to dismiss my evaluations and advice as inaccurate and continue to perform the way they had always performed. They were their own worst enemies.
In real life (and, sigh, social media) I constantly harp on developing self-awareness, and I often am met with this response: “HOW!?”
Many people want to be self aware but don’t get the first steps.On more than one occasion I have had a person reach out to me frustrated by the fact that I constantly preach self-awareness, but don’t really provide much of a roadmap with which to get there.
There is not secret, I told you that, but the base of the pyramid is MINDFULNESS.
I’m sure I lost a few more readers, here, but think logically. If you are unable to even direct your attention effectively, then how can you direct it inward long enough to examine who you are and what makes you tick? You need to be able to be still and meditate in order to objectively assess yourself. Without this critical skill, everything is a wash.
You NEED to be able to STEP BACK…and BREATHE.
I wish I had an easy formula for this, but I don’t. The truth is that this requires WORK. I’d be a lair if I told you that this was easy.
Being mindful is about developing your ability to direct your attention, as well as developing “meta-attention”. Meta-attention is, confusingly, the ability to pay attention to paying attention. That is: you need to be able to identify when you have wandered off and quickly get back on track. Recently I vanished from social media to focus on myself and, upon returning to serious mindfulness practice, I realized that social media
Fixing this was every bit as difficult as deadlifting a heavy barbell.
I’m not fucking joking. This is work. But it is worth it.
Want a decent read on Mindfulness? Check out Search Inside Yourself by: Chade-Meng Tan, which outlines the program used by Google to get their employees on the track of mindfulness. This book is a great primer and is packed with a bunch of practical activities that you can do with yourself and with others (Ahem…Active Listening, fellow coaches??). It also outlines a bit of the science behind mindfulness.
Comically, if you look at the negative reviews, one of the main complaints is: “There’s nothing new here.”
Therein lies another problem. There really isn’t anything new. Of course, we may have increased technology to unlock the neuroscience behind meditation and learn exactly what is going on with the brain, but the actually techniques have been around for (literally) thousands of years. You guys know that I am one of the most evidence-based-anti-woo people on the planet, but this is an area where the East had shit figured out a really, really, long time ago.
Yet here we are, still, looking for a fucking shortcut.
At the end of the day, I don’t care if you engage mindfulness practice in a secular way, or something religious. I use the Headspace App, which appeals to me because ti is secular AND it bombards me with reminders to sit down and be mindful. Perhaps you will choose Buddhist tenets, something Zen, or even sitting in prayer. I DON’T CARE WHICH MODALITY YOU CHOOSE!
What matters to me is that you develop your ability to be mindful. being mindful is the foundation of being self-aware…
And being self-aware is the key to establishing goals and behaviors that are relevant and facilitate your continuing growth and development.