Self-awareness practice consists of paying attention to the choices we make and comes in two forms. The first is active self-awareness where we work with our choices as we make them throughout our day. The second is reflective self-awareness, a practice where we use the past as a mirror to understand ourselves better in the present.
Active Self-Awareness Practice starts with catching yourself making choices and asking yourself the following questions:
- Are you basing your choice on something you remember from the past (memory)?
- Is the choice you’re making based on your current emotional state (mood)?
- Is any part of this decision based upon making an assumption (speculating)?
These three questions are the baseline for self-awareness practice. As you continue to practice you’ll start to notice the subtleties of the process and a new level of self-awareness will begin to emerge. As your practice grows it’ll become natural for you to see the ways in which your (1) Memories, (2) emotions, and (3) ability to speculate, work together to make all of our decisions, including the very subtle choices we call thinking.
Becoming more aware of the choices we make is not as hard as it might sound. When you decide to have a conscious awareness of the choices you make, being connected to your decisions making process gets easier and easier. If you want to see one clear example of how this concept plays out in our everyday lives, try going shopping. This is one of the fastest ways to see how we make a lot of selections (choices) and consciously engage in the process.
I recently introduced a student to this practice by stopping by the grocery store to pick up a few items on the way to our meeting. One of the things I needed to pick up for dinner was a couple of boxes of instant stuffing mix. I asked my student which he would choose from the different brands available and he said he would select the generic one. This one request opened up a space to discuss his process behind making his choice.
It turned out he made the selection for a couple of reasons, including the fact that he had a hard time deciding; he thought they were all probably the same just with different packaging; and finally, the generic was cheapest. So his choice was based upon speculation that they were the same anyway, so why not just pay the least for it?
I walked over to the shelf, picked up a box of the generic brand and one of a major brand and compared the nutrition labels. I pointed out that the generic had a lot more added salt than this particular brand and I was going to base my choice on remembering that my wife requires a lower salt diet. With that in mind, I put a couple boxes of the lower salt name brand stuffing in the cart.
We both made choices heavily based on just one of our mental assets, mine was my memory of my wife trying to avoid too much salt, and his was based on his assumption (speculation) that they were all probably the same, which turned out to be untrue.
If you chose to try this exercise, you might notice that you select some things based on how something tasted in the past, or your mood when you last had it. You might also notice you decide not to get some things for a variety of reasons as well. You will probably be surprised at first to learn why you do and don’t choose to select different items.
As you continue to practice, you’ll probably notice the reactionary portion of your choices are the easiest to process, especially when it comes to making better choices. As an example of this, think about how we often modify our behavior to censor ourselves around children. You can also notice how we modify our behavior depending on who/where we are at the time, such as how we interact with different family members, different friends, in a work environment, etc. If you take the time to observe these moments you will find that there’s some really great stuff to notice within these relationships. They are also a great place to begin to notice how you interpret situations and ultimately how you react to your own interpretations.
Eventually, if you keep practicing, you’ll begin stopping yourself in time to prevent some poor, or uninformed, choices and reactions. In addition, you will also begin to notice how interpreting a situation is a choice. Ultimately, this realization is the catalyst for how we take control of our thoughts, instead of remaining slaves to them.
Reflective Self-Awareness Practice works much in the same way, except in the reflective version we select an event in our past to replay over and over in our mind to notice our interpretations and our reactions. Again, we’re specifically looking for the roles our three mental resources play in our experience:
- Emotional state (mood)
- Assumptions (speculating)
The first step in this process is choosing a subject, a past experience, to review. If reflective self-awareness practice is going to be your primary form of practice, begin with the latest events in your life and work backward. At first, it’s easiest to select events where there was some sort of conflict. Think of a time when you had a disagreement with someone, even if it was just on social media. As your practice continues, you’ll have new events to reflect upon, as well as a wealth of sources in your past from which to draw.
If reflective self-awareness isn’t your primary practice, try to select life events that are easy to remember and which you feel aren’t too emotionally charged at first. Emotionally charged situations are great to come back to after you have a little more experience, but can sometimes be overwhelming if you jump right into them.
It can be helpful to make a list of a few events to review ahead of time so that you are not struggling to think about something on-the-spot when practicing self-awareness.
Start by thinking about the event as you remember it taking place. This is something we often do already, except we tend to interject a lot of speculation regarding how things could have turned out better or how we could have said or done some things differently. When we reflect, the idea is not to be concerned with how things might have turned out, rather, we focus on how we made the choices we did during the original event. Just replay the event while acknowledging your emotional state, any assumptions (speculating), and how past memories may have played a part in your interactions.
Take note that as you reflect on these life events, you may notice some of the heated emotions you had concerning the events, or people involved, begin to cool. Not only is this OK, it can be somewhat ideal when it happens. It’s just part of a natural relaxation process as we learn more about ourselves and gain more control of the choices we make.