What I discovered was that you need to take the time to define your success and have the right mindset to support you along your turbulent journey to the top. In fact, your mindset - what you believe is true, false, and possible for your potential - is the first and most important step that will allow you to unlock your true potential.
The most effective way to change your mindset to one of growth, motivation, and productivity, is to practice mindful exercises that promote the growth of your self awareness muscle.
My girlfriend and I have been doing lots of planning for an upcoming trip - hiking in Glacier National Park. I’m sure you’ll appreciate that a 4 night hiking trip in the mountains can bring up a few challenges. Aligning expectations, objectives, and even menu choices, are only the beginning of a lengthy planning process necessary to stay fed, found, and sane. Likewise, such an intense exercise can lead to disagreements, especially when there’s emotional and financial stresses at play.
I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes have a tendency to be a control freak. I also like to know answers to important points of interest such as itinerary so I can adjust my goals and milestones accordingly. Unfortunately, I let this side of my personality surface again.
After confusion with the US parks instruction to obtain a backcountry camp permit, I suggested we get on the phone with them to find out more. I let Danielle take charge. I became frustrated at the lack of consistent questioning by Danielle, and my controlling personality took over, wanting to find faults in her approach. I proceeded to have a disagreement after the call as to which version of the answers were correct. was claiming to know, and so was she. Stalemate.
I later realised that I’d made a mistake. I’d left Danielle in charge of the enquiry process, and hadn’t put my faith in her ability to complete the task. I apologised for my behaviour and explained that it was possible I was not the only one who could be correct, and that I had faith in her decision going forward.
What happened here?
Rather than let differences be and ignore the situation, passing it as a difference in ability or otherwise, I decided to change course. Realising my actions weren’t aligning with my deeper values of love, self betterment, and a harmonious relationship with my partner, I used my intuition and self awareness to turn the situation from being focused about me, to being considerate of my significant other and her inclusion. An emphasis on the ‘we’ rather than ‘me’.
What I’ve just described is a real scenario. In fact, it only just happened, and it’s meant to highlight what it means to be an active user of self awareness.
Self awareness: An insight to your truest self
Being self aware also means you’re able to sense how your actions impact others, and your heightened sensory acuity provides feedback to make appropriate changes in undesired behavioural patterns.
The ability for you to become self aware is a sign that you’ve obtained a higher level of emotional intelligence, an important trait of star performers, the successful, and Cause Crusaders alike.
To practice self awareness is to be an observer. Imagine yourself sitting in a quiet corner, watching the world pass by, taking notes and generating ideas. Should you encounter a disagreement with your values or a difference in your beliefs (as I did with my partner over a heated vacation planning conversation), then you are able to swiftly make the necessary adjustments to ensure a continually positive experience for yourself and those around you.
Rarely does self awareness come naturally to you. Maybe you are fortunate to be raised in a family with a high level of emotional intelligence, or a peer of yours has been an influence on you. If you don’t fall under either of those, fear not. Self awareness is a personality trait which can be self taught. All it takes is some guidance, training, and practice.
How to build your self awareness muscle
Before you can build your self awareness muscle, you need to be comfortable knowing that it is going to take time for it to develop. Just like training for a running race, self awareness requires practice, persistence, and at the beginning, your devoted time and attention.
To build your self awareness strength, the ‘busy’ cycle must be broken with time for you.
Tony Robbins refers to it as your ‘Hour of Power’ in his brilliant audio training Get The Edge, and put simply it’s making more time for you by getting out of bed earlier. I recommend to start with a minimum of 30 minutes a day.
Think it’s too hard and you need the extra sleep? Think again, Most people don’t understand sleep, and believe they need 8+ hours of sleep per night. Not true. In fact, it’s likely you need as little as 6 hours of quality sleep each night to get the rest your body really needs. For more information, I recommend checking out the Powerful Sleep book which totally transformed my understanding of this most important topic for a Cause Crusader.
Once you’re up, get moving, and start giving yourself the time to build that self awareness muscle that you deserve. I recommend following a morning routine to get the most out of your day, and at a minimum you need to start organising and planning your day so you can leave more time for you. Increase your energy and alertness with exercise, clear your mind and develop focus with a meditation practice, and plan the important tasks by writing a daily journal.
Just like anything else, ‘you time’ needs to be given as much priority as any other commitment you have. Break the busy cycle, create time in your day for you, and implement fundamental morning habits such as meditation, journal writing, or a full blown morning routine. Only then will you have time to become truly self aware.
2. Practice mindfulness
In this day and age, the culture of ‘work, rest, play’ (with an emphasis on the work), stress levels are higher than they’ve ever been.
Stress is a killer for developing self awareness, as it triggers release of adrenaline and your ‘fight or flight’ response. Combined, these impair your ability to concentrate, focus, retain memories, and interpret events with a neutral emotional perspective, among other negative effects.
One of the most effective ways to combat stress and allow us to focus our mental abilities on building our self awareness muscle, is to practice mindfulness daily.
Mindfulness is a state of being where your focus is centred around observing thoughts in the present moment, whereas self awareness is to observe your actions in the present moment. Being mindful is to open space in your thoughts and allow yourself to see the present for what it truly is, without interruptions from the conscious mind, emotional responses, or external stimulus.
When you're mindful, you’re living in the moment and awakening to the experience of life.
The most effective way to practice mindfulness is to start a daily meditation habit, if you haven’t already done so. Meditation is a tool we can use, practice, and develop which over time, will naturally grow your mindfulness ability.
To get you started, here’s three resources to increase your level of mindfulness that I’ve found useful:
- Check out my simple 5 step meditation guide on the KAC blog. Make sure you download the cheat sheet to assist you in building a successful meditation habit.
- For those requiring more motivation and a hands on guided approach, this beginners guide to mindfulness meditation course on Udemy is outstanding.
- Those who prefer a book (like others that are part of the KAC Book Club), then Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn is an excellent book to introduce Mindfulness, and how you can practice it daily to improve the quality of your life.
3. Listen first, speak last
If the most influential way to build your self awareness muscle is to practice observing, then the road to success is lined with the golden pavement of listening.
To listen is an exercise in our ability to observe a social situation as it happens in the present, a critical factor in building self awareness. Unfortunately, it’s become our instinct to provide a response to people as soon as we’re able to. Perhaps it’s our need to be loved, to be significant, or maybe it’s a cultural evolution driven by social media and an impulsive desire to build our self esteem through external validation.
Whatever the case, we’ve developed a habit of ensuring our voice is heard in this noisy world by speaking more than we listen.
Ever had a coffee date with a good friend and found yourself trapped in a one-sided conversation, with you being held at the mercy of an emotional onslaught? Were you able to get a word in? Did you get angry and upset, your mind focusing on your inability to contribute to conversation?
I know I have. I find such conversations emotionally draining because of my minds disruptive internal chatter, with a result that I would normally try to gain control over the conversation. If that failed, I’d zone out, my mind wandering to other more pressing thoughts, or deliberately seeking distractions from the nearby table of screaming children...
Without active listening, you haven’t enabled a true connection with the friend to occur, and have been disrespectful to their time and energy invested into the meeting. You’ve become controlled by instantaneous thoughts and emotions, undesirable traits and those which a Cause Crusader would do well to improve upon.
So, to build your self awareness in social situations, it’s important to practice listening before you speak. If you find yourself interrupting conversation before the other person has finished, finishing sentences on another person's behalf, or offering ‘advice’ before realising the full scope of the situation, then congratulations are deserved for you becoming aware! Don’t stop there, take the next step. Close your mouth, open your ears, and listen.
Self awareness is a beautiful tune. Listen before making your own music heard.
Self awareness takes time: Be generous
This is just one piece of the puzzle in your crusade to be better, and there will be other tools discussed in more detail soon on the KAC blog.
For now, work hard to relieve yourself from a life you hate by creating time for yourself to explore, realising your goals, dreams, and aspirations in the process. Building your self awareness muscle will lead to a gradual shift in your mindset, and will allow you to explore your thoughts, feelings, and emotions in a more relaxed state, ultimately releasing the true person within.
A person of spirit and heart.