How (and Why) to Increase Your Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the critical first step to making any kind of change in your life. Learn how, and why, to tap into the messages your body and your brain are sending you.

[examines mustache in tight close up]

Hmm. What do you think? I mean, it's not bad as mustaches go. I could spend endless hours fiddling with it if I so chose. But I'm not really much of a mustache guy. There was this one when I was 22. [holds up photo] My girlfriend at the time loved it. She loooved it!

So I kept it on for a while. But I really haven’t had many of them over the years. I wouldn't have this one if my younger son hadn't said, “Hey, Dad, I'm going off to grad school in a month. Let's have a father/son mustache picture.” (I didn't know that was a thing.)

And then I was gonna shave it off, until my older son said, “Hey I'm coming to town in a couple of weeks — don't shave it off, I want to see it. 

And my wife . . . She loves it. She doesn't looove it. But she loves it.

Still, I kept it on for one more reason: it provides a great opportunity to talk about change. 

So what's the story of the mustache? Well, part of it comes down to how we define ourselves, and whether we have an inner focus or an outer focus. 

For me, if I just kept the mustache on because my wife said she loved it or other people said, “Oh it's a great mustache,” then I'm doing something to please others and not to please myself. And that's kind of a sucky way to live. 

We all make some of those trade offs, but the more we can be authentic to ourselves and what works for us, the better. 

But this sort of inner focus versus outer focus isn't a big part of what I want to talk about right. It is about awareness. 

And for me, the first step is awareness is: I don't feel comfortable with this sucker [the mustache]. It bugs me, it doesn’t — for me — aid my looks or my feelings about myself, so I’d really like to take it off. 

But there's a bigger story about awareness because all change starts from there. 

And not just intellectual change, because we don't live just from our necks up. Our bodies are involved, our heart and our spirit and everything else. And the more that we can tune into: 

· what’s happening in my body
· what’s happening with my breath, and
· what’s happening with my emotions

It gives us an opening, and then the tools to be able to start to make choices, and then to be able to actually move forward with change. 

Those are the three key parts: it's about awareness; it's about choice; and it's about commitment. 

Here's a story to help illustrate how change can start. 

It's a Friday night and I'm having a conversation with my wife. When you’ve been together with someone for a long period of time, you tend to know how to set the other person off. It’s like we've got these little buttons that we can push, or they get pushed in us. 

And on this particular occasion. My wife pushed one of those buttons and I started to react. My body got tense, my breathing got constricted, and I was getting ready for battle. And then I stopped. 

And I'm like, “Wow, what's happening here? My body's tense, my breathing is tight, and I'm getting ready for battle. This sucks. I don't want to be like this!” 

Here's the funny part. Not only did I *think* this, but I actually said it out loud. So I'm in mid-sentence about go off on something and I say, “Wait a minute, what's going on here? My body's tense, my breathing is tight, and I'm getting ready for battle. I don't want to be this way!” 

My wife's eyes get wide. 

And then I say, “Okay, how do you want to be, John? Well, I'd like to not have this conversation. I'd like to be relaxed and happy and have fun and, yeah, so let's just move on.”

And my wife was like, “What just happened?!” 

Here's the funny thing — no, not funny, but the powerful and important thing. We don't have these kind of fights anymore. Sure, we might have other things we get in disagreement about, but not like that. 

Because I catch myself, and she's catching herself, too. And sometimes we'll verbally unwind these things that we had started to do. 

And that's how change begins to happen. It starts with awareness. 

Now, you can't just pluck it out of the air and and go, “Okay, I'm aware!” It takes habit, it takes practice, it's like training a muscle. 

And so, here's how to sharpen your awareness. 

Get a blank sheet of paper or notepad, plus a pen or pencil. 

Next, draw a table with seven rows and three columns. Don't worry about doing fancy formatting, unless that really makes you happy, or keeps you from being annoyed. There's something powerful in the imperfections of doing this by hand. 

On the left side of the table, write the days of the week. Across the top, write “AM”, “MID” (for middle of the day), and then “PM.” 

And then every day for the next week, write down what you notice about yourself at three different times — what you notice about how your body feels, how easy or tight is your breath, and how you're feeling emotionally. 

The key to this is repetition, so make it as easy as possible to actually do this. Here are my suggestions:

· for the AM one, check in or scan yourself before getting out of bed, or maybe while you're eating breakfast.

· for the MID one, do it at lunchtime. 

· for the PM one, do this around dinner or just before bed. 

Of course if something really hits you during the day, be sure to capture that.

When you're writing down what you notice, don't just say something like, “I was mad!” Instead, consider how that reaction affected your body, your breathing and your follow on emotions. 

The more detailed you can make each entry, the more likely you are to notice subtle shifts in your awareness in the future. 

Once you've filled out a week's worth of observations, take time to look back through what you've written. Are there any trends you see, either in triggers or reactions or even the time of day? Is there any particular person or situation which hooked you? As you look at individual entries, can you tap back into how you felt in that moment? 

Being aware physically of the impact of a trigger or situation will help you more quickly recognize when something is off in the future. That definitely helped me in that story I told earlier. 

Before you set the awareness log aside, think about what you want to do with the discoveries. Was this just an interesting exercise, or are there things you want to change about how you're being and how you're reacting in the world? 

If you find the seven day awareness log helpful, keep it going for a few more weeks. Just like learning any new skill, the more repetitions you get in, the greater will be the likelihood of lasting success.

John Windsor

Coach & Author · I help people reinvent themselves, at any age.


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