Developing self awareness is about knowing exactly when emotional turmoil begins within you. It is about becoming sensitive to the obvious symptoms - such as a knot in your stomach, restlessness, or a tightness in your chest.
Conscious awareness of those symptoms will prevent your animal instincts from capturing the viewpoint of your mind. Typically, raw fear can take over, within half a second. The fearful perspective will dig in and be backed by all the resources available to your mind and redirect your thoughts and actions.
Self awareness can stop that knee jerk process in its tracks and bring your common sense back in control - bring you back your peace of mind.
Self Awareness – A Historic Practice
Self awareness is the key theme in the meditation practiced for centuries by the Buddhists. They advised “staring back” at your thoughts. Matthieu Ricard, a respected Buddhist monk said: "One may wonder what people do in retreats, sitting for eight hours a day. They familiarize themselves with a new way of dealing with the arising of thoughts."
"When you start getting used to recognizing thoughts as they arise, it is like rapidly spotting someone you know in a crowd. When a powerful thought or anger arises, you recognize it. That helps you to avoid being overwhelmed by this thought." Self awareness is a powerful method of controlling your mind.
Developing Self Awareness – The Difficulty
But, developing self awareness is not easy for everyone. Eugene Gendlin, created his “Focusing” therapy to help people to achieve self awareness. It is a psychotherapeutic routine, which has helped thousands of people to develop self awareness and to calm their distressed minds. But, Gendlin noted that only certain clients really benefited from his therapy. Such people had “higher scores on intelligence, ego strength, character and self-control, emotional stability, tender mindedness and introspectiveness." They repressed less, were less defensive, more self-disclosing and were willing to attribute difficulties to internal causes.
Those who instinctively attribute their troubles to external causes may not benefit from these pages. Their minds reject the possibility of effective self improvement. But, dear reader, your interest in reading these pages indicates your suspicion that internal causes may also be the cause of your emotional problems. You fit into the category that can be helped. You can develop self awareness.
Developing Self Awareness – The Importance Of Attention
Self awareness depends on the innate ability of your mind to focus its attention. William James, the father of American psychology, defined attention as "the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneous objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration of consciousness are its essence." When you pay attention, you can instantly feel the touch of cloth on your shoulder, a tightness in your hands, or a thought as it arises in your mind. Attention is a neuronal process.
Maunsell discovered that attention triggers increased neural activity in the observed circuits within your mind. At the same time, attention inhibits activity in the immediate surroundings. Maunsell had studied neural signals in the visual area of the cortex of monkeys, when viewing a swarm of dots on a computer screen. He was able to correlate the firing of specific neurons, with recognition of the movement of specific dots. When the animal focused on just one of the dots, the directed attention caused the neurons that signaled its motion to fire more strongly. At the same time, neural signals related to other dots were attenuated. When you pay attention, you can highlight your thoughts and and your cortex perceives them.
Developing Self Awareness – The Observer & The Observed
Millions of years of evolutionary development assembled a triune brain within your mind. Within it, a rational prefrontal intelligence and lower level mammalian and reptilian brains constantly develop competing survival strategies. Typically, the common sense in your prefrontal regions seeks a rational strategy. Anger searches for a successful aggressive strategy and fear, for a sound defensive one. If these searches fail, your feelings of fear, anger, or disappointment become more intense. Your turmoil increases, when fear or anger instinctively trigger visceral reactions. But, your common sense sees failure as merely another event.
Your prefrontal brain also brings you your conscious awareness. That awareness can be overwhelmed by your sensation of fear, anger and the related visceral reactions. But, the same region can direct attention to isolate and observe your own emotional responses. “I can feel the fear.” With practice, you learn to observe the impulsive thoughts arising from lower levels. You learn to sense the visceral responses of your body. The common sense of your prefrontal regions is responsible for such self awareness. Since that observing region is independent of the lower levels, your viewpoint becomes free from troubling emotions. Self awareness frees you from torture by your animal instincts. All it needs is a little practice.
Developing Self Awareness – Proprioception And Relaxation
Developing self awareness merely requires systematic observation. But, it takes a few days. As a first step, use your sensory ability to become aware of the position of your body with your eyes closed. Proprioception is the distinct sensory ability, where nerve impulses from the stretch receptors in your muscles inform your brain of the beginning and end of each joint movement. Lying in your bed in a dark room, you have the capacity to become aware of the position of your limbs with your eyes closed. Sense this feeling. This can be your first step into self awareness.
Also become aware of any tightness in your muscles. Consciously tighten and relax your muscles. Such a practice will enable you to better control the responses of your body. While lying in bed, practice tightening and relaxation all the way from the muscles in your toes to those in your neck and eyes. Within a couple of weeks, you can learn to relax on demand. Tensed muscles can trigger angry, or fearful thoughts without your awareness. Relaxing your body is the first step in removing the chatter of troubling stress messages. It is then easier to pay attention to the vast inner worlds within your mind.
Developing Self Awareness – The Cause Of Stress
Your mind works at lightning speed by actively searching for solutions to the problems faced by you. An animal escapes from danger by finding a suitable hiding place. It searches its own memories for the nearest shelter. Animals have hiding places. People are less fortunate. In the modern world, running away is not an option and problems have no immediate solutions. There are no instantly available hiding places. Your mind searches for ways to escape from your problems, or to remove obstructions. Emotions are triggered, when these internal searches lead to frustration.
Emotions often have an unpleasant quality. Medical texts report that pain is felt in two waves, separated by an interval of a few tenths of a second. The first is a sensation of pain, which is sharp and localized. The second is an emotional drive signal, which patients report as being a more disagreeable sense of “hurt.” Stimulation of certain nerve cells in the temporal lobe causes a patient to feel the awful dread emotion. Emotions are real nerve signals in your nervous system. Self awareness is the ability to independently identify emotions as and when they occur.
Developing Self Awareness – Identify Your Primary Concerns
Self awareness becomes easier, when you categorize the storm of emotions within you. The Self Improvment Plan presented in this website can put you quickly in lucid touch with your most troubling concerns. This method of self assessment depends on the capacity of your mind to get swiftly to the essentials, such as when you prepare a simple shopping list. The procedure will bring to your notice troubling issues such as the conflicts between career and personal life.
When you evaluate the list subsequently, RI, your common sense, takes charge, differentiating the facts from your emotional responses. Self awareness is the skill of consciously identifying your emotional outbursts. You gradually become familiar with the viewpoints of the animal intelligences, which attack you with their warped strategies for survival. In the process, self awareness isolates your common sense, and frees it from emotional turmoil.
In subsequent steps, the Self Improvement Plan lists the various options available to you. Reality will then dawn on you that there are no immediate solutions to quite a few of the problems you face. Acceptance of such unpleasant facts in life will help still the emotional storms within. Settling your primary concerns will lead your attention to uncover the simpler emotions like envy, jealousy, guilt or irritability, which trouble you. Self awareness is the key to stilling such emotions, which spoil your calm.
Developing Self Awareness – Envy And Jealousy
For most emotions, we experience only a mild sense of discomfort. But, such emotions like envy and jealousy trouble many good natured people. These emotions are not shameful feelings. They are the responses of the deep wisdom within your mind to personal failure. Jealousy originates from fear or anger over the prospect of failure in achieving a desired goal. Career growth, a partner's love, or a mother's undivided attention are usually the threatened goals.
Envy originates from regret, leading to anger, over one's powerlessness to get an alluring asset owned by a perceived equal. Self awareness helps you to notice your discomfort over such events. Identify the failures in life, which haunt you. Then you can act to prevent failure in future, or learn to come to terms with it. When such failure does not trouble you, envy, or jealousy will not trouble you again.
Developing Self Awareness – Low Self Esteem
Some people are burdened by persistent internal voices, which tell them that they are failures. Their low self esteem may be caused early in life, by bullying even as they were too timid to fight back. They may be very successful people, but these early critical voices persist. For every success story, there are many ordinary workers. Low self-esteem can punish them with crippling reminders of being failures.
Self awareness can recognize these troubling messages. Recognition of such messages will quiet the harsh voices. Common sense will put their lives in proper perspective. Overcoming low self-esteem will not work miracles. It will not convert quiet people into extroverts. But, it will still turmoil. They will feel comfortable about not being “the life of the party.” Not burdened by persistent inner criticism, they can go on to discover and exploit their innate talents.
Developing Self Awareness - Empathy
Self awareness can improve your capacity to communicate with people. The human brain has a “mirror neuron” network, which uses sensory clues to enable a person to experience the feelings of another person. In experiments with monkeys, researchers report that specific neurons fire when an animal reaches for a peanut, pulls a lever, or pushes a door. Iaccomo Rizzolati and Vittorio Gallasse discovered that neurons in the same regions also fire, when the monkey watches another monkey perform similar actions. In humans, neural signals, which signify pain were reported when watching another person being pricked by a needle. Your mirror neurons enable empathy by making you experience the feelings of the people you communicate with.
Self awareness can strengthen your sensitivity to people, when you pay attention to sensing their feelings. Insensitivity to this massive world of information, which is available to you within your own mind, can weaken all your interactions in life. How do they feel about your decisions? What are their motivations? Strengthen your capacity to empathize by being open to the nerve signals, which your brain sends you, based on its assessments of their objectives and motivations. Become aware of the feelings of others.
Developing Self Awareness – Controlling Anger
Anger is merely a punishing viewpoint. It destroys your peace of mind and ruins your relationships. Self awareness can change that viewpoint. Once changed, your mind will not shrink back to its narrow views. The stressful anger signals originate from the amygdala, an almond sized organ in your brain. When they are stilled, controls pass to the common sense of your prefrontal brain. You can't wish your anger away, because your mind disregards such wishes.
You mind will respond intuitively to practical experience. First, your mind needs to be convinced that anger is a problem and not a solution. Second, you need to come to terms with the pivotal sources of your anger, reducing its causes. Third, you need to become aware of and detect the onset of anger, whenever it raises its head. Your attention to the telltale signals from your amygdala will gradually still any remaining anger signals. Each time your common sense wins, your neural circuits will have put an end to one knee jerk response. Self awareness can save you from seething against the inevitable thorns and barbs of life and accept it as it is, with its many unexpected potholes.
This page was last updated on 31-Dec-2013
For my peace of mind, I earmarked 20 minutes for meditation on the terrace. With my eyes closed, I sense my hands on the chair and feel the numbness in my feet.
I feel my breath flowing through my nose, my throat, my chest and my stomach. I can hear the chirping of birds, the phut phut of auto rickshaws, the occasional roar of a truck and the insistent hooting of horns.
The wide sky and the treetops come to my attention, when I open my eyes, I see a pale moon over two hundred thousand miles away. I see the nuclear fires, blazing for millions of years in the pale globe of the setting sun. I see a single star millions of miles away in space.
I can see green shoots coming up on a tree, watch the dives and swoops of birds, the great circles of the hawks and flocks of birds flying home for the night.
Diffused light from the sun reflects off a parrot on the tree and enters my eye through a pinhole opening. I sense the bustling mood of the bird, even though it is smaller than a drop of water in my eyes.
All these things are seen and felt by me in a few brief minutes. In the distance, is the head of a man seeming to be no bigger than a pea. Yet, that head too sees and feels such things. Ten million people in this great city see and feel in ten million ways.
My mind wanders to a misty view of postwar London; an exciting glimpse of Disneyland. An awed view of Tiananmen Square. The looming Himalayan ranges. My mind takes me to distant galaxies.
It carries me into the heart of millions of invisible neurons, where electrical charges flash thousands of times a second powering my contemplation. I see the campaigns of Julius Caesar and Alexander. I feel the longings of Jehangir.
Already my mind has taken me to palaces, battlefields and even the stars. If I lost everything, but can just see and feel, in just a few brief minutes, my mind can travel the world, or imagine the cosmos.
While my thoughts wandered far and near, the thought "20 minutes is a long time" also kept floating in. And yet, life has already blessed me with over twenty million waking minutes! I have an infinity of time on my hands. Have I a right to expect more from life?
I really loved the self improvement plan post. Its great food for thought and the steps are actually actionable as compared to many other self help sites out there.
Joe Glen USA.
As a clinical therapist, I have found your site very useful!
I love it. ...
Andrew Montgomery USA.