You probably already have a good idea of what needs improvement in your life. Knowing what your problems are, or becoming more self-aware, is the first step in changing habits or behaviors. Even though you may be aware of your problems, it’s important to pry deeper to uncover the root of of these matters through skillful self-awareness. Many schools of thought, including mindfulness and 12 steps programs, begin with awareness. Self-awareness can be broken down into three steps: pause (take a moment to think), investigate (explore what’s happening), and learn (realize the meaning behind your behavior).
Self-awareness starts with creating space before you react. You can create a space to pause and slow down your reactions by employing whatever mindfulness techniques help bring you into the present. Perhaps your situation calls for something as simple as taking a couple of deep breaths, or counting to five. Your circumstances may require a longer break, and you may choose to go for a walk or do a sitting meditation.
When you pause, you give yourself time before being pulled towards the compulsion, whether it be saying something hurtful, having another drink, or cleaning that last area of the house. The pause is a crucial step that provides the platform for you to dive inside yourself and explore what is coming up.
Self-awareness is more than a survey of what needs improving, it’s also the process of examining what is coming up for you in the present moment. During this step, it is important to look at your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. Take a few moments to turn your attention inward and see what arises. You may ask yourself, “Am I being true to myself in this moment?” or “Why am I having this compulsion?” or “What would happen if I didn’t do this?” Be curious about yourself and use this time to explore.
Take dessert, for example. Say you want to have chocolate after dinner, but you are trying to cut out sweets. To become truly self-aware, stop and examine your desire for chocolate. Where is this wanting coming from? Why do you want that piece of chocolate? Can you watch the wanting instead of following the wanting? You may find the reason for wanting the chocolate is because you are lonely, sad, had a bad day, or maybe you are just hungry.
When you keep re-examining yourself, the likelihood is you will get past the current problems you are facing, and start to realize what is at the root of your suffering. Then, you are more aware of what needs to be done to live a more creative and less stressful life.
Self-awareness teaches us why we are the way we are. By taking this time to look inside yourself, you become more in touch with the reasons behind your actions and feelings. You can uncover the root cause of your problems, and with this knowledge you will become better equipped to deal with them successfully.
These insights are monumental not only in working through your own issues, but also in building healthy relationships with others. When you know what triggers you, then you can take care of yourself and communicate your needs to those around you. Similarly, if you know what motivates you, you can make sure to remember these things when feeling low.
When you notice more and more of a behavior you do not like within yourself, then you will be more equipped to consciously control that behavior. This simple act of noticing helps you respond more in alignment with your intentions. Remember, this practice takes time, so be kind to yourself.
“Noticing mind habits is more important
than changing them.”
My dharma mentor said something brilliant that ties directly into this topic: “Noticing mind habits is more important than changing them.” There’s no judgment here, it’s just a simple practice of being curious and noticing what is showing up for you. The rest will fall into place if you listen to what is happening within.