Awareness: Are we self-aware?

Self awareness is seen as important because when we have a better understanding of ourselves, we are able to experience ourselves as unique and separate individuals. We are then empowered to make changes and to build on our areas of strength as well as identify areas where we would like to make improvements. 

But are we actually aware?

Thanks to the following guest for participating:

Stop Fixing Yourself: Wake Up, All Is Well was written by renowned Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello, and published and collated posthumously by Don Joseph Goewey, the executive director of the De Mello Spirituality Center, who also formerly managed the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford Medical School as well as a pioneering research institute focusing on methods to cope with catastrophic life events.

Here are some of the resources from the show:

Tasha Eurich (organisational psychologist and author of INSIGHT) gives three tips for becoming more self-aware, based on her extensive research of highly self-aware people.

Books looked at this week:

Anthony de Mello (edited by Don Joseph Goewey): Stop Fixing Yourself: Wake Up, All Is Well

Dr. Tasha Eurich: Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-aware as We Think, and how Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life

PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.

Transcription

Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.

Intro music

Welcome to episode 42 of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky skills by taking this learning journey with you.

Everyone seems to have a fundamental idea of what self-awareness is, the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively through reflection and introspection. But are we actually aware?

Our first book is from Anthony De Mello, who was a Jesuit priest born in Mumbai, India, in 1931. He is regarded as one of the foremost spiritual teachers of the twentieth century, respected widely for his groundbreaking and enduring work that integrates Western and Eastern spirituality.

Stop Fixing Yourself: Wake Up, All Is Well was published posthumously by Don Joseph Goewey, the executive director of the De Mello Spirituality Center, who also formerly managed the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford Medical School as well as a pioneering research institute focusing on methods to cope with catastrophic life events. Goewey was kind enough to spare some time for me this week, so please find the full interview on www.howtobe247.com or on the YouTube channel.

DON JOSEPH GOEWEY

De Mello tells us that if you are watchful and awake, all that is false and neurotic within you will drop away and you will begin to live increasingly from moment to moment in a life made whole and happy and transparent through awareness.

He says all we have to do is to be aware of our reactions—positive and negative—and let grace do the work of restoring us to the experience we were born to have.

While he writes from the perspective of a priest, some of what he mentions can be applicable on a practical sense. The first thing he recommends is to search inside yourself, even though your culture and religion may have taught you otherwise. He says no external attachments can make you happy, even if you put effort into practicing, because it does not change the inner person. It is not what you do that brings it to you. What matters is what you are and what you become.

He describes an attachment as an emotional state of clinging caused by the belief that without some particular thing or some person you cannot be happy. It first forms after having contact with something that gives you pleasure

Attachment is composed of positive and negative elements. The positive element is the flash of pleasure and excitement, the thrill that you experience when you get what you are attached to. The negative element is the sense of threat and tension that always accompanies the attachment.

Hence, De Mello believes that all we have to understand is all is well as is. He writes most people are so brainwashed that they do not even realize how unhappy they are. It’s only when they make contact with joy that they understand how depressed they have been. If you wish to be happy, the first thing you need isn’t effort or even goodwill or good desires. You need a clear understanding of exactly how you have been programmed.

First society and culture taught you to believe that you would not be happy without certain persons and certain things. Once you swallowed this belief, you naturally developed an attachment to some person or thing you were convinced that, without it, you could not be happy.

Then followed your efforts to acquire your precious thing or person, to cling to it once it was acquired, and to fight off every possibility of losing it.

This finally led you to abject emotional dependence so that the object of your attachment had the power to thrill you when you attained it, to make you anxious lest you be deprived of it, and make you miserable when you lost it.

Thus an attachment, by its very nature, makes you vulnerable to emotional turmoil and is always threatening to shatter your peace. This even includes attachments to people.

He says in order to be genuinely happy, there is one and only one thing you need to do—get deprogrammed and get rid of those attachments. Even though people become terrified of the thought of pain involved. All you need to do is open your eyes and see that you do not really need the object of your attachment at all. Time passes and you can learn to get along fine. That should alert you to the falseness of your thoughts and how your mind can trick you.

THE FALSE BELIEFS THAT BLOCK YOU FROM HAPPINESS he says include:

– You cannot be happy without the things that you are attached to and that you consider so precious. This is false. There is not a single moment in your life when you do not have everything that you need to be happy. Think about that for a minute. The reason you are unhappy is that you are focusing on what you do not have rather than on what you have right now.
– Another false belief: Happiness is in the future.
– Another false belief: Happiness will come if you manage to change the situation you are in and the people around you.
– Another false belief: If all of your desires are fulfilled, you will finally be happy.

If what you attempt is not to change yourself but to observe yourself—to study yourself without judgment, condemnation, or desire to reform yourself—your observations will be nonselective, comprehensive, never fixed on rigid conclusions, and always open and fresh from moment to moment.

De Mello believes it’s not possible to say that you are happy because the moment you become conscious of your happiness, you cease to be happy. True happiness is uncaused, and cannot be experienced. It is not within the realm of consciousness.

In terms of awareness, he says you are always a slave to what you’re not aware of. When you’re aware of it, you’re free from it. It’s there, but you’re not affected by it.

If you want to reform your heart he says, you must think about the four truths:

– The first truth: You must choose between your attachment and happiness. You cannot have both.
– The second truth: Where did your attachment come from? You were not born with it. It sprang from a lie that your society and your culture have told you, or a lie that you have told yourself, namely, that without this or that, without this person or another, you can’t be happy. Others seem to manage without it.
– The third truth: If you wish to be fully alive, you must develop a sense of perspective. Life is infinitely greater than this trifle your heart is attached to.
– The fourth truth: The fourth truth brings you to the unavoidable conclusion that no thing or person outside of yourself has the power to make you happy or unhappy.

– So the first thing he suggests is getting in touch with negative feelings that you’re not even aware of. Lots of people are depressed, and they’re not aware they are depressed. It’s only when they contact joy that they understand how depressed they were.
– The second step is to understand that the feeling is in you, not in reality.
– The third step is to not identify with the negative feeling. Don’t define your essential self in terms of that feeling. So don’t say I am depressed say depression is there right now. Everything passes.

We spend so much of our lives reacting to labels, our own and others’. Christian and Muslim, Democrat and Republican, Communist and Capitalist. As a result we cling to the labels; which is where suffering comes in. All my suffering is caused by identifying myself with something, whether that something is within me or outside of me, but it is a barrier to reality.

There are three blocks to love’s sensitivity apparently: belief, attachment, and fear.
– firstly, as soon as you have a belief you have concluded about a person or situation or thing, you have now become fixed and have dropped your sensitivity. You are prejudiced and will see the person through the eyes of that prejudice.
– The second is attachment. When you have a full-blown attachment, with it comes an inevitable exclusion of other things, an insensitivity to anything that isn’t part of your attachment.
– Then comes the third block, fear, which is the tension and anxiety that are the very death of love and the joyful freedom that love brings.

Hence you can only love the things that you notice, which is why you need a wider net of awareness. When you serve people, you help, support, comfort, and alleviate pain. When you see them in their inner beauty and goodness no matter what the defect, you transform and create.

In regards to suffering, he points out that suffering allows us to see an area in you where we have not yet grown, where we need to grow and be transformed and change. Every painful event contains in itself a seed of growth and liberation. So look for gratitude in areas where you’re not currently grateful including recent events that caused you pain.

The next book is from Dr. Tasha Eurich, researcher, organisational psychologist and author of Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-aware as We Think, and how Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life. Here she is speaking for Signature Views.

TASHA EURICH

Dr Eurich says self-awareness is a uniquely human quality, but it’s something few of us truly have. However, being familiar with our own feelings and being aware of how others see us is crucial to successfully navigating social situations, both at home and at work.

Self-awareness is one of the more remarkable features that set humans apart from animals. Some 150,000 years ago, the brain of Homo sapiens developed in a way that led our ancestors to begin examining their own behavior, thoughts and emotions. In this way, self-awareness was born.

Self-awareness is defined as the ability to know oneself and be conscious of how others see us. Psychologists separate self-awareness into two categories: internal and external.

Focusing on the individual, internal self-awareness is about knowing ourselves and being conscious of our likes and dislikes, and our impact on other people. External self-awareness has to do with understanding how other people see us. It’s about being able to look at ourselves from an outside perspective.

Research has found a relationship between a person’s happiness and how self-aware they are. People who have both internal and external self-awareness are able to make better decisions, have stronger professional and personal relationships, are more successful and more creative.

To be fully self-aware requires seven types of insight, which are:
– values and principles
– Passions
– Aspirations
– Fit – which is understanding which environment will make us happiest, keep us engaged and enable us to thrive.
– Patterns which is the consistent behaviours that make up our personality
– Reactions – the emotional and physical behaviors we exhibit in certain circumstances.
– Impact – understanding how our own behavior affects others

The author also believes there are three inner roadblocks to self-awareness – knowledge blindness, emotional blindness and behavior blindness.

Knowledge blindness occurs when you assess your competencies not on how you actually perform, but on general beliefs about how you should perform. American psychologist David Dunning asked participants in an experiment to take a geography test. Those who thought they were good, believed they scored high even though as a group they were average.

Emotional blindness is being oblivious to your own feelings, whilst behavior blindness is the failure to see your own behavior through the eyes of others. The cult of self in our society is another barrier to self-awareness. It’s part of the age of esteem that we’re entering, where everybody thinks they’re unique. You may feel special but you’re not superior.

Examining our thoughts, emotions and habits can lead to greater self-awareness, but the wrong type of introspection can have the opposite effect. In fact, there’s even research that shows self-analyzers have higher levels of anxiety, less positive relationships and a lower opinion of themselves. The problem is that, while we may be quick to grasp at any insights gained from self-analysis, we don’t often question their validity.

For introspection to be successful, we need to have a flexible mindset. When we accept that we may not find one definite answer, we can let our curious mind wander and explore various perspectives.

Another common mistake people make is to ask themselves why they are the way they are. They look for the causes of their thought patterns and behavior. But the human brain is lazy, and often just presents us with the most convenient answer. Therefore, it’s more helpful to ask what kind of person we are. The benefit of this is that we begin to put names to our emotions.

Research shows that when we name our feelings – especially the less positive ones – we’re in a better position to recognize them, rather than letting them set off a fight-or-flight response. When it comes to positive thoughts, we should be aware of the risk of over-analyzing

Lastly, watch out for rumination, which is a fixation on our anxieties, weaknesses, and insecurities. Not only does this prevent us from gaining insight, it could have damaging consequences, including depression.

The author suggests three alternative techniques to increase your mindfulness and, with it, your internal self-awareness. Rather than analyzing and judging our thoughts, mindfulness encourages you to notice them without judgment. By taking this approach, you’ll begin to make new observations about yourself, and improve your self-awareness. You may even improve your happiness, health and productivity, as many people who practice mindfulness find.

The first technique is called reframing. Reframing is all about looking at the bigger picture of your experiences. Another technique is called comparing and contrasting. It involves noticing how our thoughts, feelings and behaviors have remained the same or changed over time. The third mindfulness technique is the daily check-in. Take five minutes each day to reflect on what went well and what could have been better.

The author calls friends and families not being straightforward with you the MUM Effect. It means we keep Mum about Undesirable Messages. We tend to remain silent rather than giving others information that will make them feel uncomfortable, and this is the first roadblock to self-awareness.

The second roadblock is our reluctance to ask for feedback. We tend to make excuses, which fall into three categories. First, we convince ourselves we don’t need feedback. That’s plain incorrect. In fact, how other people see us is just as important when it comes to achieving self-awareness as how we view ourselves.

The second excuse we make is that we shouldn’t ask for feedback because surely it’s a sign of weakness. And the final excuse is that we don’t want feedback. We’re afraid of feeling hurt by others’ comments, and for that we need to have courage. Once you’re aware of these barriers, it’s easier to overcome. 360 feedback is helpful for getting feedback from all angles.

To digest your feedback into something you can use to gain insight, you need to learn how to receive, reflect and respond to comments. This is called the 3R model.

Let’s start with receiving feedback. In order to receive feedback successfully, you must first ensure that you’ve understood it correctly. If you’re unsure, ask for clarification. Ask colleagues to explain further what they mean by “over-confident,” with examples if possible.

Then you can start to reflect. The following three questions can guide this process of reflection:

Can I relate to this feedback?

How will this feedback affect me in the long run in terms of my success and my well-being?

Should I act on this feedback?

There are two other general points to keep in mind when receiving feedback.

First, when you receive harsh feedback it’s tempting to shut down completely. To counter these feelings, try self-affirmation. Before you receive any feedback, remind yourself of your positive qualities.

Second, you should acknowledge that although it’s worth making the effort to change your behavior, there are some aspects of your personality that you cannot change. It’s sometimes best to accept it, be open about your weakness, and communicate it clearly so that others will understand.

There are three kinds of delusional people –
– the Lost Cause – who hold on to their delusions, and the best thing to do is realise its their problem not yours
– the Aware Don’t Care knows how their behaviour impacts on others but just don’t care. The best thing here is to manage our own reactions
– the Nudgable – are people that can be changed in a small way as they are open to other’s opinions, they just don’t know what they are, so it can be up to you tell then how others see them.

So to sum up:

De Mello says in Stop Fixing Yourself that if we really dropped illusions for what they can give us or deprive us of, we would be alert. If you wish to love, you must learn to see again. And if you wish to see, you must learn to give up your drug. It’s as simple as that. Give up your dependency.
Tear away the tentacles of society that have enveloped and suffocated your being. You must drop them. Externally, everything will go on as before, but though you will continue to be in the world, you will no longer be of it. In your heart, you will be free at last, in solitude. Your dependence on your drug will die, but your capacity to love freely will be born.

Dr Eurich says in Insight that self-awareness is the ability to know our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and understand what others think of us. It’s a vital skill in today’s professional and personal environment, but one that we often lack. This is due to both internal and external societal roadblocks. The good news? The more aware you are of these obstacles, the more easily they can be overcome. She recommends being an informer than a meformer on social media, posting about things unrelated to you rather than about yourself.

I ask myself am I self-aware? I think to a small degree as I’m able to be vulnerable and have these conversations. Can I do better? Absolutely, but perhaps avoiding the forceful effort and holding on to attachments as De Mello says. Please join me next time, and if you enjoyed this hit subscribe!

Published by suswatibasu

Suswati Basu is a writer, journalist, producer and feminist activist residing in London. She has written for the Guardian, Huffington Post and the F-Word blogs, and has worked for various media outlets such as the BBC, Channel 4 and for ITV News/ITN. She currently works as a senior intelligence expert.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: