How to Turn Your Self-Awareness Into Changes In Your Everyday Life
Have you ever felt that way?
I think, maybe all of us have.
It’s a state when we are not really aware of our actions, decisions, of our own existence. It’s a usual, everyday state of executing our life programs without consciously knowing what we are doing and why we are doing it. It’s not a rare or extreme state of mind. It’s a common situation.
Autopilot turned on, self-awareness turned off
It’s like an autopilot mode of your mind – and of your life.
You do what you “have to” do, you don’t make horrible mistakes, you arrive from A to B every day.
You wake up at the same time to make a breakfast for the kids, you take your usual clothes on and hurry up to catch the sub.
You read the usual blogs traveling to work, you smile in the usual way arriving at your workplace, and you accomplish all the tasks you get in the quality your boss expects from you.
You eat the same salad your co-workers eat even if you would choose otherwise, as it’s simpler to accommodate.
You say yes to your friends when they call you to go out once in a month even if you are tired or feel like being alone.
Autopilot is a low-risk version of your life, usually protecting you from any surprising consequences.
I’m not saying autopilot is bad because you don’t step out of your comfort zone. I’m saying that autopilot is bad because it prevents you to find the most suitable path in your life. And maybe this most suitable path is to be a clerk in an office, going out to bowling nights with the colleagues at every Saturday and spending most of your Sundays with the kids.
Instead, you are stuck in a situation of managing a thriving marketing department, working 12 hours a day and being successfully unhappy. You don’t necessarily have to step out of your comfort zone to be happy. It’s enough to live your life with everyday self-awareness to be happy with yourself most of the time.
When somebody talks about self-awareness, people often think about something deeply psychological or even spiritual. But self-awareness is not a complicated thing.
It is about consciously knowing what is in your mind right now, what you are feeling right now, and what your intentions are right now.
However, momentary self-awareness itself is not enough to step out of the hamster wheel, to stop running around your well-known circles and to start living a life you would really want to live. You must turn your self-awareness into changes in order to experience its impact on your daily life.
“Okay, it’s easy to say that, but how can I do it in practice?” you could ask, and your question is totally legitimate. I will show you 5 practical steps you can follow to switch on your self-awareness and turn it into changes in your everyday life.
1. Observe yourself
Sometimes we are just drifting without really paying attention to what’s happening, other times we focus too much on the problems we are dealing with. Neither case do we give enough attention to the most important thing: ourselves.
Observing ourselves in a situation means that from time to time we check on what’s going on inside.
How do I feel about the thing that has just happened?
Am I ok with it?
What is bothering me?
What is it that made me feel happy / sad / jealous / disappointed / mad / relaxed?
What is happening inside me right now?
Paying attention to your body may also be useful.
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And suddenly, you start to feel pressure in your chest.
You may try to ignore it or drink a sip of water and take a few deep breaths. But you can also choose to pay attention to your body. “I’m feeling pressure in my chest. What’s going on inside? Maybe it is something about my friend has just said. Maybe it is something about my feelings about it, I cannot put into words yet.”
And as you observe your sensation in your chest, you may feel some worry. You can ask yourself: “What am I worried about?” And then, you may realize that you have the same problems of time-management as your friend has, but you have never admitted it to yourself before.
This self-observation may lead you to decide to do something about this in the future. Without paying attention to yourself you may have not realized that your own time-management is an issue for you.
Does this mean you always have to watch your feelings and behavior like a kind of inspector? Doesn’t it kill spontaneity?
No and no.
You don’t have to be like an auditor and constantly monitor yourself. It’s more realistic to have a look at your behavior or feelings from time to time, especially when you feel something different, experience something unexpected or do something unusual.
And self-observation is like any habit: it improves by practicing.
After a while, you will catch yourself observing yourself as spontaneously as returning a smile. Having a look at your own thoughts, feelings and intentions are very important to stop your autopilot and get the control back into your hands. That way you gain the opportunity to make conscious decisions on what to do next, instead of drifting forward.
2. Make conscious decisions based on your observations
It’s not important to always make the best decision. You won’t be able to. Some of your decisions will be better and others will be worse. What is much more important is to actually make decisions.
Switch off autopilot, observe the situation and yourself, then make conscious decisions on what to do. If you want to turn your self-awareness into changes, it’s very helpful to realize that you have the freedom of choice.
You don’t have to do anything.
As you observe yourself, you can hear the words you use, and you may sometimes catch yourself saying “I have to…”, “I must…”, “I need to…”. When you say that, and more importantly, when you feel that way, it signs that you may have your autopilot turned on, and you are not making a conscious decision.
A conscious decision means that you do something in spite of the fact that you have the freedom not to do it. You could choose not to do it, but instead, after a conscious consideration, you choose to do it.
Imagine that you have a deadline to finish some work till Monday morning, but you cannot get it done on Friday. So you sit down to your laptop on Saturday afternoon to work on it, but your 6 years old kid asks you to play with her. And then you say: “I’m sorry, honey, I have to finish this.”
But the truth is that you don’t have to do anything. You made a decision that finishing your work is more important right now than playing with your kid. And what I’m saying is not that this is bad. There can be a lot of cases when it’s reasonable to choose work over our kids.
And by considering this, you may find out that this is the third weekend you chose work over your kid. You may also realize that the deadline is Monday morning, so you can finish it later, during the night or on Sunday.
Your self-awareness can even show you that your real choice right now is to spend time with your kid or to have a relaxing night. And still, you may choose the relaxing night without being a “wrong parent” (if this happens rarely, for example).
The point is to examine your situation consciously, and do not let your autopilot decide your next step.
3. Take one step at a time
In a life coaching session or in a friendly conversation people can have enlightening moments, when self-awareness suddenly opens up a deep understanding of the person’s inner world. Motives become visible, feelings become clear and everything seems to be so obvious for a short period of time.
This can be a revealing experience.
And often, in these delightful moments we tend to set goals which are far away from our present reality and can be achieved only in several steps. Either because we feel enough energy in that moment to achieve that goal, or we are so excited to find a light at the end of the tunnel, we often forget that distant destinations can rarely be reached in one step.
Setting big goals ahead of us are very important to provide us with the energy and endurance we will definitely need to any change. Imagining that you and your situation has already been changed in the way you ever wanted is the best thing you can do to get off the beaten track, to stop running around in circles and to start a change.
But if you want to turn your self awareness into real changes, if you want to actually do something instead of just planning and dreaming all the time, it’s useful to set small, achievable goals ahead of yourself.
Set small steps, that take you a bit closer to your big goal. Small steps that can be reached tomorrow or in the near future. Small steps that are tangible, achievable and concrete.
4. Always think in concrete examples – concepts rarely lead to actions
And that’s the point: you can only change tangible things in your behavior, and only these tangible changes can lead to bigger transformations in your habits, qualities, relationships or lifestyle.
You can say, for example, that I want to communicate better with difficult people. But you cannot actually do this. You cannot walk into your workplace on Monday morning and start “communicating better” with your colleagues. This is not an action you can accomplish.
Good communication is an abstract concept. You can set this as a long term goal, but at the same moment you should answer to the questions:
How will I notice that I communicate better when I will be doing it?
What will be the changes in my behavior that will sign me that I’m actually communicating better?
How can I describe my behavior when I’m communicating better?
What do I say differently?
What do I do differently?
What do I think and feel differently?
What kind of changes do others experience in my behavior when I’m communicating better?
If you answer these questions, you will find several concrete, tangible and achievable changes in your behavior you can start implementing today. Like, for example, “I’m going to hear others out without trying to finish their sentences.” Or “I’m going to start with clarifying my goal in a conversation before going into the details.”
Then don’t forget point 3: take one step at a time. Choose from this list of new behaviors and start experimenting with one or two of them.
5. Experiment a lot – decisions are rarely fatal
A lot of people do not make decisions because they are afraid that their decisions are forever. But only a few, really few, decisions are forever. If you want to reach exceptional goals, if you want to achieve outstanding results, you should experiment a lot. No really successful people walked on a straight path.
From Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs, from Marie Curie to Katie Perry, from Stephen King to Oprah Winfrey successful people made a lot of attempts during their career – not all of them having been beneficial. Experimenting always means you dare to make mistakes.
You can only reach distant goals by taking a lot of small steps. But you can only take a lot of small steps if you dare to experiment a lot, and you accept that some of these steps will be dead ends. But don’t worry. You took only a small step, so it will be a small mistake and a short dead end you can easily get out of. That’s the secret of small steps.
Often you will experience that your environment gets surprised by your experiments. Don’t let yourself be discouraged, this is natural.
As you start to behave differently, this impacts on your environment, and makes people around you react somehow. You make them change to the new you, and this will be sometimes difficult for them. But that’s their story.
You can help them in that change, you can have meaningful conversations with them about it, but their change is not your responsibility. So dare to experiment with your decisions. Take one small step at a time, and don’t be afraid of the small mistakes you may make.
Remember, you can almost always try again, with the lessons learnt from the previous attempt, as decisions are very rarely forever.
Bringing it all together: self-awareness in action
Self-awareness is not a complicated thing you can only reach by three hours meditation a day or by getting to a spiritual awakening during a one-year trip in India. It’s something you can improve from day to day by occasionally observing your behavior and your thoughts, emotions and intentions in the meantime.
By this observation you gain a lot of useful information about yourself. You can use these to make conscious decisions instead of giving the control away to the autopilot inside you. You always have the freedom to choose, and making conscious decisions are always better than leaving the autopilot to drive.
If you decide to take action and change something in your behaviour, take one step at a time. Big goals are useful to give you energy, but you will only start moving if you concentrate on your next step. The more tangible this next step is the easier to realize it.
Set actions that you or others will be able to experience, see, hear, feel in the reality when you do them. And do them.
Take actions, without worrying too much about what can go wrong. Experiment, try out new form of behaviors and correct often, if necessary. With small steps you may only make small mistakes, so don’t worry. Keep experimenting, the right way is rarely the most visible, the straightest and the most obvious one.
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