In my previous post, I suggested that awareness was the critical factor in figuring out how to get things done. Nothing else matters, if we don’t have an awareness of what we’re doing and why.
Almost always, when clients have significant breakthroughs, they tell me it’s because they were able to notice what was happening, and they chose to respond differently. Often, they’ve done a lot of hard work to prepare some alternate responses, and they feel really good about what they did, but they describe the essential element as the awareness and recognition of the opportunity to employ their new action. The awareness was the critical piece. Without it, all their hard work of developing an alternate response would be for nothing.
Just thinking about the behavior where you want to build awareness, and having a conversation about it, helps. It also helps to create some breaks in your day, when you can stop and check in with yourself. Here are some things to ask:
- How am I feeling?
- What did I intend to do during this time?
- What am I actually doing?
- What would make the situation better?
You can prompt yourself to “check-in” by using anything that will remind you of the intention. It could be overt, such as an alarm, pop-up, or asking someone to remind you. Or it could be more subtle, using environmental cues and other visual prompts such as the old example of tying a string around your finger. You could leave something out of place, or put an incongruous item in your sight line, to remind you to check-in with yourself. Or you could use things that happen on a regular basis, such as every time a commercial comes on the radio, or each time you use the restroom.
Another way to build awareness is to anticipate the opportunity. For example, let’s say you intend to return a phone call, but you keep forgetting. You need to be aware of the intention to make the call, at a time when you actually have the opportunity to do so. When you are thinking about the call, look ahead and anticipate when might be your next opportunity. Visualize yourself making the call at that time.
Awareness Takes Time
We all have those “V-8” moments, when we realize what we could have done. The skill of being aware takes time to cultivate. You can start with taking some time to review the last several hours. Reflect on what happened, and whether there were any opportunities to follow through on your intentions. No beating yourself up for what actually happened. Just use the time to get in the habit of noticing things, even if it’s after the fact. With practice, you will eventually be noticing in real time.
All of this points to mindfulness. Being mindful and present in the moment allows us to be aware of what is happening. As a society we are becoming increasingly aware of the value of mindfulness, and it’s much easier to find resources. If you just google it or search the app store for your mobile device, you will find lots of introductory exercises.
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