Being aware is like breathing, it is fundamental to our every day existence. Without awareness we are moving through out life without breathe, without direction, without connecting with ourselves and thus others.
Awareness is often mistaken as seeing outward, noticing what others are doing, how they are doing things, how they are stopping us from doing certain activities or stopping us from living our life. Most of our notion of awareness is being aware of others and how they are affecting us. We sometimes consider ourselves to be very aware beings because we notice everything that people are doing around us. We notice the achievements of others, we notice the gains of others, and we notice what others have.
We are aware of what our neighbors have that we don’t have, we are aware of a great relationship someone else has that we don’t have, we are aware of a career someone else has that we don’t have, we are aware of a great life another person has that always feels like it was achieved thro
ugh the loss of our own life. Our awareness over time turns into wariness, always being wary of what is going on with others around us.
However, awareness is having an inward focus, not an outward focus. Awareness is knowing how we breathe, knowing the patterns that we have in our everyday life, awareness is understanding our connection to the universe, awareness is knowing our beliefs, our mind, our spirit, our body. Many people have written about the gaining of awareness.
Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs was about understanding levels of awareness that we need to have as a person. He saw total awareness as self-actualization, the highest level in the hierarchy. Another way of looking at awareness is through exploring the ancient teachings of the chakras which originated four thousand years ago. There are seven chakras and each chakra represents steps to pass through in the aim of achieving ever-expanding states of consciousness. The seventh chakra, Sahasrara, is about awareness through self-knowledge, gaining an understanding of our identify within the universe.
There are many philosophical thoughts around achieving awareness. In her book, Eastern Body, Western Mind, Anodea Judith, discusses three types of philosophical thought to gain awareness.
- The enlightenment philosophies, whose movement is upward and beyond, toward mental and spiritual realms. They are derived primarily from Eastern Cultures and their focus is on transcendence. They seek to escape the trials and tribulations of the mundane world by ascending to higher planes of consciousness that transcend suffering.
- The embodiment philosophies, whose movement is down and in, towards the realms of manifestation, soul, body, and engagement with the world around us. They are reflected in the practice of somatic therapy, bio-energetics and earth-centered spirituality. Their focus is on immanence, or the presence of the divine within. They seek to end suffering by engaging with the forces that cause it.
- The integrative philosophies, whose movement is toward integration of opposites, mind and body, Heaven and Earth, spirit and matter, light and shadow, male and female. The goal of integrative philosophies is transformation and wholeness.
(Judith, A, pp.xi)
All of these philosophies rely on gaining an understanding of awareness of self. They all require looking within to know more about self.
First Step to Creating Awareness
The first step to creating awareness is recognizing that you want to. Having awareness could be described as having a learning pathway for your life. Learning more about yourself is part of growing as a person. It we choose not to gain self awareness then we stagnate in life and don’t grow. This may sound very harsh but how many times have we looked at others and wondered why they have never moved on in life or grown. People like this usually complain about their life but are unwilling to do anything about it. Unfortunately this person who we are observing is a mirror of ourselves. Self awareness means knowing our self more and this can be pretty scary at times. However the down side is not growing as a person. So taking the first step and getting past the scary bit is really important.
Creating awareness also supports us in identifying the areas of our life that work for us and the ones that don’t. Think back to the time when you wanted to change something in your life, and you kept trying to do this but it just never happened. Eventually you gave up, possible feeling unsuccessful and defeated. We often take on new things to change our life, adding more things to what we do rather than unpacking or looking at what we already do to understand this more.
Take Anita for example, a person who wants to be a better leader. She reads a book and decides that the path to becoming a great leader is to be just like the leader that she read all about in the book. She outlines the behaviors and tasks the leader took and decides that the next day she will take on all of these new behaviors.
When we see a person doing this, we can immediately understand what is wrong with this picture but we do this all the time ourselves. It is a common human desire to want to be like someone else who we see as successful and try to emanate this person.
For Anita as each day passed she put all her energy into taking on these new behaviors. What people noticed was not a new leader emerging but rather a person who was unfocused and moving in all directions, someone who was totally acting out of character. People around her become unsure of how to respond to her as what they observed was nothing like the person they knew.
After two weeks of struggling to take on all these new behaviors Anita gave up. No one at work was listening to her, she didn’t feel like a great leader and if anything, things at work had become stressful and chaotic. For Anita this time made her feel like she was not a great leader and her self esteem started to plummet. She began to wonder if she had chosen the right career and she lost sight of her strengths and great qualities.
Imagine this story beginning with Anita deciding she wanted to learn more about herself to determine how she wanted to move forward in life. She began to read books on leadership and found that she had some of the qualities leaders spoke about. The next step she took was to understand what her qualities and strengths were. To do this she employed a coach, completed several assessments to understand herself more and she began writing down all of her strengths. She also began to work out what her vision was for herself. All of these actions made her feel more focused and stronger in herself.
She believed that leadership was her strength and so she began to look at her self and to recognize that being a great leader meant knowing more about herself. Her confidence increased and her supports helped her stay focused. She continued to look more and more at who she was and to committing to knowing more and more about herself. She went to work and explained her own pathway to her team. She asked them to support her as their leader by helping her know more about their strengths so she could manage everyone more effectively.
This outcome is totally different to the first outcome. Anita’s pathway to knowing more about herself meant she also opened up the pathway for others around her to know more about themselves. What an amazing shift in focus. Great leaders know more about themselves than anyone else. Their focus is on their self not others.
Having greater self awareness is becoming a leader. A leader is a person who is leading their own life from strength to strength. Great leaders we see around us are great because they follow their own pathway, they know who they are, they have planned out their pathway for learning and they are on the journey of greater self awareness. They recognize that self awareness is something you must value and is then part of you for ever. Being a great leader is not following someone else but simply knowing yourself.
We sometimes think that being a great leader is about standing up in front of many and running a company and creating huge financial success. Yet many great leaders have never been great for these reasons. Stop for a moment and think about who your role models of great leaders are. List what you think their strengths were. No doubt you have listed all the strengths you either have or wished you had. You are likely to list all the strengths that you value. They are great leaders to you because you identify with some of their strengths. When you gain greater self awareness you are also a great leader, leading your life on a pathway or journey that you are passionate about, gaining ongoing awareness of yourself. Those around you will see your confidence, will see your focus and will see you growing. To them you are a great leader, leading the pathway for others to follow, showing the importance of following your dreams and passions, showing the importance of knowing who you are, showing the importance of focusing on looking inward rather than outward.
At the end of 2008, the world went into an economic downturn. Banks crashed, governments crashed, institutions that were once strong and financially secure suddenly crashed. The impact was devastating. People lost jobs and houses. Families became unbelievably stressed, people panicked as there was no clear path forward. Change had been forced upon everyone. The story of the economic downturn was told far and wide as the media covered stories of hardship and struggle. Everyday bad news was told, everyday people lost their jobs and security. The greatest pain was the pain people felt at being lost, unsure of what to do next, waiting for companies to climb out of the crisis. Many people waited daily to hear the news, hoping for a better future. The saddest thing to watch was people frozen in fear, afraid of the future, afraid of what was going to happen. Everyone was feeling the fear.
In times like this people have change forced upon them. A shift this great often opens up opportunities for greater awareness. We are forced to look at who we are and to rely on our strengths. Communities congregate and we turn to each other. Reaching out to others can be the first step to awareness. How much more empowering would it be to determine our own pathway rather than having it forced upon us or not knowing ourselves enough to be able to see a future.
There are many ways to support you in developing your self awareness. The list below outlines just a few ways. The best approach is to determine what works best for you.
Ways to Develop Self Awareness
- Write in a journal everyday so you can see patterns that emerge in your life.
- List your strengths and think about how you would like to develop them further.
- Employ a coach who will support you on your journey of self awareness and tell them this is the goal of your coaching.
- Ask your friends and family to support you as you learn more about yourself. Ask them to share what they see are your strengths, your qualities, etc.
- Create an exercise schedule to keep you focused and healthy.
- Attend a workshop or read books on self awareness to find the approach you want to support you on your journey.
- List your goals for self awareness, and how what you need to achieve them.
- Meditate regularly asking yourself what you need to learn more about yourself.
- Connect with others who also value self awareness to support you.
- 10. Sleep at least 8 hours every day and eat healthy replenishing foods.
- Do you value self awareness and what does this mean to you?
- Do you believe you are on a pathway of self awareness and if yes, how do you know this?
- How comfortable do you feel about talking about yourself to others and how do you think these feelings reflect on your self awareness?
One of the most valuable contributions that you will make to your clients is to help them become aware of their behaviour. One of the reasons that clients work with a coach is because they want to encourage more positive things in their lives and they want to rid themselves of unhelpful behaviours that lead to negative effects. In order for a client to change unhelpful behaviours they might need some support to actually see these behaviours in action. People also choose working with a coach on their self awareness because they recognise that asking for support is an important step. Having a coach requires a person to speak out loud their thoughts.
This stops the inner discussion that goes on in their mind and also the pattern of this discussion. As we all know our inner self talk can be quite critical and it also seems to go round and round in circles never moving us forward. Its aim is to question our good intentions. Talking out loud to a coach tells your inner self talk that you are no longer listening to it. A conversation out loud also requires a person to speak their intent, to articulate their thoughts and this can be the first step to committing to a new way of doing something.
The Advice Trap
Most of us have had the experience of looking at another person’s life and thinking “if only they did X their life would be so much better”. We might look at a friend and think, “If only she took better care of her appearance, she would feel so much more confident” or look at a partner and think “If only he would go to bed earlier, he would perform so much better at work”. Maybe we look at the way others parent and think “th
ey should be stricter with their child or she will never learn boundaries”. Firstly, no matter how well meaning the advice is, it serves to emphasise and underline a problem. The result is to make others feel guilty. When you feel guilty, your energy immediately goes into repelling those feelings of guilt, instead of focussing on a way forward.
Another problem with advice is that it implies judgement. Finally, the advice giver is not allowing the advice receiver to take responsibility for their own life. Advice givers believe they know better. Coaching is built on the belief that the solution is within the client. Only when the client owns the solution will a solution be achieved. The client will put the energy into creating a solution and will know what they need to do.
Using Powerful Questions
Powerful questions support your client in stopping in their particular pathway of thought and looking at a situation from a different perspective. This creates a distance and so allows the client to see a situation much easier. Powerful questions also support opportunities for growth and creativity. Asking questions will support your client in knowing more about themselves and what they need to do.
Effective Feedback or Outlining Observations
Another way coaches can create awareness with a client is through the use of feedback. Feedback is an observation. It is information that we have noticed, discerned, or are picking up from what they are saying. The difference between feedback and advice is that feedback is nonjudgmental. It is not based on opinion nor beliefs but rather on the moment of observation. Feedback never includes the words “you should”. Feedback helps the client to realise that your listening is complete and real.
Effective feedback creates a kind of awareness that makes a difference in how one sees things. It provides insight, opens thought and expands vision. To give good feedback requires generosity on behalf of the coach. Feedback is always neutral and objective. When giving feedback, the greatest challenge one can have, is to really make a contribution that benefits the client. It involves giving up any judgments, opinions and even beliefs, about something or someone.
Feedback is neither positive nor negative. It is simply feedback. By stating what is or what is not from another perspective, may just help your client get an insight that they can use. Giving great feedback takes lots of practice. Another way to become skilled at giving feedback is to receive feedback yourself. Being on the receiving end of feedback helps you to observe the ways that feedback can be phrased to make it the most effective. Feedback is where we offer the client the observations we have made. An example of this can be in the language a client uses. We are often unaware of the language we use. When we highlight the language used by the client it can help them to gain greater understanding of themselves. Sometimes a client may make the same statement about themselves over and over again but may not be aware that they are doing this. As the coach, you can ask them if they would like to hear what they have been saying about themselves and repeat back to them their words. This is a very awareness creating exercise.
Some more examples of effective feedback
To give feedback is to simply mirror back to the client the way we see it. For example, a coach may say to a client, “I hear you are really angry about that, do you want to talk more about it?” There is no judgment here about the emotion being conveyed by the client. It is simply being noticed for the client to evaluate the feeling and move forward.
If a client shares a situation, the coach can offer to provide feedback by saying: “Would you like a different perspective?” Or perhaps say: “Can I share with you what I am getting from that?” Again, feedback is simply about sharing an observation without judgment.
Role-play and Feed Forward
Role-play is a very effective technique to create awareness with your clients. It is particularly helpful when a client is unsure how to have a conversation with someone; or has some fear around what to say and how to proceed. In this case, role-play becomes essentially a practice conversation. This is done so the client can find some powerful and clear ways to communicate to resolve the situation. As a coach, you can provide them with effective feedback on what you observed.
- What is the purpose of feedback in a coaching situation?
- What are three situations you might encounter as a coach in which role-play could be useful?
- How do you maintain your self awareness as a coach?
Judith, Anodea, 1996, Eastern Body Western Mind, Celestial Arts, California.