What do we mean by awareness?

  • The ability to think about one’s own thinking.
  • The skill of standing back from oneself and reflecting on who one is and one’s behaviour.
  • It distinguishes us from the animal world and makes us uniquely human.
  • It is responsible for so much of the phenomenal progress we have made as human beings in dominating the physical world and making significant advances from generation to generation.

That’s what awareness, or perhaps more correctly self-awareness is.

Growing up for me it felt more like a curse than a blessing when I struggled with my self-awareness about my identity – in Britain growing up I was told India was my home and when I went to India I was told Britain was my home! (You can learn more about that in my life journey video).

So yes, awareness has its positive and negative side. A cow doesn’t say I was in this field yesterday eating grass. I’m in this same field today eating grass and I’ll be here tomorrow eating grass – my life is so boring! If it did we would have a lot of neurotic cows!

One of my patients whose brain functioning has deteriorated considerably over the last 30 years was able to go the place of his childhood. He loved going there and I am told by the nurses who took him, that he became amazingly alive. However, as he lacked self-awareness, when he came back to his hospital, he had forgotten that he had been and how much his life had deteriorated that he didn’t have the self awareness to be despondent. In many ways a great mercy considering how much he has declined – he is able (when he is well) to just simply enjoy the moment with no reference to the past or the future. Life is all in the here and now.

Awareness is closely linked to reflection and can be an incredibly powerful tool for change. But it doesn’t necessarily come easily.

Winston Churchill is credited with the saying we mentioned in our first blog post on THINKING, Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.”

The reason why most people just carry on as is if nothing has happened is that they lack the self-awareness to go deeper.
Maybe part of the reason why we don’t necessarily like self-awareness is that it can feel painful, even gloomy. But let me quote the late Stephen Covey from “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” (p.66-67):
‘We are not our feelings. We are not our moods. We are not even our thoughts. The very fact that we can think about these things separates us from them and from the animal world. Self-awareness enables us to stand apart and examine even the way we ‘see’ ourselves – our self-PARADIGM….It affects not only our attitudes and behaviours, but also how we see other people. It becomes our map of the basic nature of mankind.’

(To learn more about paradigms and paradigm shifts click here for part 1 and part 2)

The next step from awareness is, I think, to ask questions. Often questions no one else is asking. And then being aware as to where the question takes you.

In our next blog post we will explore this further.

But for now what questions about awareness does this raise for you?