Self-awareness

Marcus Aurelius statue

Did you ever experience a situation where you saw something happen or someone told you about something and you immediately jumped to a conclusion? I think you have, and probably more than once (now I made an assumption myself!). Although making assumptions and jumping to conclusions can be useful sometimes (to stay away from danger for example), I’ll try to show how being more self-aware might improve your everyday life. In any case, we at Contractuo learnt some really important lessons that we are happy to share with you!

"He bought a six pack of cola, so he doesn't care about his health!

We make assumptions all the time. When you see a person in the supermarket (that looks a bit overweight) buying a six pack of cola, you might assume that he doesn’t care much about his own health. This is nonsense ofcourse, because the person could just be starting to work out and eat healthy food, but you saw him on his ‘cheatday’, the only day of the week he drinks cola. Or maybe he buys it for someone else, like his kids?

Another example, is that a large number of Europeans like to think that Americans are terrible at geography and don’t know where Germany or Italy is on the map. I highly doubt however, if these Europeans can pinpoint Nevada or Alabama on the map of The United States? 

 

In short, we jump to conclusions without any knowledge, prove or argument that leads to our conclusion. This way of thinking can be very risky in our everyday decision making. Not everyone does this however.

Take 16th century Samurai warrior Miyamoto Musashi, who dueled many feared warriors of the time (some say 60 in total!) and won against all of them. He was even unarmed in some of these. He used an interesting method to prevent himself from assuming anything or jumping to conclusions by making a clear difference between observing and perceiving. “The perceiving eye is weak, because it sees more than that what is actually there”, like ‘huge problems’ for example. “The observing eye however, focusses on what is, without distractions, exaggerations or misconceptions”. Reality is all that matters to the observing eye and helps make the right decision without assumptions.

Do you have examples of your own where you used your perceiving eye? I surely did. Things like “I’m sure Peter won’t agree with this”, or  “Last year, most of our customers didn’t like to have meetings every month, they probably still don’t now”. I made assumptions without any real prove if my assumption was just. It’s a shame that I depended my choices and opportunities on poor reasoning. Now however, I learned that there is a way to rely less on assumptions and more on good reasoning skills

Samurai

But how can we prevent jumping to conclusions too fast? The most important part to solve this, is to be more self-aware. I will explain in detail why self-awareness is so important by focussing on the following components:

  • Realize what you are (actually) doing.
  • Realize what you are feeling.
  • Realize what your automated responses are.
Epictetus

“Be not swept off your feet by the vividness of the impression, but say, “Impression, wait for me a little. Let me see what you are and what you represent. Let me try you.”

Epictetus

Realize what you are actually doing

There are a ton of unpleasant things in life that trigger an automated response without you ever really taking notice. Here are some examples:

  • Arguing with your partner
  • Getting stuck in a traffic jam when driving to work
  • Not sleeping well
  • Being ill
  • Not being as productive at work

I think these unpleasant situations in life sound quite familiar. In some way, we receive pain from these moments, either mental or physical. So what do we do in return? We watch a movie, eat,  play sports, watch videos of cats, just to name a few. So, we avoid these moments of “pain” through distraction. We distract our mind so we forget about the negativity from our everyday lives.

Now, there is nothing wrong with seeking distraction in life. The point is however, that we become aware of these distractions and that we stay in control. Make sure these distractions do not take control of you, so you are aware of what you are doing and why. Auto-pilot may be comforting and safe in some situations, but this is not always the case. There are many bad distractions, like drinking too much alcohol whenever we feel stressed  can lead to some serious problems.

By being aware of distractions we can actively choose what they are and decide in what quantity we enjoy them.

This way, we stay in charge of our everyday lives and don’t go into full auto-pilot mode all the time. You’re still the ‘Pilot In Command’ of your own life after all.

Fun excercise

when you’re in a bar, pub, restaurant or party, just watch how many people look on their phone out of reflex when their friend goes to the toilet.

This is a distraction used by a lot of people you will (probably) see, or have seen, more than once. Now there is nothing wrong with this, but are you aware of what you are trying to achieve when looking at your phone? Are you expecting a phone call from somebody, or are you just mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Instagram?

A possibility is that a lot of people don’t want to be alone with their thoughts. How often do you listen to music in your car or when you’re working out all by yourself for example?

Woman looking at phone

Realize what you are feeling

‘You seem a bit down today, whats wrong?’, ‘Nothing’, you reply. Recognize this situation?

Many of us distract ourselves from the way we are actually feeling, which isn’t the right course of action. Negative emotions can be problematic in the long run, and these distractions make you feel better only temporarily (or not even). However, a crucial part in this, is to make sure how you are feeling and why? Am I irritated because I did not get enough sleep or are am I frustrated because someone didn’t keep his promise?

Take a moment, try to think clearly and come up with a possible cause for the way you are feeling. It might help to not look at a computer, tablet or phone for a couple of minutes to improve your focus. You don’t have to immediately meet someone that specializes in this sort of thing. Many of us just don’t realize how they are really feeling because they tend to switch to auto-pilot mode when they feel emotional in  whatever capacity.

Realize what your automated responses are

When you realize what you feeling, the next step is to find out what your automated responses are. For example, maybe you realize that whenever your partner criticizes you for something, you immediately start a fight to defend yourself.

I think it’s better to ask why your partner is annoyed with you so you can make an improvement. If you didn’t do the dishes because you rather watched a series on Netflix, then be honest at the very least. Another possibility is that your partner might be irritated herself. By examining your own automated responses, you’ll find whether these were the right choice to make. Point is,  by examining your automated response, you can decide whether it was the right or wrong choice to make and subsequently improve yourself if needed. If we would not do this, we would just be slaves of our flawed minds. So it’s important to discover our automated responses to improve our everyday life. 

Self-awareness is key!

Here are some tips to help you become more self-aware. Take time to let these tips sink in, don’t expect them to come into fruition into a matter of days. Great leaders of our world like Abraham Lincoln and Marcus Aurelius didn’t start out to be influential people. Years of practising self awareness made them this way, so why wouldn’t we do it?

Abraham Lincoln
  • Become less ‘dense’: Some people can be quite sure of themselves whenever they have an opinion on a certain subject (not necessarily anything in their field of expertise). By being more open and receptive in your way of thinking, you will enhance your connection to reality. Whenever you give your opinion, indicate that you could be wrong or that someone is free to correct you on the matter. At a certain point in time, we all have been that person that ‘knew it all’ on a particular subject (myself included). We don’t know everything, whatever the subject may be. We just don’t. 
     
  • Take yourself less serious: Behaviour and thougts are often related to your emotions, and your emotions are always subjective and can very easily be wrong. So don’t think too serious about your own thoughts in relation to the rest of the world.  After all, every human life is only a very small dot in all of existence. Like Miyamoto Musashi said: “Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world”.
     
  • Realize your emotional patterns: Whenever you feel a certain way, you act a certain way. Some people like to eat whenever they are sad, or get easily irritated when they (presumably) lost an argument. So what are yours? I curse alot whenever I feel stressed. Become aware of these feelings and decide in an objective manner if this pattern is reasonable. I don’t think looking at memes all night because you can’t sleep is one of them…

“Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.”

Miyamoto Musashi

I hope you understand why it’s important to become more self aware. It will make life a lot easier and you’ll learn more about yourself as a person and how to improve. I surely did. When becoming more self aware, a logical follow up is to make the right decision, which could also come quite handy in businesslife (spoiler alert: more on that in our next blog). Know that there are always kind people that are willing to help you on this journey.  Your personal development might also be important in your everyday working life, because nobody wants to become that ‘jerk from work’. At least most of us…

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