Thoughts on Building Awareness
We do things, often as a result of an unchecked belief system or protection method. Something as simple as calling a loved one can be indicative of how we resolve to automatic behaviors, rather than a deliberate understanding of purpose.
At this stage of my life, my work has mostly centered around my own self-awareness. Growing up a product of scripts and acts of “doing what’s right” to get along with those around me, it was rare to actually sit down and question myself. It was rare to take the time to actually think for myself. To ask myself questions with true curiosity. Let’s be real though, the script makes it easy. Operating on the path of least resistance, living in the socialized mind, adhering to the projected image that I believed people expected me to have, was simple. Why seek answers if there were no obvious questions to ask?
For example, just about every day throughout my twenties, I would call my mother. Looking back, it wasn’t even to make her (or me) happy. My mother, who certainly struggles to find meaning and purpose in her life, would naturally express her displeasure when I didn’t call, citing how unhappy it made her, beyond whatever unhappiness she was already experiencing.
Any time I missed a day, or the unspeakable two, she would give me so much shit and guilt for not calling her. Seriously, our missed 2 minute chat would make her day/life that much worse. Each time. How dare I be such an inconsiderate asshole of a child for disregarding her feelings like that. Mind you, I was almost 30 while this was going on. To be fair, there are way more boundary issues to unpack here, from my past, that I would rather get into with a therapist then unload on you fine people reading this article.
The point here is that the script of “you’re supposed to call your mother” is one of those classic, obvious things we do or scripts we follow without needing additional thought.
Please note that I am not advocating for you to not call your mother. The last thing I need is someone’s mother calling me to bitch about why their son or daughter stopped calling. I am simply advocating for inquiry.
The gist of my story is that we should fully understand what is compelling us to call our mothers before we simply pick up the phone or ask Alexa to do it. My intention is to bring awareness to otherwise regularly scheduled activities that may, in actuality, be sucking the life out of us one phone call at a time.
As Jonathan Haidt discusses in the happiness hypothesis, we have a divided self, composed of an automatic self (the elephant) and our willful or deliberate self (the rider). It is our job as conscious, maturing human beings, to have our collective “riders” questioning everything our “elephant” does so that we can best learn how to navigate life as a whole being and ride as smoothly as possible along our paths.
In the process of building awareness, we need to start questioning our actions. All of them. Down to the most basic ones.
Getting curious about ourselves and realizing that no question is not worth asking is a fundamental skill toward attaining more self awareness over time. It may sound obvious (and to be fair, it is) but in being honest with ourselves and assessing how good we are at asking ourselves these questions, we may quickly realize we have some work to do. Not just when we fuck up or when we have a really difficult decision ahead of us, but all the other times we do automatic shit that ends up sucking the life out of us.
Are we curious about what is causing our elephant to walk in a certain direction? Or do we just sit there and let it do its thing? Immaturely and relatively mindlessly navigating our lives. This shit is real, so we’re going to get real about it.
Quick point as we will not be asking “why?” in this awareness building process. As much as I enjoy reading and listening to Simon Sinek, in the self awareness process, I believe that asking “What?” is a more powerful approach to personal exploration. As crafty, ego-driven humans, we can rationalize almost anything to come up with a seemingly valid why. However, by focusing on “what” questions we can work to dissect the things that cause something to happen, rather than rely on our own twisted reasoning.
Some Basic Questions
Here are some questions we can start to weave into our thought processes to build our awareness, using “calling my mother: as the running example:
What emotions am I experiencing when thinking about taking this action?
Naming our emotions at any given moment in time is a very underrated and underutilized tool in building awareness of ourselves, especially for decision making or action taking.
If I am trying to decide whether or not to call my mom at any given moment in time, naming my emotions when picturing myself dialing, then on the phone then (insert honest feeling here) while talking to her, and ultimately what I believe I will feel when the conversation is over, will be a very helpful way to get a feel on whether what I am about to do is a good idea.
In the awareness building process, imagining ourselves in a situation and then naming the emotions that situation brings up may only take a few minutes before we do something gives us time to check our assumptions, expectations and values before acting.
What are my values?
BIG question. This is probably something worth stopping reading this article for and doing a bit of personal values exploration, if perhaps it’s been a while or forever since the last value check-in.
If you get so wrapped up in your values that you forget to come back, don’t sweat it, I’ve done my job.
Great, now that you’re done, whatever decisions we’re making should be in line with those values. A few important distinctions:
I learned a lot about my own values through Mark Manson’s work. You’ll get it when you read him.
What if this is wrong?
This is an easy question to ask when making any decision, so long as you’ve got your values in check. The whole right vs wrong thing only really matters once your values have gone through the ringer and come out strong and healthy on the other end. Let’s assume we’re all good with values.
The simple notion that calling my mother may be wrong could be startling at first, but if I am calling to soothe some anxiety about what would happen if I didn’t call her, I think it’s fair to say that may not be the best reason to pick up the phone at that moment.
What about my past may be driving this?
This one may seem simple, but we really need to dig for it to work. Jerry Colonna calls it “Ghosts in the Machine,” Robert Kegan calls it “Immunities to Change,” these wise men dive deep into the belief systems we’ve constructed for ourselves that drive specific behaviors in our current way of operating. These behaviors create assumptions and subsequent actions that both protect us and hinder us.
I called my mom every day for over a decade because there were so many happenings in my past that made me believe that it would be worse for everyone if I didn’t. Codependence, filling emotional voids, traumatic experiences, and the list goes on as to what may have formed the ghosts in my machine and my immunities to change. It’s challenging those assumptions and understanding the behaviors that will allow us to decide if they’re worth keeping around.
What is the benefit to me in doing this?
Not meaning to sound like a selfish prick here, so let me clarify by saying that when I talk about “benefit to me” I am talking about my energy. Our energy is precious and the things we choose to do should have some energetic benefit to us unless we’re deliberately aiming at true altruism.
If I am calling my mother and after the call, I feel like all of my energy just got flushed down the proverbial toilet, should I have made that call? Of course, there are those conversations I have that give me energy because the person I am talking to is curious about me, interested in what I have to say, and eager to connect on mutual interests. And visa versa. Does calling your mother do that? Lucky you, if so.
Is this in service of my image?
We all wear masks (not the covid masks, but the fake version of us we present to the world masks). We all sacrifice our integrity at times in service of our image. If all we care about when we’re calling mom is to come off looking like a good son or daughter, we’re being selfish assholes and doing everyone involved a disservice.
Then again, if your mom is happy hearing from you simply so everyone looks good in having had a conversation, and that’s why you’re calling, perhaps you all deserve the miserable conversation you’re about to have.
It is important to recognize when that sacrifice of integrity is happening and determine if whatever you’re doing is worth a piece of your soul (yup, I’m going there — much more to come on this in future writings).
So Should I Call?
What it comes down to is that building awareness requires that we slow down a bit and take the time to ask ourselves deliberate questions about why we choose to do things. It isn’t easy and will definitely take a lot of time, practice, and fuck ups before it becomes a more “automatic” process.
Self awareness is a lifelong process and demands that we have an intrinsic desire to know who we are, what makes us up, and what causes us to do the things we do.
Should you be calling your mother? How the hell should I know! But it may not hurt you to ask yourself that question the next time you pick up the phone.
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