Tools for Self-Development: Awareness, Assessment and Action
To make positive changes and earn the success and happiness we seek, it is essential to have a system that we can apply to the many facets of life.
The method I outline here can be used to create practical changes on many levels, we can use it for personal development, business, improving our relationships, accomplishing our health goals, alleviating stress, finding balance in life, and much more.
This system is a synthesis of several disciplines that I have been involved with and include: medical diagnostics, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Voice Dialogue, self-development, meditation practices, and yoga.
Awareness, Assessment and Action
I like to refer to this as the 3 point system, as there are only three steps involved in the process. Each step starts with an A and so can easily be remembered and implemented into your daily life. The 3 A’s for creating positive change and transformation are awareness, assessment, and action.
To begin to make changes in our life we first have to become aware of something.
This might be the desire for change, transforming a destructive behavioral pattern, getting rid of negative thoughts, or just wanting a better life.
The practice of cultivating greater awareness can be applied to all aspects of life, and awareness, presence and mindfulness are hallmarks of wisdom.
When we bring greater awareness to our work life and businesses, we can see improved outcomes and improve upon what is effective. Awareness brings more success to many aspects of life, because we are paying attention to all the details and moments, and this in itself can bring greater satisfaction and contentment.
For now, we can consider four basic areas of life where we can practice cultivating awareness, and by doing this, we can make positive changes and achieve greater successes.
These four areas are:
Our Social Relationships
Let’s start with our psychology. As we learned from the article on courage, fear is the opposite of courage, and when fear is present in our lives it can prevent us from taking actions.
Many people have conscious and unconscious patterns of fear running through their minds and emotions.
These fears can be related to self-limiting beliefs, feeling inadequate, anxiety and a number of maladaptive behaviors. As long as we are unconscious of these patterns, we will remain affected by them and be unable to grow.
As we become increasingly aware of our fears, worries and limiting beliefs, we gain the ability to see them for what they are. Awareness also allows us to see how fear and doubt play out in our lives, and the various consequences that result from being under the command of fear.
Meta - Cognition and Awareness
In our 3 point system for making positive internal changes, the first step is to become aware of our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Related to this is a term used in psychology called meta-cognition, and it means ‘thinking about thinking,’ or being ‘aware of one’s awareness.’ When we practice meta-cognition we become aware of our thoughts, without being totally identified with them.
Meta-cognition allows us to take a step back from the dialogue in our heads, and gives us the ability to take a more objective point of view about our thoughts and emotions. With this kind of practice we can observe our thoughts and emotions play out, without being totally identified with them.
Observing our thoughts, emotions and mental activities from a contemplative state of awareness, is a powerful practice and skill that is useful for cultivating courage as well as the virtue of temperance. This method of observing our thoughts from the perspective of a third party witness, is also spoken of in Eastern meditative traditions. One of my favorite practices for doing this, is witnessing how the ‘I am’ statement is used in our thoughts, words and lives.
In both our thoughts and verbal expressions we frequently use the term, ‘I am’ or ‘I’m.’
If we look at this statement closely, we learn that we are usually strongly identified with whatever follows the ‘I’m’ statement. We tell ourselves and say things like, ‘I’m worried,’ and in doing so we are identified with the act of worrying, which is a form of fear. Looking at this statement closer, we are actually saying, ‘I am worry.’ When we say this, we are defining ourselves as worry. The ‘I am’ statement in all of it forms, literally defines and identifies us as whatever follows the ‘I am’ statement.
If I say or think, ‘I’m courageous,’ then I identify with and define myself as courage. Try this for a few moments and see how it affects you. Go ahead, repeat to yourselves a few times, ‘I am courageous.’
How does doing this exercise make you feel, does it improve your mood or make you feel stronger? Do you see the value in doing that?
Hundreds, if not thousands of times a day, we use the ‘I am’ statement in our thoughts and conversations. Each time we do this it reinforces who we believe ourself to be. If I repeat to myself either consciously, or unconsciously, hundreds of times a day, ‘I’m happy,’ it will have an affect on my feelings, self-image and beliefs.
Who do you repetitively tell yourself who you are?
Returning to our conversation about meta-cognition and awareness, we have the ability to develop the capacity to observe these ‘I am’ statements from an objective point of view. We all have the ability to witness our thoughts.
As we learn to observe these ‘I am’ statements, we gain some objectively over our thoughts, feelings and beliefs.
Doing this practice gives us some space and distance from our own thoughts and emotions and allows us to dis-identify from them. In breaking our identity with negative thoughts by using this technique, we are cultivating a greater awareness.
By detaching from the ego based inner dialogue, greater peace of mind and serenity can be found in any moment that we practice this.
With regular practice we may also find that clear and luminous presence of mind is ever only one breath of awareness away.
Though it can take some time to get proficient at this method, the results can be truly astounding and allow us to have a much bigger perspective than when we are identified with the inner dialogue of the ego and self-limiting ‘I am’ statements.
This practice of observing the ‘I am’ statements, has been used in contemplative practices in the East for many years. Ramana Maharshi was a great Indian sage who lived from 1879-1950, and brought this practice to widespread practice in the world. His teachings have been very influential and have made great contributions to psychology and modern spiritual practice.
When we apply this kind of practice to courage and fear, getting some space from our fears, by observing, and dis-identifying from them, also allows us to rewrite our inner scripts. This is where the rubber meets the road in transforming negative thinking into positive thinking. We first have to be aware of our fears, in order to begin to rewrite the inner dialogue, stories, thoughts and limiting beliefs that we tell ourselves.
These kinds of practices that involve meta-cognition, observing our thoughts, and dis-identifying from fearful or limiting inner dialogue, take a lot of courage to practice.
As we do this kind of contemplation, we will find a lot of junk in our minds. We will become more aware of not only our fears, but also doubts, inner criticisms, judgements, self-pity and a host of other beliefs. To fully address these patterns and break the identifications we have with them, requires bravery, as many of these things are like family to us.
We get so identified and attached to our inner story lines, even harmful ones, that they literally become part of our identity.
To inquire into ourselves in these ways, requires us to let go of certain parts of ourselves that no longer serve us. Some of these parts, as harmful and self-limiting as they may be, can be quite dear to us. They contain our excuses, defenses, and maladaptive patterns that we have adopted and taken comfort in.
Often people don’t want to confront some of the things in their minds, and this leads to repression and a denial of some aspect of themselves. We may do this out of family, social and cultural expectations, and to confront our differences and openly admit them to ourselves and others takes a tremendous amount of courage.
What have your denied in yourself out of fear about how others would respond?
Returning to our discussion of cultivating courage and awareness, we find that becoming aware of fearful or self-limiting inner dialogue and storylines, is essential to making positive change in our lives. When we confront these things with awareness, we will have achieved some internal successes that give us more freedom, peace and happiness.
When we become aware of our thoughts, emotions and self-limiting fears, we can then assess the way they manifest and play out in our lives. By assessing patterns of fear, or any restricting patterns, we are evaluating the influence they have on us. Many systems of psychology and personal development work in this way, and refer to this process in various ways such as reprogramming, reframing or reinterpreting our thoughts and feelings.
As we assess things we want to change, we evaluate how to proceed in positive directions. Awareness gives us recognition, but assessing allows us to use our powers of judgement and evaluation to evolve a new way of doing things. If we find that we tell ourselves, ‘I will never be happy,’ then we can choose to take that statement and reframe it into a positive way. Instead of saying, ‘I will never be happy,’ we can say something like, 'learning makes me happy and I will learn to improve my life.'
Courage requires taking action, without action there can be no true courage. Replacing negative thoughts and fears with positive thoughts, without taking action in the real world, is doomed to keep us trapped in the negative fearful cycles that we seek to break out of.
It is not enough to think positive, we must act if we are to effect change in our lives.
Through the process of overcoming fear by taking action, we are literally building new brain circuits that allow us to strengthen the muscles of courage and determination.
There can be no courage without action.
For courage to be genuine courage we need to bring it into the world through physical acts in someway. Imagine if a house is burning down and there are children inside, it is not courageous to only think about saving them. True courage is demonstrated when one rushes into the burning house and actually takes the physical action of saving the children. While this example is a big dramatic act of courage that most of us will never experience, it does clearly demonstrate my point, which is that authentic courage requires taking action.
For many of us, we will at some time experience the need to utilize courage in our professional life.
This may be entail asking for a promotion, starting a new business, changing careers entirely, confronting management or unethical behavior in the work place. For others, courage is necessary as part of the job description. Public speakers, police officers, entrepreneurs, innovators, military personal, firefighters, doctors and nurses all need courage on a regular basis. Whatever your profession is, at some point you will need to demonstrate courage in your work life.