“Awareness” is a buzz word in meditation talks and mindfulness conversations. But what, actually is awareness? Is it being mentally alert? Discerning? Well-informed? Is there a difference between awareness and consciousness? Being self-conscious and self-aware aren’t the same thing, are they? So what does awareness mean, and what is self-awareness?
Most dictionaries define awareness as knowledge, understanding, or perception of something. For example, we might be aware of a problem, a solution, a philosophy, a scent, a presence, sensation, thought or emotion. In the context of mindfulness, awareness is simply the act of paying attention to what is happening right here, right now.
What is self-awareness?
Why is self-awareness so important? Due to today’s overly busy lifestyles, stress and anxiety levels have increased significantly and emotions tend to simmer close to the surface. Some people feel tension at the chest level or in the pit of the stomach. Others talk about feeling unhappy and dissatisfied for no reason. Rather than acknowledge our feelings and work with them, we often “look the other way,” and attempt to ignore them by turning to distractions of all kinds for temporary relief.
Awareness is the antidote that has a lasting impact. Awareness in all its forms is the very core of meditation. Individuals who meditate naturally develop self-awareness over time. They’re able to take stock of their feelings, thoughts and physical sensations more clearly and vividly. They may also be able to identify some subtle angles of their character, such as how they react in different situations, their behaviors and habits. Self-awareness allows people to see themselves in a different, more honest light. It may also unearth deep-seated emotions that they hadn’t perceived before.
How Do We Put Self-Awareness into Practice?
If we’re walking down the street, for instance, we can choose to focus on this activity alone. Instead of being caught up in the usual daydreams or technological distractions, we might pay attention to our thoughts, emotions and feelings as we walk. We could do this mindfully, being fully present and noticing without judging. As we train in acknowledging and letting go in this way, we might just learn something about ourselves in the bargain.
Here are three tips for developing self-awareness:
- Mindfully acknowledge your emotions
Society teaches us to rely on rational thoughts when making decisions, and to keep our emotions from interfering with the process. In truth, our feelings often advocate for our ideals. Shutting them out can throw us off balance. It’s wise to integrate feelings with rational thoughts when making important decisions. Explore what you feel and listen to your gut. If your rational thought is not in sync with your feelings, don’t give it the green light just yet.
- Record your feelings
Not surprisingly, recording feelings in a journal or on a device can help you develop self-awareness. This simple exercise will allow you to better define your values, motivations, ideals and purpose. If done regularly, you’ll probably start noticing trends and patterns. You may also get a better sense of what’s holding you back from doing things you’re passionate about. Your subconscious mind knows your hopes and fears even before you write them down. Recording and monitoring your emotions is an effective way to communicate with your subconscious and find the means to define what you really want.
- Expand your self-awareness beyond your feelings
Self-awareness is about more than just paying attention to emotions and feelings – it’s also about using your discoveries to live more fully in the present moment. With self-awareness, you have a better sense of which situations and emotions leave you feeling drained or anxious, and which ones give you a sense of purpose and joy.
The practice of mindfulness naturally gives the mind space to discover itself: this is true self-awareness. Mindfulness meditation also shows you clearly that not every emotion or thought is worth reacting to. It helps you prioritize and use your energy and time wisely and efficiently. Download our free eBook to understand more about the differences and benefits of mindfulness and awareness.