If you fell down a hole, knocked yourself out, and woke up to find yourself surrounded by total darkness not remembering how you got there, what would be the first thing you need to know to escape?
It would be the awareness that you’re in a hole. Awareness is the first step in making a change.
And yes, you should want to know how to make a change in your life. I want to point this out because some people think “I don’t need to change. I like myself as I am and don’t want to be someone else.”
As critical as it is to accept yourself as you are, it’s also important to recognize that nothing in nature stays the same. An oak tree will never become an apple tree just like you will never become someone you’re not, but that oak will also never be the exact same oak tree from one year to the next. It will be bigger, smaller, have more or less leaves, etc.
So the question is, if you’re going to change from one day to the next regardless of whether or not you want to, do you want to leave the change that happens to you in your life up to chance or choice?
The reason why we tend to get “stuck” (and seemingly not change) however is we can get caught in various “holes” of bad habits, dis-empowering thoughts, and limiting beliefs without even being aware of it.
Without practicing awareness (which can also be called mindfulness, presence, or living in the “now”), a person is simply like a robot running on autopilot following programmed routines and habits without much conscious thought.
A more everyday example of this would be driving in a car, and then not remembering the last few minutes of driving only to “snap back to reality” and realize that somehow or another, you’ve safely driven the past few miles without even being aware of it.
Or perhaps eating an entire tub of ice cream and then looking back and going, “Wow! How did that happen?”
All of these instances, from the more deep trances of driving and TV watching, to the more everyday decisions of what to eat result from the habitual way our brain works. Over 90% of our decisions are made without any conscious effort or deep understanding why we made those decisions in the moment. In essence, the feeling that you are always aware of your thoughts and rationalizations for making most of your decisions is an illusion.
Awareness is quite simply observing your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Nothing is labeled as right or wrong, it’s just “interesting.” You become both a participant and observer of your life. This practice is powerful because it teaches you that you are not your thoughts and feelings. You are simply that which is aware of thoughts and feelings that flow through you. I remind myself of this by asking “am I this thought or feeling, or am I simply that which is aware of it?”
Awareness / mindfulness requires being present. This is critical because the only point in time where a person can change anything is now. Your past can be reinterpreted right now. Your present can change with any choice you make right now. And your future is determined by what you do right now.
In other words, success and opportunity hide in the very place people are sometimes distracting themselves from – the present moment.
Opportunity is here with you in this very moment as soon as you choose to let go of thinking about the past and future and notice what is here with you in this moment.
To practice awareness or mindfulness, simply notice all your thoughts and feelings as they occur throughout the day without judging them. You may be surprised at what you learn and how you start to change without even trying.
By actually practicing awareness, you can start to notice your habitual thoughts, feelings, and underlying beliefs behind every action you take. The biggest trick with awareness is that you’re not actually trying to change your behaviors, thoughts, or feelings when you’re observing them. A person may go ahead and eat an entire tub of ice cream, but they should notice all of their thoughts, feelings, and everything they are experiencing before, during, and after eating the ice cream.
While this may sound odd at first, consider that this person eating the ice cream may discover how they didn’t want to eat the ice cream because they were physically hungry, but rather because they’re experiencing an emotional emptiness inside. The ice cream was satisfying an emotional want, not a physical one. Being aware of this is the first step to breaking the pattern, and sometimes it takes nothing more than awareness to break the pattern.
But awareness isn’t just a one time thing, it should be an on-going practice. One of the benefits of practicing meditation is that is helps the brain become trained to me more present and mindful at all times. In a sense, awareness is taking meditation to your everyday life so everything you do becomes meditation. This has been promoted for thousands of years as a spiritual practice for one big reason – it works.