“The world is not a problem; the problem is your unawareness” – Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

There are many different theories and models of change. One of my favorites is one that comes from the 12-step world – ‘the Three 3 As’ (Awareness, Acceptance, and Action). I’m going to take a few blog posts to talk about the Three As and how they can be used as a simple but powerful model for creating change. This post will focus on Awareness.

Awareness is a critical element of change – if you don’t know where you are, it’s hard to make a roadmap to get anywhere else. Awareness may seem like a simple enough thing – but it’s more elusive than you might think. A few of the reasons for this:

  • We tend to unconsciously move away from feelings of discomfort or fear.
  • Our world is a hectic and noisy one, full of things to alter, distort, or redirect our awareness from what we are feeling – TV, Facebook, alcohol & drugs, food, etc. – so it’s very easy to satisfy the temptation to ‘run away’ when discomfort or fear show up.
  • The challenge of ‘justifiable’ distractions such as a big project at work, the kids’ soccer tournament, etc. which we can use to say “I’m doing something important” while ignoring the fact that we’re also avoiding something.

Lack of awareness is a significant obstacle to success and a major contributor to long term failure in many areas of life – relationships, health, finances, etc. In the moment, we’re simply making the bad deal of dodging fear and discomfort – and it’s not helped by the fact that we live in a world that tells us we shouldn’t have to feel fear or discomfort. That’s simply not true – life hurts sometimes. Fear and discomfort are inevitable – and if you put them off, it’ll be a lot worse later. Here’s the good news: facing your fear and discomfort makes you stronger, makes your world larger and will help you build deeper relationships, find more professional success, and avoid the crises that are inevitable as a result of chronic avoidance.

I was recently given a great lesson on awareness by my daughter. Children are wonderful to watch, because they experience the world in such a different way from us adults – they are so present and so aware of things we avoid or tune out. My daughter is at the age where her vocabulary is growing at an amazing pace – it seems like every day she’s saying a bunch of new words, constantly associating the things she sees, hears, and feels with words. She seems especially fond of doing this with sounds. One night recently, we went to look at the full moon before bedtime. After showing her the big, bright, full, moon low on the horizon and telling her about it, we headed back inside.  As we were walking towards the front door, she started calling out sounds she was hearing in the night – “airplane!” “truck!” “siren!” “cycle!” “bark!”  Until she had brought these sounds into my awareness, I hadn’t noticed any of them – they were just part of the background to me, essentially invisible. She is fully present – taking in the world, moment by moment as she experiences it, and it’s a great model for all of us – awareness is always available to us, it’s really just a matter of paying attention.

If you want to start working on improving your awareness, try this: Take some time during part of your day to focus your attention on what’s going on around you (sights, sounds, smells), and what feelings you are experiencing. You can do this anywhere – in your office, at home, while on a short walk, etc. Keep a running dialogue in your head of what you are aware of (it will probably sound like a stream of consciousness without much order or logic to it). When you find yourself feeling afraid or uncomfortable and moving away from awareness, make note of how you do that – are you distracting yourself, numbing yourself, or doing something else?

Once you stop dodging awareness, the next step is going to be changing your relationship with those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, and that’s where Acceptance comes in, which will be the focus of my next post.

What are the obstacles you’ve experienced in trying to be more aware? What helps you improve your awareness?