3 – Self-Awareness

If there’s one word that can encapsulate this class the word is clarity. Specifically, two qualities of clarity as you can see on the screen right now. Self-awareness is about creating clarity into the self on these two dimensions. The first is vividness. The second is resolution. That's two dimensions of resolution. So, one dimension is spatial, and one dimension is temporal.

Spatial resolution means the ability to perceive the process of emotion in a subtle way. To see subtle changes in an emotion. The temporal resolution means to be able to perceive the experience or emotion in real time, as it's happening. So, that's one aspect of resolution. The other aspect of clarity or self-awareness is vividness, which means the ability to perceive the process of emotion in high clarity, in high vividness.

So, as you can see on the screen right now, the picture on the left compared to the picture on the right. The picture on the right has both higher resolution and vividness. So, the high resolution means you can now see the individual words and high vividness means that it used to be dark, now brighter and because of that, you can perceive more information, perceiving information about self. That is essentially what self-awareness is about.

So, what is the definition of self-awareness?

And this is a definition that comes from Daniel Goleman which I really like. "Knowing one's internal states, preferences, resources, and intuitions." And I really like this definition because it goes beyond what we normally understand to be self-awareness. When we normally say self-awareness, we're just thinking becoming aware of what I'm feeling right now but it's more than that. What Daniel Goleman's definition suggests is that it goes even up to the level of meaning, up to the level of who am I? What are my resources? What do I prefer? What makes me happiest? And so on.

So, the whole spectrum from what I'm feeling right now to who am I as a person. This entire spectrum is covered in this definition of self-awareness as it should be. The three emotional competencies relating to self-awareness are these three you will see on a screen right now. The first is emotional awareness. The second is self-assessment and the third is self-confidence.

The question that comes to mind is, what is so good about self-awareness? What is about you? It turns out that each one of the three competencies of self-awareness is, by itself, extremely valuable for work. We all know what self-competencies, but what is the difference between emotional awareness and self-assessment? The difference is they operate on different levels.

Emotional awareness operates at a level of physiology. It is at the level of, this is what I'm feeling right now. This is my emotional experience right now as experience in my body. In contrast, self-assessment operates at a level of meaning. That is at a level of, this is who I am. This is who I want to be. And this is what I like, this is what I don't like. These are my strengths and my resources. So, these two levels are complementary, but you see the difference between them. 

​So, the question that arises is, what is so good about self-awareness?

It turns out that each of the three competencies of self-awareness is beneficial in its own way. Let me give you some examples. First, emotional awareness. There has been a study in American Express, specifically in American Express Financial Advisors where they teach financial advisors emotional awareness skills. And it has been shown that just that alone, just teaching the financial advisers emotional awareness, that increased their sales adviser.

It turns out it's because when the financial advisers become more self-aware, they become better at working with the customers. They become more aware of what the customers want and how the customers affect them, which make them better at serving the customers. And presumably, it also increases the quality of their financial advice. Which by the way, I taught my financial advisor mindfulness meditation and he thought I was just being nice. Now you know why. So, that's emotional awareness.

Self-assessment is even more important. Self-assessment has been shown to be of defining characteristic in individual success. It is shown that every highly successful person is strong in self-assessment. It is like a baseline competency. If you are not strong in self-assessment, you are not likely to be highly successful. Why is that so? It turns out the reason is very simple. It turns out that one of us is perfect and because we are not perfect, if you're strong in self-assessment then we know where we are strong at, where we're weak at and we know who to work with to cover for our individual deficiencies. And that's how we can form teams that can help us become very successful. And that is why self-assessment is such a powerful and important quality for success.

And self-confidence as you know is one of the most, one of the defining distinguishing factors between those who are very successful and those who are average. And self-confidence, as we all know, it has been shown to be a distinguishing character that distinguishes the best performers from the average performance. There's something about self-confidence and I'll tell you why it is.

Self-confidence, you feel confident in yourself, you project a certain amount of charisma. You project the charisma that inspires people to want to work with you. And that is why self-confidence is one of the predictors of success.

There is something else very interesting about the three competencies of self-awareness which is there is a linear relationship between the three. What does that mean? If you look at the development of the three competencies of self-awareness, you find that if you develop emotional awareness you can become strong in self-assessment and when you become strong in self-assessment, you'll become strong in self-confidence. This is a linear relationship.

So, let me explain to you how that works. So, start thinking of emotional awareness. If a strong and emotional awareness, after a while, what happens if you develop a clarity into your own emotions, into your own emotional process? What that enables is, eventually, when you become clear about your own emotional process, you become able to perceive your emotions and yourself objectively from a third person perspective. So, I can see myself as a monk seeing me, for example.

And then once you're able to do that, once you're able to perceive yourself objectively, you create the ability to perceive, and not just perceive, to also accept both pleasant and unpleasant emotions. And that creates the conditions for a strong self-assessment because self-assessment is essentially depending on objectivity. And that level objectivity would give you a very powerful self-assessment.

And once you do that, once you have a strong self-assessment, what happens? After a while, you become honest about your own strengths and weaknesses. You become clear about your own values. And very importantly, if you do that for a while, you reach a state where there are no skeletons in your closet that you don't already know about and that which you're not comfortable being with. Therefore, you reach a state where you become comfortable in your own skin. And that is to create the conditions for self-confidence. Being comfortable in your own skin. And does something better, by the way. 

​Once you create the conditions for self-confidence, with enough practice, it gets better. You get to a state where you go beyond ego.

You get to a state, the way I would describe it, is that you're so flexible with your ego that you are able to become as big as Mount Fuji and as small as a grain of sand at the same time, you can be both. It sounds kind of funny.

So, let me give you an example. I was teaching this for a while and I was forced to practice and what happened was, I was speaking at the World Peace Festival and I was on the plenary panel. There's only one problem, oh there are a couple of problems. The big problem is that everybody on the panel was ten times cooker than me. There was a government minister. There was a major philanthropist. That was my friend, Deepak Chopra, and then sitting beside me was a Nobel Peace laureate. And then there's me. Some guy from Google. Everybody's cooler than me.

And so, I was in the situation where I decided that I have to practice this because Mount Fuji small as a grain of sand thing. Because I realized that if I want to serve my audience, all those people looking at me, my ego has to be irrelevant. This cannot be about me. I'm sitting here solely to serve the audience. At the same time my ego has to be big enough. I have to feel that I deserve to sit here right next to a Nobel Peace laureate at a peace conference. My ego has to big enough that I'm equal to that person on stage.

So, simultaneously my ego has to be very big and very small. And I realize that was very useful and I managed to not do too badly I think in the peace conference. Given that, given how useful self-awareness is the next question is this, how do you develop it? How do you develop self-awareness? If you look at a definition of self-awareness you get a hint.

So, on the screen you see right now the definition of self-awareness by Daniel Goldman or one of his other definitions which is very useful. He defined self-awareness as a neutral mode that maintains self-reflectiveness even in the midst of turbulent emotions. So, this is how Dan defined it. But superimposed on that, if you look at the definition of mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn. And this is how Jon Kabat-Zinn defined mindfulness. He says, "Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way on purpose in the present moment non-judgmentally.".

And if you see these two definitions side by side on a screen right now, you might notice one thing. You might notice that these two statements are referring to exactly the same thing. And this offered us an epiphany. We realize that, wait, we are practitioners of mindfulness. We know how to develop mindfulness and if mindfulness is the same as self-awareness then we know how to develop self-awareness. And then we follow this line of inquiry, myself and my team, which led us to create Search Inside Yourself what you are taking right now. So, was this, inside this line of inquiry that led us to Search Inside Yourself. So, which also means that developing self-awareness is as simple as developing mindfulness.

So, this is one way to look at mindfulness. So, this is a relationship on the screen you can see, the relationship between mindfulness and the mind. The mind is like a flag fluttering in the turbulent wind. Mindfulness is like a pole holding on. Grounding, literally grounding the mind, keeping it stable in the situation of turbulence. So, when you think mindfulness, this is one way to think about it. It's something to ground the mind. 

​As we deepen our self-awareness and mindfulness, we arrive at a very important insight. And this is one of those insights that could change your life. It is this insight that we are not our emotions.

What does that mean? So, let me make it more tangible for you. We begin with no saying, "I am angry." As your mindfulness becomes stronger, you will notice a very subtle shift in the way you think about this. This shift is very subtle but is very important. It could be life changing. And it is this shift that goes from existential to physiological.

What does that mean? So, when we say, for example, "I am angry. I am sad. I am," the way we use our language we are stating that emotion as if that emotion is us. It's me. "I am. This emotion is me." However, what if you reframe that. What if you frame it to, "This emotion is not me. This emotion is merely an experience." So, moving from existential to experiential, right? Instead of, "I am angry," we go to, "I am experiencing anger.”

But it gets better. There's another step which is equally powerful. Which is going from experiential to physiological. Going from, "I am angry," to, "I experience anger," to, "I am experiencing the sensations of anger in my body." This is important. Why is it important? Because, once you get out of the frame that, "This is me," it goes into, "This is what I'm experiencing in my body," and it becomes something you can do about it. You can create the possibility of mastery over emotions. If my emotions is me, there's not much I can do because it's me. However, if it's something that I experience in my body, then I can treat it as if I'm treating pain, right?

So, let's say I'm playing tennis and I have this pain over here. This pain I know is not me. It's just I'm experiencing a sensation in my body. And because it is just a sensation there are things I can do. I can take Tylenol. I can rub cream. I can ignore it if I want to. I can experience it mindfully. I can eat ice cream. I distract myself from this. And so, there is so many things I can do because it's not me. I have mastery over the experience and it's the same with emotions. Once you get out of frame of, "This is me," to, "This is what I experience," then there are things you can do. Then you create the first possibility of mastery, of mastery over your own experience.

So, we talked about high resolution perception into our emotional process and we talked about vividness of perceiving emotion. Now, define about how do we do that? First, mindfulness. Mindfulness alone will help you do that. But that's the good news. There's better news. So, with me there's no bad news, there's only good and better news. The good news is mindfulness is sufficient, the better new is, you can do more than that. 

​The recognition is that emotion is a physiological process or at the very least, we say every emotion has a physiological core with it.

Therefore, if you can apply your mindfulness to your body then you can create even more resolution and vividness into your emotional process. How do you do that? It turns out, it's very easy. So, again that's good news and better news. The good news is it's as simple as bringing attention to the body all the time. The more attention you bring to the body the more you become aware of the bodily functions, of the body experience, the more you become aware of emotions. It's as simple as that. So, that's the good news.

The better news is that in addition to that, there is a systematic way of doing that, of doing this practice, which done, often enough, it creates the ability for improve emotional awareness and self-awareness in general. How do you do that? It's very simple. It's so simple it's embarrassing. It is as simple as systematically bringing attention to different parts of the body. So, for example, what we're going to do right after this, bring attention to the head and then to the face. And so on. All the way down to the rest of the body. As simple as that.

The next question you might ask, why is that effective? Or, how does it work? Well, as Phillip has talked about just now, the way this works or the way it's known to work, is this is insula workout. The parts of the brain that Phillip talked about called am insula right over here. The insula is correlated with a couple of functions of mental and physical function. One function is that people with very active insula they are known to have very strong awareness of their body especially visceral awareness.

So, for example, people with active insula can hear their own heartbeat very accurately. So, that's one. The other thing, it turns out, that people with strong insula also have very strong self-awareness specifically emotional awareness, which by now, should not be surprising to you.

And that an interesting study effect, which we'll talk about in a couple of classes from now, which is that people with strong insula are also known to be high in empathy. And we'll talk about this in a few weeks. How do you train the insula? It turns out again it's very simple. Mindfulness of the body. Systematically bringing attention to different parts of the body. It's like every time you bring attention to the body, it's like training the masses of this awareness of connecting the brain to the body. In other words, every time you bring awareness to the body, it's like strengthening the insula a tiny bit more. And if you do that a lot, your insula muscles will be big and strong and then you will have very strong emotional awareness.

  • Awesome Info about Self-Awareness here, especially about the awareness of High Insula affecting Empathy and Body Awareness! Very Impressive!

  • I absolutely love this course so far. Have been listening to it on the bus to work in the morning instead of music and it’s really helped me. Ment is such a lovely instructor too – I hope my delivery style for sessions is as friendly and encouraging!

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