“You are the sky. The clouds are what happens, what comes and goes.”
— Eckhart Tolle
Hundreds of thoughts go through one’s mind at any given time. Your work may be challenging, or you have been fired, or you are facing problems in a relationship. These thoughts often have no particular direction. You need to rise above your thoughts, to become the “sky” in the metaphor. That way, you become the objective listener to your thoughts. This sets you on the path of self-awareness.
Awareness is the starting point of every quest. Without awareness, we flounder along the path. Awareness removes digressions and shows a clear path ahead.
However, being aware is not a goal—it is an ongoing practice of mindfulness. So how do we increase our awareness?
Awareness demands that we have greater clarity and honesty in all aspects of our life. We understand what others are trying to communicate to us at a deeper and more realistic level. We’re able to be honest with ourselves about our faults and our positive traits, and we have a greater ability to lead. The benefits of heightened awareness include accepting that we are responsible for our actions, expectations and beliefs and how they influence what we do. It helps us notice our patterns [good and bad] and work towards channelling our negative emotions into constructive actions.
Why we judge others
People often judge others, yet most people don’t really know themselves. It is difficult to know yourself, and almost impossible to know another person completely. This is why so many people are intent on judging others—they’re afraid to learn about themselves. Aristotle has thus rightly said: “To know thyself is the highest wisdom.”
Heightening awareness can seem like a tall order for those of us who block out the world in order to focus on our own life. But heightened awareness won’t take your attention away from the necessary tasks in your life. On the contrary, there is a huge upside to this in terms of progress in the corporate world, and you getting more respect from your colleagues, clients and family.
A simple way is to write a regular journal. It can be as little as jotting down a few bullet points before you go to bed. Ask yourself: What did I learn about myself at work today? What did I learn at home? What made me happy and what made me unhappy today and why? What are my goals?
Heightened awareness also helps us differentiate between reality and wishful thinking. Many people lead an illusionary life [a life built on how they wish things would be, but not how they are], which prevents them from getting to the root of problems. As a result, they fail to deliver. For example, when you get angry with another driver, you believe your anger has been triggered by his poor driving. But in reality, you are stressed out because you have missed the deadline for an important project. Awareness allows you to be mindful of what is really going on and why you are reacting the way you are.
Do you listen actively?
Awareness is also practised through active listening—listening with your eyes, ears and heart. Give your undivided attention and remain non-judgmental. Your relationship with your family can be tenuous without active listening because a deep understanding of each other is missing. The same applies to business relationships; with customers, colleagues or other stakeholders. You can enrich every relationship with active listening.
In the corporate world, being aware of the moods of individuals and teams can offer valuable insights. You need to know if your employees feel valued or de-motivated. Heightened awareness helps you fix situations where your employees may feel less than great.
Awareness also means you have a deeper understanding of what is going on in your business. You are aware of what is most important to you. Being aware means not only that you are clear about your vision, mission, values and strategy, but also whether your team and your actions are aligned with them.
Ways to develop a heightened awareness
1. Accept that your awareness can always be enhanced.
2. Ask yourself: What frustrates me? What bothers me? What excites me? What do I do well? What can I do better? What does success mean to me? What makes me happy? What takes me away from who I am?
3. Have one-to-one meetings with associates, customers, family members, colleagues and your spouse to find out how they’re feeling. Keep an open mind during discussions and listen actively. When you’re upset about something, ask: what else could it be?
4. Sharpen your awareness of your team members: are they putting in their best? What are the gaps between actual outcome vis-à-vis the expected outcome? Who are the performers/non-performers? What will take them to the next level?
5. Deepen your awareness of your business. Evaluate what is being achieved from a qualitative and quantitative standpoint, and have a mechanism for evaluation. Then determine the one thing you can do which gives you the highest leverage on your time, and focus on it. Set weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly goals and evaluate your progress regularly.
6. Develop a deeper awareness of your offerings: What are their strengths and weaknesses? Which products and services do clients really like and which do not add much value?
7. Be aware of your customer mix: Who are the 20 per cent customers giving you 80 per cent of the business? Give special attention to those customers.
8. As noted earlier, write in a journal—about what’s going on in your life—to get to the root of any problem. Write in a journal before addressing a problem directly with the person concerned, or read your journal before going for an important meeting. Soon after you begin writing, you’ll find that you’re more aware of your behaviour, your business and people around you. As little as 5 – 10 minutes a day spent writing can help clarify issues.
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