I used to think I was self-aware. In my head, people who weren’t self-aware didn’t know their weaknesses, and I did. I knew I had a tendency to be disorganised, last-minute, and arrive late for things. I knew I forgot to do things unless they were written down and had at least two alarms associated with them. I wasn’t very good at remembering people’s birthday’s or calling home on a regular basis. Wasn’t that self-aware of me?!
Then I started practising mindfulness and realised how unself-aware I was. It occurred to me that you wouldn’t’ know if you weren’t self-aware because you wouldn’t be self-aware enough to realise!
I noticed the tension in my body that arose from feeling awkward, anxious, embarrassed or angry, and how long it would last for. One time I realised that my jaw had been tight for a week as a result of a disagreement with my housemate.
Another thing I became much more aware of was my thought patterns. People often think that mindfulness is about trying to not to have thoughts. If you try to that, you’ll become very frustrated very quickly. Rather, it’s about noticing the thoughts you are having as you’re having them. One reason being that by becoming more aware of your negative thought patterns, you can break them.
I find myself thinking a lot about how much money I’ve got coming in and when, as I don’t have a regular salary. Sometimes this is helpful but often it’s useless anxiety. The other strong pattern I’ve got is thinking about things I feel I should have done and things I plan to do in the future. This might go along way towards explaining my aforementioned disorganisation and busyness – I’ve got a strong compulsion to keep generating more tasks for myself!
When I realise I’m having unhelpful thoughts I try to break the pattern by coming back to the present moment, either by noticing my breathing, or the ground beneath my feet, or my bottom on my bike seat. Often I then start to notice what’s around me, as if waking up from a dream. I might think, ‘those trees are wondrous’, or ‘that sky is beautiful’ or ‘that child is cute’ and very quickly my mood lifts and I feel happy to be experiencing being alive.
So I challenge you, in order to get to know yourself better, to try notice what types of thoughts you have when you’re in the shower, or brushing your teeth or lying in bed. I find it helpful to label the thoughts and feelings, for example, ‘money’, ‘work planning’, ‘guilt’, ‘present buying’, ‘meal planning’ and so on. There’s no need to analyse the thought, just notice it.
If you practise this little exercise regularly, I guarantee it will change your life.