Dear Why Team member,
Despite all that has been going on in our world, I hope this finds you encouraged and hopeful.
This week we ask:
Why Attend To Consciousness?
Here is an exercise of consciousness: at this very moment, I am going to bring to your awareness something that is with you every moment of your life that you rarely consciously acknowledge: Your right foot!
Before reading this, it is highly likely that you were not thinking about your right foot, yet it does its job every day, all throughout the day, without you needing to intentionally think about it. When do we become conscious of it? When we experience pain. If a small pebble finds its way into our shoe, the irritation is less about the pebble and more about it constantly drawing our attention.
Consider this fascinating fact I heard many years ago during a Blue Man group performance - the insight has stuck with me ever since:
“We only have one attention.” So how do some multitask?
Those who claim proficiency at multitasking are not actually thinking of two or three things simultaneously, they are switching from one focus to another quickly, and there are certainly those who enjoy juggling and are good at it- of course, there are also those that get stressed out if there are too many balls in the air. Even the juggler knows the importance of habit and muscle memory to accomplish what many cannot imagine ever doing. So, with juggling as an example, we can see the power of habit, as opposed to conscious awareness on every detail of our life. How many of us brush our teeth consciously thinking about each tooth? It’s natural for us to have our minds somewhere else altogether and depend entirely on habit to fulfill the basics of our morning routine. This is why discipline improves efficiency, the idea that everything has a place and everything in its place means you waste no time, for example, consciously looking for your toothbrush.
This awareness can be particularly empowering. Just about anything you wish to accomplish can best be addressed by identifying the daily habits that would make it possible. Anyone who has ever trained for a marathon knows the importance of following a running schedule: run these many miles on these specific days over this specific time and you will be ready on race day. Training for the marathon starts with a conscious effort of setting the schedule and actually starting to run. Soon it’ll become a habit and performed routinely like brushing your teeth. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step as you know, but most people are so intimidated by the thousand miles they don’t even take the first step.
Awake consciousness and consider your life right now:
What do you appreciate about your life and why?
What healthy habits have brought you to this point in your life?
Now ask what do you not appreciate about your life and why?
What unhealthy habits have brought you to this point in your life?
We can always choose to place our conscious awareness on that which we like in ourselves or that which we don’t like. Be careful to not overly condemn yourself for habits that haven’t served you or others. In fact, it’s the self-condemnation that often keeps us from looking at habits that need to be addressed. Shaming ourselves or others is very counterproductive. Author Brene Brown has a powerful insight that has become a healthy reminder for me. She says, “Regret is I did something bad; shame is that I am bad”.
No one responds well to shame: being told that they are by their very nature bad. Far more is accomplished when we become conscious of our behavior and the habitual thoughts that fuel and support our habitual actions. Regret forms and informs our actions, it’s how we grow; we try, we fall, we make mistakes, but we ourselves are not a mistake - no one is. If anyone is implying that you are a mistake, it makes sense why you might stop listening.
Progress for ourselves and for others best comes when we shine our light of consciousness on our own habits that do not reflect our best self. This is largely self-work and an opportunity to become more of what we want to see in the world (as per Gandhi’s invitation). But change is resisted when we attack ourselves or others as actually being mistakes, rather than making mistakes. Owning one’s own behavior is a must if we are to progress - never blaming others or circumstances for one’s own choices. We have asked our children their entire lives: “Who is responsible for your behavior?” Of course, the most popular answer in their early years was to blame a sibling. This is one of the reasons children need parents; if we don’t come to accept responsibility for our own behaviors (a mark of maturity), we can get stuck forever in childhood: dependent on others to care for us.
Never forget that leaders go first. If you have the opportunity to influence the behavior of one person, you are in a leadership position. Consider developing a habit of consciously looking at your habits, habits of thought and behavior; note those you appreciate and admire and also develop the courage to really look at those that don’t reflect your best self. Then consider the new habits that would empower your automatic optimal response rather than depending on full concentrated effort.
None of us are mistakes, but we sure do make mistakes. Let’s let regrets inform us and form us and not become evidence of shame.
Brene Brown once wrote that if shame is driving, blame is riding shotgun.
Who is riding shotgun in your life?
Who’s driving your life - your habits consciously developed from within you, or unconsciously developed by the world outside of you?
Conscious attention addresses unconscious habit. When Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living, I believe he meant a life ruled by habits, rather than by conscious thought. If we are to become more than what our habits currently produce or bring about in our lives, the path is apparently to become more conscious of our habits. Socrates also said, essentially, the examined life is worth living.
Don’t be afraid to examine your life. We are much more than our thoughts and our habits and we certainly are not mistakes. Own your own behavior, ask more why questions, and notice how the added conscious awareness will awaken you all the more to the gifts you have developed and earned and were born to give away.
Make it a great week!