After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:
- Explain the goal of self-awareness.
- Practice mindfulness.
- Practice centering.
- Explain what it means to unhook from a highly emotional situation.
What Is Self-Awareness?
Self-awareness is about paying attention to what’s going on inside of you and being able to identify the wide range of emotions you’re experiencing. It’s about your mood and what your thoughts are about that mood. However, the goal of becoming more self-aware is not to judge or dismiss these emotions. Instead, we should recognize accurately what the emotions are, and then find the most appropriate response to the situation.
As we become aware of the present moment and our response, we may become aware that we are worried but immediately dismiss our worry. Or we notice that we’re angry and tell ourselves that we shouldn't feel this way. But being self-critical or pushing away our emotions can lead to more problems. Instead, we want to practice noticing how we’re feeling in a nonjudgmental way, so we have the information we need to make productive decisions about how to take action.
With more self-awareness in the workplace, we become more professional in the way we interact with coworkers, partners, and customers.
Have you ever started eating a bag of chips and suddenly realized you’ve eaten it all without even remembering you did it? Have you ever driven down the highway and realized you've been daydreaming for the past 10 miles and don’t remember the scenery you’ve passed over the last few minutes? Have you ever sat down with someone sharing the events of their day, and instead of listening, you’re thinking about work, or the next task you have to finish?
A rapid-fire thought process takes over and takes you out of the present moment. Below are a couple of exercises you can use to help you return to the present and give yourself more opportunities to become self-aware.
Mindfulness involves taking a few deeper breaths and quieting your mind. This 3–5 minute exercise demonstrates how challenging those simple directions can be. After the exercise, ask yourself some questions designed to help you become more self-aware.
- Sit quietly in a comfortable position. You can sit in a chair, on a cushion, on the floor—wherever is comfortable for you.
- Take a few deep breaths through your nose. Fill your abdomen, then your chest, then pause, and finally exhale via your nose.
- After you've taken at least three deep breaths, sit there without thinking. Be quiet. Be present. Notice what sounds appear.
What happens for you when you get quiet?
- Were you able to sit quietly and think of nothing?
- Did you notice random thoughts?
- If this exercise was difficult, why do you think it’s so difficult to sit still for a few minutes and think of nothing?
What Is Centering?
There are other ways to calm yourself and be in the present moment. One is common in martial arts—centering.
When we are centered we are:
- In the present moment
Being centered is a natural state that we often lose as we age. Babies spend most of their time centered. If a baby is looking at its big toe, the baby is totally focused and consumed by that big toe. The baby is not, at the same time and as adults frequently are, thinking about paying the bills, health, improving relationships, or something else.
The following centering exercise can be done in less than 5 minutes. That’s the easy part. Staying centered on a regular basis, however, takes some time and practice.
You need a partner to complete this exercise. If you don’t have a partner available or want to come back to this exercise and practice later, feel free to do so.
- Stand beside each other. Make sure your partner is comfortable with your placing two fingers on their upper arm.
- As you place your two fingers on their upper arm, push firmly as you tell them something distracting such as, “Think about the work piling up while you’re standing here with me,” or “Don’t you feel self-conscious about doing this exercise?” Questions like this put your partner’s focus in their head, on their thoughts, and you’ll notice they wobble and can be easily pushed off center by your two fingers. Note: Do not punch or shove your partner; it’s enough to firmly but gently push them to test their center.
- After they experience being wobbly, give them the following instructions.
- Identify an imaginary spot about 1 or 2 inches below your navel and inside your body as the center.
- Picture your center.
- Once again stand beside your partner. This time have your partner breathe deeply, relax, and picture the imaginary center.
- Place two fingers on your partner’s upper arm again. Give them an opportunity to take in the feeling of your two fingers on the arm.
- Then say to your partner, “Take all of your thoughts and put them in your center. Take the feeling of my fingers on your arm and put that feeling into your center.”
- Once again, push against your partner’s arm to see how stable or wobbly they are.
- While it may take one or two tries, you’ll notice that your partner becomes steady.
If you are centered, you are aware of what you’re feeling and open to understanding what the other person is feeling.
Now have your partner follow the same instructions as your center is tested. First, notice how wobbly or unstable you are. Then, as you complete the exercise a second time, notice how much more solid you are.
Take a moment to reflect on what is happening when you are centered. What is different? In a martial art, if you are centered, you are in charge, not easily manipulated, and can lead the interaction where you want it to go.
Apply Your Knowledge of How the Brain Works
The more you practice mindfulness and centering, the more you notice how your brain reacts to various situations. Notice what happens to your body when you’re under the influence of the amygdala hijack explained in the previous unit. Notice the change that comes over you when you center, or become more mindful, or breathe deeper, or use the 6-second rule—whatever works for you.
As you become more aware of your own mental model and of how you can influence your responses, start connecting your awareness to how you manage your actions.
The next step is to find an appropriate response to the situation. At work, what can you do to communicate more effectively or to resolve conflict more professionally? Some suggestions here can help you move beyond unproductive habits and introduce new, more professional behaviors.
Spitting Out the Hook
“Spitting out the hook” refers to a set of best practices that help you respond to situations that may include other people and high emotions. Before we dive deeper, let’s look at the terms.
Event: Something has happened.
Reaction: The physical and emotional behavior of the other person to the event. You may also have a reaction to the other person’s reaction.
Spitting out the hook: If you react to the other person before you've centered and taken the time to clarify the event and the other person's reaction, then you're probably hooked.
If you react in anger, disbelief, avoidance, confrontation, judgment of the other person, or withdrawal, you’re hooked. Here’s where it gets even more challenging. If you explain or defend yourself, you’re hooked.
On the other hand, if you can remain centered (calm, relaxed, open, focused in the present moment, seeking to understand, applying the 6-second rule, and letting your rational brain take over), then you can gather information, describe the event more accurately, and understand the other person's reaction more clearly.
Remember, the other person's reaction is 100% about them. Before you respond, take a moment to gain accurate information.
Here are some tips to help you become more aware of your emotional responses to conflict and find positive, productive ways to react.
- Remember the 6-second rule and allow your rational brain to activate.
- Ask questions and seek to understand what is going on with the other person. See the situation from their point of view, before you respond.
- Remember that reactions belong to the person having the reaction. Take responsibility for your reaction; let them take responsibility for their reaction.
- Seek to describe the event and your own reaction to it before you proceed. What happened, and what is the feeling or emotion you’re experiencing?
- Be genuine. If you’re phony, it comes through.
- Pay attention to your attitude, eye contact, and body language, which communicate your level of sincerity and interest.
- Try using the phrase: “You seem to be feeling ____________ because of ____________?” Although it may feel awkward at first, it is a good way to develop the habit of searching for both the event and the reaction to the event.
In the next unit, we dive deeper into self-management, and why taking responsibility for your own reaction is so important.