Self-Awareness: Your Canary in the Coal Mine

Self-awareness relates to being in a state of awareness or being conscious of the self.  The whole self is made up of the thinking self, feeling self, physical self and spiritual self.  Some people identify with more.  By practising self-awareness, we can bring conscious attention to these aspects of ourselves and observe them with a sense of curiosity, noticing what is and is not ‘working’ for us in our lives and the ways in which we respond to our experiences in terms of thoughts and behaviours.

If you’re like me, you’re a boiling pot of drive, determination, imagination, excitement, exploration, fascination and playfulness, along with crushing self-doubt, worry, angst, denial, laziness, reluctance and harsh judgement.  We all experience these aspects of humanity to different extents.  Importantly, each of these as a human experience has the potential to seemingly ramp up, or else sap, our physical and emotional energies.  Self-awareness is one of the keys to managing the extent to which we allow our energies to be influenced by our experiences.  Burn too high and we risk burning out.  Burn too low and we feel unfulfilled and risk depression.

Why is self-awareness important?

Too often, we respond automatically to what is occurring within and around us.  Often referred to as ‘being on autopilot’ or ‘busyness’, we go about our day in a state of automatic reactivity to the world around us.  In this state we experience cyclic patterns of pain and suffering and tend to look to external events or people on which to lay blame.

It’s a common human experience to exist in a state of automatic reactivity, but when we’re in that space, self-awareness mostly takes a backseat.  It’s important to pay attention to our self-awareness.  Think of it as our canary in the coal mine:  our early warning indicator that our present experience is not living up to our expectations and/or personal values.  Self-awareness is the traffic sign that indicates a rough patch in the road is just ahead:  we’re being given time to adjust our mindset, habits, actions and/or decisions before we experience the emotional pain we’d rather avoid.

We can maintain our emotional balance and experience less pain and suffering if we are alert to the powerful messages our self-awareness can deliver.

What does self-awareness look and feel like?

Self-awareness will have different meanings to different people, but generally it is:

  • The objective awareness we have of ourselves within our environment and among others.
  • The subtle voice in our mind that narrates our daily experiences.
  • The intuition that kicks in when something doesn’t feel right. 
  • The acute sense of physical pain and discomfort.

Self-awareness is the voice that tells us it’s time to do something else or look after ourselves better or do more exercise or drop some more kilos.  It’s often ignored because we’re so distracted by the bright lights and noise of our external and sometimes internal environments.

Self-awareness can be working away in the background politely nudging us to make a change. “Hey, you need to sort this out, it’s starting to hurt now,” it whispers quietly.  If we’re in autopilot, we may not hear it or else choose not to acknowledge it.  Before long self-awareness gives us a kick in the butt and starts to shout.  Suddenly, the awareness dial is pushing maximum capacity and we’re starting to experience the emotional, physical and/or spiritual pain of our own ignorance.

How to develop your self-awareness

Self-awareness is an essential tool in your well-being toolbox.  It’s that one utensil you just can’t live without:  the universal remote control for your life.

Developing self-awareness does not have to be a structured process or paid course or three-day retreat you pay thousands of dollars to attend.  You can choose these if that’s what floats your boat, but I believe you already have what you need: your ‘self’ and your awareness. 

Take more notice

Bring your attention to your internal experiences as many times as you can throughout the day. Pay attention to:

  • Your inner critic:  what you are saying to yourself
  • Your experiential memory bank:  what your body is saying to you
  • Your spiritual GPS:  what your intuition and wisdom is telling you

You don’t need to be a trained guru to respond to what these aspects of yourself are telling you. Listen in, heed the messages.

Look beyond the mask

Self-awareness is about being awake to the masked messages behind the initial thoughts or feelings we experience.  With practice, you can learn to deconstruct those automatic thoughts and identify the beliefs, feelings and emotions beneath them.  You don’t need to psych yourself every day; it’s about being awake to the hidden meanings of your automatic thoughts.  To read between your own lines, so to speak.

Look for patterns

Pay special attention to common themes or topics. For example, you might notice you tend to dwell on how tired and worn out you feel.  Your self-awareness is telling you that something needs to change (hint: it’s you).  Consider how your thoughts, beliefs and actions are contributing to the pattern of feeling tired and worn out.  Then consider how you are reinforcing that pattern in daily life.

By identifying patterns, we can consider underlying causes and start to deconstruct the contributing habits.

Master your body talk

Tune in to what the breath and the body is telling you.  The body communicates with us through our self-awareness.  It has a lot to tell us about our state of mind and daily habits, if only we’d pay it some attention and love and listen to what it has to say.  Boost your self-awareness by spending time each day observing your physical self.  Be alert to what your body is telling you.

Master your self-awareness

If self-awareness is your messenger, you are the action-taker.  This doesn’t have to involve heroics or large-scale shifts.  In many cases, it’s the subtle shifts that have the greatest impact.

With just a handful of simple strategies, you can learn to listen – and then act – when your inner canary starts to whistle.

Working with a coach is one of the ways you can transform your relationship with your self-awareness and create meaningful change.  Find out how by booking your free 20-minute Meet Me call today.