Mindfulness – knowing your-self to know more about the world

Being in a position to learn more about ourselves and the impact we have on others is an essential lesson to enhance our well-being, self-worth and living to our potential.

Paying attention to our thoughts, emotions and behaviours is easier said than done when we are so gripped by time. Time is the single biggest killer of mindfulness and understanding who we truly are in this world. 

Because time is such a massive influence in how we behave and how we perform, taking ‘time out’ just does not factor into our daily routines. Everything we do is governed by time – waking up, travelling to work, submitting reports, sending emails, attending meetings, how much we say to a colleague at the water machine, lunch breaks, travelling home, eating tea, watching T.V. and going to bed.

Have you ever noticed, especially in the UK how everything tends to slow down on a Sunday? Getting out of bed, tasks around the house, meeting with friends and let’s not forget Sunday driving.

But despite this frenetic world that we all tend to live in, we can develop a mindfulness of how busy we are and how our behaviour and responses to all that is going on around us could be limiting our overall happiness we have in our lives and the success we achieve.

Recent research has shown that we have such things as blind spots when it comes to understanding our thought processes, emotions and behaviours. We all like to think we know ourselves best; although other people can develop a more accurate view of some of our behavioural traits that either serve us or limit our potential. 

In many cases our blind spots in self-knowledge or events that have had a mark on our cognition, can be damaging to our emotional development. Other areas can be affected such as poor decision making, poor academics levels, interpersonal problems and low level satisfaction.

In a new article, psychological scientist Erika Carlson of Washington University in St. Louis explores one potential strategy for improving self-knowledge: mindfulness or what I would like to call ‘being in the now’.

Mindfulness has been a kind of anchor for a process I take my personal leadership & therapy clients through who desire to be better in all that they do, especially the relationships they hold and hope to forge. Increasing our self-knowledge and applying that information into our day to day lives requires discipline and an ultimate goal – to be the best that can be. 

It is a work in progress that doesn’t always go according to plan, yet maintaining that mindfulness of when it doesn’t ensures we continually learn and grow. If we don’t take that time out to be a “silent watcher” then all we are doing is functioning off a set of out of date habits that probably once upon a time were incredibly effective, yet at the pace of change we are currently experiencing, those old habits die hard.

Being a silent watcher requires attention of our current experience and an acute observation of our internal responses in a non-judgemental manner.

According to Carlson, these two elements of mindfulness – attention and non-judgemental observation can help us remove our self-imposed blind spots. Everybody creates blind spots – it is the mind's way of blocking a profound truth of our experience that is either too painful or too much to deal with. Yet the mind knows it is there because even though we are not paying attention to it, that hidden truth still influences our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, a lot of the time in a self-sabotaging way.

Carlson explains that the motivation to see ourselves in a positive way is the main obstacle to self-knowledge and emotional maturity.  We have an over-arching reason to be right all the time or distort what we truly know by creating an illusion of an alternative ‘you’.  This in effect is living a lie or in simple terms delusion.

I see delusion every single day in my therapy practice – people living a lie and applying futile strategies to help defend their precious souls from the realities of today. These damaging strategies are for some people their blind spots and until I expose them during a change work session, they are masking their true experience and therefore the answers to their problem.

What is interesting is their behavioural strategies for dealing with their true experience is what brings them to my coaching and therapy practice – such as anger management, cocaine use, bullying, teeth grinding, excessive alcohol, sleeping all day, over or under eating and obsessive & compulsive cleaning, hording etc.

Either through the use of very sophisticated profiling or metaphorical exploration, I pull away the blinkers and reveal these blind spots to instantly increase the level of self-knowledge and understanding of their experience and their health damaging behaviours.

These damaging behaviours and the identity associated with them are on most occasions a complete distortion of the truth – and for many when it is revealed it can be revelatory with a subsequent process engaged that is more congruent with who they are. It gives them the emotional nourishment required to maintain that connection with their everyday experience, therefore back on the path of emotional growth.

Mindfulness is not just something that Buddhist Monks live by to remain connected to their world. It is something that each and every one of us can apply in lives on a daily basis. In all that we do we can literately look inside ourselves and observe our thoughts, feelings and the behaviours that mirror what we focus on. 

Start with the small things in life – like how you grip the steering wheel as you drive to work, how you inhale and exhale. Is it deep or is it shallow? As you do this, with non-judgement observe what thoughts appear in your mind. Just observe and witness, notice how relaxed you become and how your observation increases to other areas of your body and what is around you. 

As ever practice makes perfect. This is not a quick fix method with short term gains. It is a perpetual life exercise that has so many qualities. And why would you go for the quick fix technique? Oh yeah my attention slipped – the quick fix is used so you can quickly go back to doing all those things that you do so quickly. Great strategy!

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