Self Awareness: How To Stay Focused and Fully Engaged in Any Conversation
(Avoid the autopilot trap with these 5 mind-expanding techniques)
We live in the age where we don’t have a full control of one of the most important resources we have available.
Our attention, of course.
Scientists say that our is brain is bombarded with four billion bits of information per second. Out of that four billion, the brain can process about 40 bits.
Now that we know the numbers, how exactly do they impact our daily interactions with others and our life as a whole?
Well, a lot.
Especially, if you are like most people and during those interactions, you have natural tendency to speak more than to listen. In some cases it’s fine. Not every interaction requires from us to be fully present. Having a small talk with our neighbor is an action we can perform on an autopilot.
On the other side, we all have daily interactions where an autopilot mode as a default state of communication could be devastating for our career, or our relationships.
It can be a discussion about a business proposal, or you might pitch an idea to your boss. Maybe you need to lend a listening ear to your significant other as she’s telling you about her problems in her job or with her parents.
In those instances, full awareness and presence are not only recommended but required.
The million-dollar question
Is there anything we can do to increase our awareness and get the most out of every interaction we find ourselves in?
Yes, there is.
Exercising our awareness is easy when you know how and where to start.
The first thing you should do is to allocate time for yourself. One out of 24 hours a day is all it takes. You deserve that much.
This hour is your prime time.
My recommendation is to have morning and evening prime time ritual.
I am a firm believer that the first 60 minutes of your day set the tone for the rest of it.
So instead of grabbing your phone and scrolling through the facebook feed or opening your emails, let the first thing you do in the morning be the awareness exercise.
Right before you go to sleep, you can invest another 30 minutes in yourself.
The following is a list of exercises you can incorporate into your prime time to expand your awareness so that you can rely on it in the moments that matter the most to you.
We’ll start off with the most obvious one, but often the most neglected method for exercising self-awareness. The meditation practice involves various techniques and approaches for different purposes.
Aside from the health benefits, meditation can be used to increase your threshold of perception by stretching your awareness.
That means that your mind will be ready to deal with thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and in return, you will be able to maintain your focus in any social interaction. Your decisions and actions will be more deliberate, and the results you get will be a reflection of your grounded state of mind.
In other words, you will be in control.
We should start off small, with baby steps approach and mindset.
There are no rules when it comes to meditation. The only rule is to do what feels right for you. As I mentioned before, there are various styles of meditation, but if you are just starting out, guided meditation would be the best choice.
As you are progressing, you can form your own style and approach and do what works for you.
If your lifestyle, environment, and logistics allow you, taking a walk in nature, or sitting on a park bench may also be ways to meditate and exercise your awareness.
Even though it’s a fine line between meditation and mindfulness, and we could say that mindfulness is a form of meditation, the biggest difference is a deliberate focus on the activity at hand.
Buddhists monks are known to include awareness in their daily activities. However, achieving that stage of self-awareness requires years of diligent practice.
Being mindful while drinking your morning coffee means focusing on the physical and emotional sensation you feel at the moment.
We can also be mindful while engaging in a conversation with someone. In that case, intentionally focus on the person in front of you and eliminate all distractions that may cause you to lose that focus.
I already wrote about the power of listening, and why it should be your default state when interacting with others. However, being mindful in conversations with people goes beyond that.
While you are listening to the words they say, pay attention to the tonality of those words, their body movement, facial expression and particularly an underlying emotion behind the words.
It may seem overwhelming and too complicated to do in a conversation, but practice makes perfect. If you do this long enough, it will become your second nature.
Visualization would be the next step in your stretching awareness practice. It is not uncommon for visualization to be a part of meditation (Especially guided meditation).
Many of the worlds most accomplished individuals attribute visualization as their ‘’secret’’ tool. During his bodybuilding days, Arnold Schwarzenegger would visualize his stage performance for hours, before he even stepped on the podium.
One of the most influential and powerful women on this planet, Oprah Winfrey is another example that visualization can help you on your journey of achieving your goals and dreams.
However, our goal is to be more deliberate with our experience and our practice.
What we want to do is to have a preview of the most important conversations for that day or a week. More than just a preview, our goal is to be an active participant, rather than a mere spectator in this experience.
You want to relive the experience before it actually happens.
It may sound counterintuitive but bear with me for a second.
If you know that you have an important meeting where you have to pitch an idea to your boss or investors, or you have to deliver a presentation to a bigger audience, you can do much more than rehearsing in front of the mirror.
Again, start small.
Close your eyes and imagine the scene where your meeting is supposed to take place and picture all the people who need to be there.
- How is the atmosphere in the room?
- How do you feel when presenting your idea?
- How do you want to feel?
- How are they reacting to you?
- With a smile, or frown? Why?
- How will you answer the questions they may ask?
While imagining the scene, pay close attention to anyone who may object the idea and see if there is another approach you can take to win them over.
The more details you can visualize and foresee the better chance you’ll have to succeed.
Remember, this is your movie.
You are the director and the only protagonist.
This is another activity we all know can benefit us in the long run, but a few of us are diligent and persistent to include it in our ritual.
Unlike keeping a diary, writing a journal should be more specific and more introspection oriented.
A ritual of increasing awareness through self-reflection in the form of journaling is a ritual you should develop.
Again, there are no strict rules, but in case you decided to journal in the evening, you can start by writing down the interactions you had during that day. Choose the one you feel was the most important.
If you are not sure which one to pick, always go with the one where the emotion was involved. Either from your side or the other party.
There is no need to write a transcript, rather the highlights of that interaction.
Once a week, go through the notes. See if there is a certain pattern that is recurring in your conversations with others.
Humans are creatures of habits, and we operate based on the patterns.
Maybe you are making critical decisions during the interactions, and your emotional state drives those decisions. Making any decision while emotionally charged could be harmful to our relationships, and harmful to ourselves.
Maybe you can’t be fully present during the crucial conversations because you feel tired, due to a lack of sleep or because you were working overtime to make the deadline for the project you’ve been working on.
I can’t tell you what is it that you will notice, but if you make journaling your ritual, you will start seeing the pattern. Once you do, you can start changing it.
Remember, you are behind the wheel now.
5. Lucid Dreaming
Originally, I was wondering whether or not to include lucid dreaming in this list. The reason is simple: It takes years of practice to master this skill. The reason why I decided to put it here is even simpler: It’s well worth it.
The concept of Lucid Dreaming was scientifically proven in 1975 by Keith Hearne. In 1977, it was confirmed by Stephen LaBerge from Stanford University. The modern age of Lucid Dreaming was born.
Lucid dreaming is the ability to become ‘self-aware’ in your dreams, and it allows you to take full control of your dreams. In a way, you are hacking into a previously unauthorized state of consciousness.
We want to wake up to our lives by waking up in our dreams.
The benefits of this practice are numerous, but the most important for us is the opportunity to prolong duration and frequency in the heightened state of awareness.
Once you reach a certain level, you can create and re-create different scenarios and resolve unfinished business you have with your boss, colleague or even your loved one. You can also make a dream rehearsal of the upcoming presentation or a speech you have to deliver.
It takes some time and practice to get to that level, and we should start with small steps.
The thing you should do is to start recalling your dreams and writing them down in a journal. You can use the same one you are using to highlight the daily interactions you had.
Review your notes regularly, and you will start seeing the pattern. Once you do, you will easily recognize that pattern when it appears in your dreams.
If lucid dreaming is something that might interest you, check out the work of people like Stephen LaBerge and Andrew Holecek with whom I had a pleasure of working and learning about this powerful practice.
To be aware of your thoughts, feelings and surrounding while interacting with people means to be present in the moment.
Making a deal with the investor, or having a conversation with your partner about the problems your relationship is facing, are just one of many interactions that require our complete mental presence.
As I mentioned earlier, being on an autopilot mode in those instances could be damaging to our careers and our relationships.
To avoid it, and, at the same time grow our relationships and advance in our careers, requires one thing only.
Use your prime time and devote that hour to increase your awareness so that you can be completely present in your daily conversations. The rewards for the effort will amaze you.
You certainly don’t have to do all of the steps listed in this article. Pick one and stick with it for a month.
Lastly, please remember:
Self-improvement is achieved by individuals who appreciate a direction, more than those who demand a perfection.
You have the direction, and the perfection will follow.
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