This is part two of a series featuring the Five Essential Life Skills. My last post featured the first of the skills, Remembering Who You Really Are.
The second essential life skill of self-observation may well be the most important. It seems so obvious and so simple and yet we are extremely unskilled and unpracticed at paying attention to our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. We tend to operate on “automatic pilot,” as if we have no control. The reality is that unless we know what we are doing, we have little chance of changing it—and often the simple act of becoming aware causes us to do something differently.
When we practice self-observation—noticing what we are thinking, feeling, doing, and imagining—it allows us to become self-aware. When we are aware of what we are doing, we realize that we have choices and choices are what make us powerful.
The very act of noticing how we are feeling can allow us to release or let go of a stuck or stagnant feeling or a self-sabotaging habit. I once worked with a student who denied everything she was accused of by friends, teachers, and her parents. One day I said, “I want you to simply observe yourself and just notice that you deny what you do.” Of course, her immediate response was, “I do not.” To which I laughed and said, “Notice what you just did!” I assured her that this was not an assignment to change what she did or even judge what she did, but rather to simply notice what she did. Her task was to become conscious so that she was aware of and choosing her behavior rather than operating unconsciously. I cannot say what she did away from me but from that day on, I never heard her deny her behavior again. Just the act of awareness released her from the habit.
Most of us look back on our past relationships and see them as failures. We allow that belief to weigh us down, and it becomes the “baggage” we carry forward. We somehow think that a successful relationship is one that is lasting. What if we could switch from seeing our previous relationships as failures to seeing them as great adventures in learning and growing? What if we changed the definition of success from “lasting” to “learning”? What if we shift from baggage to gratitude?
When it comes to relationships - and puppies - we could all benefit from a training class.
Aloha and Happy New Year! I pulled the following commentary from a blog-post-related dialog and expanded on the answer as the content seemed so relevant that I wanted to move it to the front of the discussion rather than only tucked away for those diving deeper into the blog comments. The question was a response to my article on affirmations.
I am struggling with resistance. So much has been so difficult for so long – and gone so wrong… even what appeared to be a wonderful opportunity to live and work abroad has turned terribly sour. So much pain has been brought on by circumstances beyond my control that I cannot make myself believe that I can co-create anything desirable/meaningful in my life. I find myself wanting to hang onto my unbelief and unhappiness because it is grief over lost dreams and fouled plans. (I now deeply understand the title of the book Don’t Take My Grief Away.) I can’t fathom any lessons, trust the Spirit, or be fearless and hopeful. I have learned it is possible to be so physically, emotionally, and spiritually broken that affirmations are exercises in futility, empty and without merit. This challenges those around me who continue to manifest their dreams and desires. They try to force me to be positive, and because I cannot, they are dismissive. They are disappointed in my crisis of faith, because they continue to manifest, so it must be true. Well, it’s not true for me. And I, who have supported others through crises in faith, have no support in my own. It makes me feel even more despairing, because I am not receiving much compassion. I teach compassion, above all, so I feel like a failure.
Ah, the New Year. That wonderful time when we feel like we get to start fresh, renew, redesign, get a grip, set goals, and make New Year’s resolutions. Now is the time we gear up for “spring cleaning,” getting organized (again), losing weight (again), clarifying our career goals, finishing (or starting) writing our book (or whatever), etc.
At this time of year I regularly hear people share the concern that the same goals are on their list as last year and the year before. There is often a sense that we are not really making progress when, in reality, many of our goals are “process goals” rather than “product goals."
Product goals are the kind that can be achieved and instantly checked off the list: Paying such and such bill, calling so and so. Process goals, however, are never actually checked off the list because they require ongoing attention and maintenance. Cleaning the house and being/getting organized are never “done” as they have to be continued daily. While reaching a goal weight can be checked off the list, maintaining that weight cannot. It is a lifestyle goal that has to be tended to daily, maybe even hourly.
The key with process goals is to recognize their ongoing nature and rather than beating ourselves up for having them on the list year after year, honor their importance in our lives and acknowledge our efforts to keep them a priority.