The Second Essential Life Skill: Self-Observe
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.
The more observant we are, the more we realize that there is a difference between the observed and the observer. Once when I had just gone through a break-up with a boyfriend and was lying on the couch sobbing, I heard a little voice in my head saying, “Wow, you are really crying. You haven’t cried like this since you were a little girl.” There was no judgment of my behavior, only an observation. Even in that moment of despair, I was aware that there was a part of me that was not sobbing or even feeling my pain. It was hard to keep crying and feeling sorry for myself once I knew that there was a part of me that was not buying into my drama at all.
Remember, the first essential life skill is remembering who you really are—a powerful, wise, loving, creative, connected, compassionate spirit—or inviting that aspect of yourself to become known. When you practice self-observation, you will begin to recognize that the part of you doing the observing is your true self. When you stop to observe your anger, you realize that the part of you doing the observing is not the same part that is angry. This is very important. Our true, authentic selves are not caught up in our ego dramas. Our true self stays calm and capable throughout everything that we go through. When we know this aspect of ourselves, or watch for it, we can learn to tap into that strength when we need it the most.
Practicing self-observation allows us to see when we are behaving in alignment with our goals and our values, and when we are not. We notice when we are putting on a show for someone rather than aligning our behavior with the truth. We notice when we are smiling even though we are actually sad, or when we say we are fine even though we are not. We may notice we are pretending to be mad when we really aren’t, just to manipulate someone else’s behavior. Or, we may notice that we are thinking negative thoughts about ourselves, making us feel insecure. We may even notice when we are truly content, peaceful, and joyful.
When we practice self-observation we also start to see when our choices are serving us and when they are not. The labyrinth I mentioned in the first step is another excellent place to practice this skill. As you walk the labyrinth (or as you move through life), notice what you are doing. If you are impatient or are judging others, or judging yourself on the labyrinth, you probably are going to do the same thing outside of the labyrinth. Ask yourself if it is serving you. If it is, continue. If not, experiment with letting that behavior go and trying on a new one.
Letting go is the topic of the third essential skill and will be the next blog post. For now, just practice noticing without needing to do anything different. Watch your self-talk. Is it serving you? Watch the stories you make up regardless of their truth. Are they serving you? Watch your judgment of self and others. Does it make you feel better or worse? Just simply notice. Watch your actions. Are they leading in the direction you want to go?
The goal is to begin to familiarize yourself with your authentic self, and your inauthentic self. As you learn to tell the difference, you will be better able to align your choices with who you really are and what you really want to create.
Intellectual Foreplay Question: How are you feeling now?
Eve's Love Tip: As you become adept at practicing self-observation, you will begin to notice that your thoughts create your feelings. When you feel bad, or hurt, or angry or jealous, trace those feelings to what you are thinking. You will likely discover that your thoughts, even more so than reality, are what are creating the way you feel.
A Spiritual Workbook for Children & Families
Someone to Watch Over Me is a sweet little gift for connecting with one's inner spirit, for giving voice to one's inner being, and for connecting one's essence with Guardian Protectors or Guides. Simple and inviting enough for children, lucid enough for adults...a precious offering."
Edward Espe Brown, Zen Priest, Author of The Tassajara Bread Book et al