A Coaching Power Tool created by Jonathan Hermida
(Transformational Coaching, United States)
The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance. Nathaniel Branden
Who am I? Why am I here? Are we alone? Where do these thoughts come from? These questions have occupied the minds of philosophers, scientists, spiritual seekers and lay people alike since the beginning of time. As humans, we have the unique capability to not just know we’re alive or that we exist (a trait that has been proven to exist in most animals) but to contemplate that existence. As Charles Darwin once said,
It may be freely admitted that no animal is self-conscious, if by this term it is implied that he reflects on such points, as whence he comes or whither he will go, or what is life and death, and so forth.
This is what truly separates us from other animals. Where an animal is limited in consciousness to their immediate situation and surroundings, humans are able to go far and beyond these confines. Through contemplation we can imagine and create a different future for ourselves or we can delve into and become paralyzed by our past. We have a freedom in our consciousness that other creatures on Earth do not have. This platter of options within our consciousness can send us into the depths of hell when unobserved or the gates of heaven when made aware of.
So how did we evolve from this self-awareness of our ancestors to the self-consciousness of our present day?
The Evolution of Self Consciousness
The dawn of human language rapidly took us from being creatures of instinct alone, to creatures of intention as well. Language gave us the ability to organize, plan, categorize and anticipate future events so that we could avoid or minimize danger. We became highly efficient beings that needed to surround ourselves by beings of equal or greater efficiency to survive nature’s wrath. This made us highly motivated to seek out the healthiest, strongest and smartest partners possible to strengthen our tribes and further our race. We casted out or enslaved the weak and honored and revered the strong. Seeing things from this point of view, there is no wonder why we have evolved to become such self-conscious beings. Ultimately we fear being “out casted” from the tribe. But these fears no longer have any viability. Whereas before, being out casted meant trying to survive harsh and dangerous conditions alone, in our modern day society we have an abundance of support structures that helps us rebound from almost any form of “rejection.”
People are crying up the rich and variegated plumage of the peacock, and he is himself blushing at the sight of his ugly feet. Saadi
The day of your big presentation is here. You’ve spent weeks agonizing about this day. This is the big one. This is where you really get to show case your true talents in front of the entire company board. There’s a lot at stake here, hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line. You can’t shake the fact that you don’t feel prepared for this even though you’ve practiced for nearly three hours every day for the past month and you’re clearly the most knowledgeable person in the company in regards to this product line. “I can’t do this,” you say. Your heart is racing. Sweat is streaming down your forehead. You can’t seem to hold your notes steady in your slightly trembling hands. “They’re going to see how nervous I am. This is horrible. I’m going to fall flat on my face. Why do I have to do this? I’m never going to pull this off. I’m sure they’re going to fire me after this mess. What do I do then? What will my wife think of me? What about my friends? Why can’t I be like Dan? He’s always so confident….. Oh God, here we go.”
I’m sure many of us can put ourselves in this scenario or perhaps one similar. At one point or another we’ve all experienced these feelings of self-consciousness. It could have been in a business meeting like in the example above, a school play or speech, or even on a first date. When we’re self-conscious we become self-obsessed. Our minds begin comparing, judging and questioning everything about ourselves; our abilities, our appearance and even our self-worth. We make direct judgments to ourselves about ourselves. We project our own feelings of “am I good enough” or “am I doing this right” onto others in anticipation of any possible judgment or rejection that may come from them. There’s often no real rationality behind it.
In the example above, that person was clearly qualified and prepared to deliver the presentation. Furthermore, the care and effort that person demonstrates towards their job seems to be an asset to the company. Because of this it is probable that no matter how poorly he/she does, there is no real threat that their job is on the line. It’s a completely irrational fear based on a story that person continues to replay in their minds. And that’s something that we all do when we feel we, as an individual, are on the line somehow. We contract, becoming anxious and fearful. We give ourselves no room to breathe, no room to just be. We don’t trust ourselves. We don’t think we’re capable of doing, producing, saying, or being a certain way, all of which are self imposed expectations that are always socially driven. We avoid taking risks because our fear of being judged or of failing overshadows our true potential.
When we use our innate primordial survival response to make judgments and decisions that have nothing to do with our survival, it no longer benefits us, and instead works against us. As we saw in the introduction there was once a time when this self-consciousness served us. This is no longer the case. So how can we turn this around? How can we harness this built in mechanism and use it to empower us?
The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently. Pema Chodron
Self- awareness is self-consciousness minus the judgment. Does this mean that judgment does not or cannot exist? Not at all. In fact the more aware you become the more you realize just how interwoven judgment is into the fabric of our existence. What we’re talking about here is in judging our judgment, which sends us in the downward spiral of self-consciousness.
When we’re self aware, we’re seeing the reality of ourselves, without interfering. If we’re happy then we’re seeing that we’re happy. If we’re sad, we’re seeing that we’re sad. When we’re self-conscious or engaged in judgment, we’re simply observing that this is happening. The key here is observation without engagement. It’s taking a step back and giving ourselves room to breathe. When we’re self aware we’re viewing our situation from an objective point of view. We’re a spectator watching the play of life unfold before us without commenting, judging, or questioning what’s happening.
In the example above there was a high degree of self- consciousness but zero self-awareness. That person was completely immersed in their own negative self talk. There was no space, no separation from what was being said to what was being experienced. That person was drowning in their own judgment. If they could have taken a step back and realized what was happening, it’s possible nothing would have changed externally, but internally there would be a slight opening. In this small opening there would have been some space to breathe, view the options available and possibly choose a different reaction. Is it always possible to do this? Not always. Does it take practice? Absolutely.
We have several generations’ worth of conditioning loaded into the software of our beings. We’ve somehow programmed ourselves to be self-analytical and self-destructive. To think we can one day wake up and go from judgment to acceptance is unrealistic. We can however make an internal commitment to ourselves. We can decide that we will no longer be asleep for our lives. We can decide that we will take responsibility for how we show up in the world and that to a large degree we can take control of our internal destiny. So how then do we go about this?
It takes courage to endure the sharp pains of self discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives. Marianne Williamson
There are many tools available that help bring about a greater self-awareness. But for the purposes of this power tool we’ll be looking at three tools that not just help us bring about greater clarity or awareness but also a deeper sense of self acceptance and compassion which is what’s sorely needed when we’re swimming in the depths of self –consciousness. These three tools are mindfulness meditation, daily writing and coaching (therapy can also be a very effective medium that supports this transition, when necessary.)
Mindfulness meditation is one of the most scientifically proven methods used to bring a greater amount of awareness into our lives. Through the practice of mindfulness meditation we’re taking a few moments of our day, it can be 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or whatever you can manage, to simply sit with ourselves, exactly how we are in that moment, and observe what’s happening. In that observing we become aware of the state of our minds. We see that there is a non-stop stream of thoughts, ideas, beliefs, judgments, reactions, planning, all happening seemingly simultaneously. We notice that we are literally doing nothing, yet the stream of thoughts is relentless. There is no thinker here. There is no active person trying to think something out, but these thoughts still persist. It’s as if they have a mind of their own. In this observing we finally begin to see that there is a certain programming at play, and that the thoughts only have an effect when we identify or believe in them. So there is a space in this observing, where we’re seeing the reactions happen. In that space we have the choice to continue to let the programming run our lives or to choose a different course, one that brings more compassion, kindness and love into our lives.
Daily writing or journaling can also put us in the right mindset. Here, we have the space to let our thoughts flow and a platform where we can view our thoughts displayed in front of us. If we noticed we were being highly self-conscious earlier in the day, we could take the time to journal about the experience, writing down what we were feeling, what thoughts were present and see how they hindered us. From here we can actively engage in disputing the validity of these thoughts. We can literally re-write our story, putting ourselves in a more empowered state, increasing the possibilities of changing our response in the future.
Coaching gives us the ability to lay everything out on the table and view our situation through the most objective lens possible. Having a second pair of eyes helps us to uncover and put everything out there. This could be a very similar process to the journaling but with far greater efficacy because of the objective presence of another person. We sometimes need to get out of our own heads and working with a coach can help us see things clearly for maybe the first time in our lives.
So how can we as coaches support our clients through this process?
Encourage, lift and strengthen one another. For the positive energy spread to one will be felt by us all. For we are connected, one and all. Deborah Day
Effectively supporting our clients through the transition from self-consciousness to self-awareness is highly dependant on the degree to which the client is willing to shine the light of awareness on their lives. Behind the mask of self-consciousness lies a whole variety of underlying beliefs. If we broke them each down to their very essence we would find “unworthiness” or feelings of not being good enough at the core. It’s not always easy for our clients to be in this space. It’s highly important that we as coaches do not emotionally invest ourselves in our client’s stories but remain a solid, open and non-judgmental presence throughout. We have to be comfortable with our abilities as coaches to help navigate our client’s out of these depths.
One of the best methods we can use is anchoring our client’s to the vision they came to the session with. In this case that vision could be becoming a confident, self -aware, and compassionate person. Holding that vision in front of them, you could go as deep as the client is willing to go to uncover those underlying beliefs, often time venturing into uncomfortable territory, knowing full well that you’re moving with purpose and in a forward direction.
When dealing with self-consciousness or lack of confidence, a client will very often bring up specific scenarios that they have in mind. In this case visualizing their desired outcome can have a really positive impact for them. You could also role play the scenario with them, playing out both worst case and best case scenarios so the client comes out of the session feeling better no matter what happens.
Ultimately the journey from self-consciousness to self-awareness is a journey from judgment to self-compassion. The more presence, reflection, non-judgment, acknowledgment and praise we can offer our clients the better suited they will be to make this transition over and over again, until it starts truly integrating into their daily lives.
- Think about a time when you were self-conscious. What thoughts were going through your mind? How did you feel? How did you deal with that scenario?
- What tools do you currently have to deal with self-consciousness?
- How can you bring a greater amount of self-awareness into your life?
- How do you manage a situation in which your client is being highly self-conscious?
- How do you help bring a state of self-awareness to your clients?
- What do you do if your client refuses to shift perspectives?