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In our first segment we spoke about consciousness as a tool to help one learn how to get into the now, to become fully conscious of self and aware of your surroundings and self (e.g. how you are feeling). In particular, this is helpful to stop and get a read on what is really going on with self, particularly in tense or stressful moments where we are prone to react. It is about learning to be proactive vs. reactive. For most of us, our actions are largely reactive. Someone pushes our button and we react. These are largely driven by past experiences and the beliefs we formed from these experiences, that are then programmed into our subconscious. We experience a similar situation and we repeatedly react in consistent ways forming behavioral patterns. Consciousness is learning how to become aware of your present self in order to become self-aware, and then to use this self-awareness to make a healthier and happier choice.
If you have experimented with meditation, yoga or some other method to help quiet the mind, you know how challenging this can be. Compound this with a stressful situation where we are prone to react. This would be like trying to stop a speeding train within a few feet. Our mind is accustomed to racing with thoughts, fears, creating the fight or flight response.
Imagine however that you are able to learn to deal with these racing thoughts with an ounce of conscious thought, that you are reacting to a situation but with the realization that you have a choice to how you will respond. Over time as you develop this technique, you find yourself more in control, and not as prone to react negatively, and able to make healthier choices. These moments are incredibly freeing and with it bring greater levels of peace, harmony, happiness and joy. You are no longer reacting your way through life, but responding to it as you would want to!
Okay, so how do I stop this speeding train? Actually you don’t stop the speeding train. You simply acknowledge it. This is by simply becoming aware that something is going on. The most powerful step you can take is to pull away from the situation momentarily to admit to yourself how you are feeling! This requires two elements. The first is the ability to pull back and the second is to acknowledge what your feeling is. Sounds simple, but developing this skill for most takes time and practice. Yet, this is an INCREDIBLE victory for you to accomplish this! You have learned how to be more conscious of self!!
The best way I have learned to accomplish this is using an approach to creating any new habit, by practicing the desired behavior both physically and mentally several times a day, when there are no situations taking place. Begin by mentally rehearsing the new behavior (e.g. recognition of the stressful event, pulling back to a neutral location, and taking a few deep breaths until you feel more settled). In your mind visualize this many times stating what you are doing (“Okay this is a situation where I am feeling tense, so I am telling the other person that I need to go to the bathroom where I take several deep breaths. I feel more settled and can approach this situation calm, cool and collected. I repeat this affirmation several times, I am calm, cool and collected. If the situation worsens I will repeat this).
Now physically do what you have rehearsed visually. Begin by feeling the tension build in your body and the anger emerge, state to yourself I am feeling anger and need to pull back. Walk to the bathroom and take your breaths. Feel how the body calms down a bit. State the affirmation to yourself out loud several times until you feel the difference. Repeat this process every day for at least 21 days.
Learning Cause & Effect
In this step we will learn how to become conscious of the cause and effect. Let’s illustrate using a simple example. We are busy performing a task at work and are interrupted by a colleague. This happens repeatedly and you find it very frustrating. Just being able to recognize this connection is learning how to become more self-aware and conscious. So let’s work on learning how to pull back for a moment. Your colleague in this example walks up to your desk and asks you a question even though you are busy with a task.
So before we learn how to put the brakes on, let’s assess how we feel when we experience this. In this case, you state that you feel frustrated and angry when this happens. Super job. You connected the dots. When you are interrupted while you are busy, you feel frustrated. This happens quite frequently during the day and in particular with one colleague. Wow, as simple as this achievement may seem, you are learning cause and effect which is key to your self-awareness. You continue by stating that when this occurs you usually stop everything you are doing and answer their question yet feel incredibly frustrated which you hold inside. The more this occurs the more frustrated you feel which results in taking longer to complete your tasks, and results in leaving work very frustrated each day.
Incredible. A connection has been made about how your colleague’s behavior (interrupting you), results in a feeling of frustration (your response), which over time interferes with your work and leaving work highly frustrated (consequence). Cause and effect done. Now we need to resolve our situation.
Question – what benefit would you experience if you did not get so frustrated? Chances are your first response has to do with the other person interrupting you, and changing their behaviors, but they are not in your control, only your reaction. Later, we can investigate how to influence the other person. How would you feel if you did not get so frustrated? You respond, A Lot Better. Great, so there is a benefit to you changing your response? Yes!! This IS in our control, so lets tackle this.
Let’s develop a response plan. First, you can anticipate that you will be interrupted several times today, a realistic expectation based on what has been happening. At this point we will focus on ourselves only. Very often in life we do not have any control over others, but we do over our own response, so that becomes our focus. Once you learn how to manage your response, we could consider options to dealing with this situation.
Let us now consciously look at this situation and plan a healthier response. We will use a basic problem solving technique to understand the problem and cause. Why is this person constantly asking you questions? You respond that they are new to your department. Have they been trained? Yes, they receive basic training on their first day. So if they were trained, why are they asking you questions? There is a lot to learn in this department. So why do they come to you with their questions? Because I have been here the longest. Hmmm… would you be doing the same thing if you were new to this department? Probably. Okay, so what can help this person to learn the steps vs. having to ask questions? They need more training, something I have told our manager several times, but nothing happens, so I pay the price whenever we bring in a new hire. The new hires often quit because they are frustrated themselves which starts the problem over again.
So, there could have been many angles to the above problem solving, but the point is that we stepped back from our pattern of feeling frustrated and rationally understood the issue. Maybe there is nothing we can do to resolve the problem, but at least we understand why this is happening, which helps to some degree. Often in life we find ourselves in situations that are out of our control, so let’s assume that this is the case here.
The answer comes from profound examples such as Viktor Frankl who despite the horror around him as a holocaust survivor, developed a will to live which kept him sane and alive. He went on to help many others in his life.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaninghttps://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/3389674-trotzdem-ja-zum-leben-sagen-ein-psychologe-erlebt-das-konzentrationslag
Related to the example we have been using, we can examine our choices. Do we look for another job, confront our manager, talk with Human Resources, or other options? If we have valid reasons to stay in the job and not take any action, then we are confronted with what Viktor Frankl suggests, to change the one thing we have in our control, our attitude. So lets assume that accepting this situation for another 5 years until we retire is the only realistic solution we have at this time. Therefore we have to learn how to deal with these situations differently so that we do not get so frustrated. We develop a response plan in a similar way we discussed before and practice it physically and mentally.
Obviously, we can agree that there were likely many other alternatives that this person could have considered, but for purposes of our discussion, the goal was to learn how we can develop a new habit that will result in us feeling better. Victory!
Being conscious is about learning to be in the moment where we can learn to observe self and how we react. The more you practice this, the more conscious and aware you are becoming of how you behave. Over time, you hone your rough edges and find yourself happier and more content even in difficult situations. Then you can teach others the same!
In our next segment we will focus on conscious living, how we can live life more in the moment and aware.
Michael is an award winning author, speaker, facilitator and coach on the topics of Personal Growth & Self-Discovery. Visit my website for more information (growhumanpotential.com). You can contact Michael using firstname.lastname@example.org