“Awareness is the foundation of everything we have ever experienced or will experience.”
“Every object, every thought, every emotion, every sensation,
every memory is known because it appears in awareness. Otherwise, it
could not be known. Awareness is the root of our entire sense of
existence, and yet where is it? What is it? How can it be apprehended?
We know it is, but whenever we try to look directly into awareness we
Pir Elias Amidon
“Homo sapiens sapiens,” means “the man or woman who can think and knows he thinks.”
This is us. By default, this label of modern man sets us apart from other species by highlighting our awareness.
Awareness is at the heart of what makes us, well, us. So what is awareness? What does it mean to be aware?
Definitions of awareness include “the knowledge or perception of a situation or fact,” by the Oxford English Dictionary, and “the knowledge and understanding that something is happening or exists, ” by Merriam-Webster. Some Buddhists say it is “mere clarity and knowing.”
With the inclusion of the word “mere,” this example excludes the need for attentiveness, understanding, or evaluation. In other words, being aware of something doesn’t necessarily mean we have to understand it. It is just the “mere” acknowledgement of its existence.
Different Types of Awareness
Depending on who you ask,
there are anywhere from two to two dozen types of awareness. Each one of
these different types can be broken down into even more subcategories.
Just to give you a taste, here are a few:
- Time awareness
- Task awareness
- Result awareness
awareness, which is said to have been used by Samurai to detect enemies
that were beyond the range of their five senses (think “There is no
- Spiritual awareness
- Cultural awareness
- Spatial awareness
- Focused awareness
- Situational awareness, which is of great use when you are in a precarious position (think Navy Seals or marriage)
- And many more
In Buddhism, there are at least 7 different types that I haven’t listed here. You can see how this rabbit hole is pretty deep.
To keep this post from turning into a book, I will focus on the
different aspects of one particular type: self-awareness. In the coming
days, weeks, months, and years, I plan to explore many others.
What is self-awareness in psychology?
Or, is self-awareness the same as consciousness?
Consciousness is a Latin word whose original meaning was “knowing” or “aware.”
States of consciousness can shift as our level of awareness changes.
Dr. Bruce Lipton says this about consciousness:,
I prefer to use the simple definition of the word consciousness: “having knowledge of something; being aware.” However, consciousness can also be measured in terms of “quantity.” A worm is “conscious” of its environment, a cat is conscious of its environment, and a human is conscious of its environment. However, the “amount” of consciousness in a worm, a cat, and a human are different. For example, the human has “more” consciousness than a worm. The smaller the object, such as molecules, atoms, and electrons, the less consciousness they have.
The worm may be less conscious, but is it less aware? The level of awareness one has may influence how much consciousness one has, but the two are not exactly the same thing.
You can be conscious and also unaware of certain things. Your subconscious can be aware of a great many things that you are not consciously aware of. But before your mind gets too bent out of shape here, let’s just agree that in order to be conscious, one must first possess awareness.
Importance of self-awareness
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi
I wish to focus on self-awareness first because I believe that without a certain degree of awareness of yourself, all other elements and aspects of awareness are being distilled through a broken or incomplete filter.
Having more self-awareness gives us perspective and enables us to make better sense of what is being brought into our awareness. It gives us a better sense of knowing, while keeping in mind that knowing is not always understanding. In other words, we must first converge our awareness of ourselves to better diverge our awareness back out into the world. Through this process, some of our knowledge can lead to understanding.
This is how you change, grow, evolve, adapt.
“Your mind, this globe of awareness, is a starry universe. When you push off with your foot, a thousand new roads become clear.” – Rumi (again)
Types of Self-awareness
“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
– C.G. Jung
Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist, researcher, and overall brilliant lady, tells of two kinds self-awareness: internal and external. In her report in the Harvard Business Review, she explained,
“The first, which we dubbed internal self-awareness, represents how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions (including thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses), and impact on others.
The second category, external self-awareness, means understanding how other people view us, in terms of those same factors listed above.”
The bottom line is that self-awareness isn’t one truth.
Alan Fogel, a professor of Psychology at the University of Utah, and author of The Psychophysiology of Self-Awareness breaks it down into conceptual and embodied self-awareness.
- Based in thinking
- Rational, logical, explanatory, judgmental, evaluative
- Abstract, transcends the present moment
- Based in sensing, feeling, and moving
- Spontaneous, creative, open to change
- Concrete, sustained in the present moment
Fogel goes on to say embodied self-awareness “is as fundamental to health and survival as breathing and eating…[Its loss] at any time in life can be debilitating…[and it] must be actively maintained, cultivated, taught and renewed to sustain well-being. … The neural pathways for embodied self-awareness are directly linked to the pathways for homeostasis.”
Dr. Alia Crum backs this awareness and body connection with her research into mindsets. It’s a bit long, but how she shows us this association between our awareness through our mindsets and our physical selves is absolutely fascinating:
In order for us to function correctly as humans, we have to cultivate a certain amount of awareness of ourselves. We have to know if our body is working properly, if our minds are thinking correctly, if our emotions are feeling the right way in accordance with our minds and bodies.
Importance of Attention and Perception
“Attention can be thought of as the spotlight of awareness, focusing on one particular aspect of the breadth of the totality of our experience. Its job is to focus on things that may be important.
The attention has two basic modes of operation. The first is a relaxed mode where everything is OK. We are at ease, and the attention moves effortlessly, from one possible interest to another, with no voluntary effort or control—attracted to the sound of a bird, an itch, a moth flying by.
Then when we do notice something of interest our attention stays there for a while. We pay attention. Is this something I should be concerned about? Do I need to do anything? If so what? The focus of our awareness is now on the issue at hand, and the thoughts we are having about it.”
– Peter Russell, Seeds of Awakening
Attention is the lens through which we view awareness. Being adept at using and placing our attention gives us the ability to use awareness to its full potential.
Perceptions are more closely tied to our physical senses and to the outer world.
“You see a rope but you misunderstand that to be a snake.
This is perception.
Awareness is realizing it is just a rope.” – Kris Iyer
If attention is the lens, perception is a way to focus it.
How can I get some of that?
You can go about increasing your self-awareness in a lot of ways. The best way is to jump right in and find what works for you, and here are some practices to get you started:
- Journaling. Starting a daily writing practice is one of the best ways to get to know yourself better. You can write down anything. How you are feeling that day? Who pissed you off and why? What are your values? What is most important to you right now? What are you good or bad at? What motivates or scares you?
- Notice your strongest reactions to events throughout your day. What was it that made you react that way?
- Pay close attention to your most positive and negative feelings about events throughout your day.
- Take 15 minutes a day to objectively self-reflect. Maybe read over your journal and ask yourself if you were really honest with some of those answers.
- Meditation. This is the most true and direct path to obtaining self-awareness. Above all else meditation reaps the biggest rewards. This, along with journaling, is perhaps the thing that will give you the most insight.
- Involve others. Ask your friends, family, peers, and mentors for an open, honest, and critical perspective. This isn’t to shame you. It’s a way to get a fresh look at yourself through someone else’s eyes. Then go back to your journal and write down any unknown strengths or weaknesses that you hadn’t noticed about yourself.
Now you have a better grasp of the first stage of awareness. It’s time to get to work and get to know your permanent roommate a little better. There is no better time to get started than now. They say that it is called the present because it is a gift, so unwrap your present moment and shake hands with yourself. You might need to go through some of these steps more than once, but nothing is more rewarding than the peace that comes with higher self-awareness.