Too often we lead and live on autopilot: getting through the day, putting out the latest fire at work or home, responding to what’s in front of us.
There is an alternative, says Clint Sidle, author of This Hungry Spirit: Your Need for Basic Goodness: “Wake up and become fully aware of who you are.”
“When you are self-aware and honest with yourself, you become conscious of your boxes, your habitual patterns,” he explains. “Once they loosen their grip, you open the door to fresh perspectives and other possibilities.”
When you operate from a keen sense of yourself, you see more clearly how to manage your strengths and shortcomings, the challenges and the opportunities around you. You begin to make decisions — large and small — with the bigger picture in mind.
Gaining greater self-awareness isn’t about an occasional moment of introspection, however. Sidle recommends several practices to wake you up:
- Make reflection a habit. Commit to 30 minutes a day to step outside of the daily routine, stop distractions and take stock. Take a walk, meditate, exercise, write in a journal, pray. The format doesn’t matter as much as consistency, Sidle notes, “Guard your reflective space and try not to let other things interfere with that time.”
- Seek feedback. Without feedback, you are often unaware of your hidden strengths, your blind spots and your impact on others, and therefore unable to make adjustments for them, Sidle explains. There are many ways to get feedback; Sidle suggests a technique called “feedback bombardment.” Bring together a group of friends or colleagues. Choose one person to go first in receiving feedback from the others. Everyone else has a turn to give positive feedback as well as constructive feedback about one thing they wish that person might change. The receiver should simply listen or ask clarifying questions — not argue or discuss. Repeat the process with each person in the group.
- Meditate for insight. Multiple streams of research — and Sidle’s personal experience — confirm the physical, mental and emotional benefits of meditation. The clarity, creativity and productivity associated with regular meditation leads to insights that are helpful in both personal and professional realms. A simple 20- to 30-minute meditation practice is powerful, says Sidle.
- Exercise regularly. Solitary exercise — walking, running, cycling — is a form of reflective practice, in addition to providing numerous health benefits. Often the interaction between mind and body allows the mind to clear and new insights appear. Start slowly if you aren’t accustomed to regular exercise. If you play team sports or exercise with others, add in some solitary workouts.
- Keep a journal. Writing in a journal is a way to sort through your experiences, thoughts and feelings — particularly if meditation isn’t your style. To get started, give yourself prompts, such as: “Five years from now, I will be most proud of …” or “When my friends talk about me they say …” Once you are comfortable with journaling for insight, you may choose to write only when you are stuck, bothered or seeking new ideas.
- Cultivate mindfulness. Each of these practices help give focus to your inner world. But also pay attention to the details of your life and the world around you. Slow down and take a few minutes each day to do mindfully whatever you are doing, suggests Sidle. “You might be surprised at the things you will find and appreciate that you haven’t noticed before.”
Read more about these practices in Sidle’s book This Hungry Spirit: Your Need for Basic Goodness.