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How To Build Self-Awareness & Use It To Make Tough Decisions

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September 2, 2021
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Everyone's heard of self-awareness, but what exactly is it? Do you have it? Do you have enough of it? And how does having it help in decision-making?

Simply put, self-awareness is a process of discovery; of exploring your inner knowing. It is an ongoing journey of perceiving your thoughts, feelings, and patterns to arrive at those "light bulb" moments—and here's how to get started.

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The more self-awareness you have, the better decisions you will make.

Have you ever started a project or taken a path in life that ultimately led to a dead-end? At some point or another, we've all felt the discomfort of starting over or making a life course correction. Such experiences often leave us confused and asking questions like "Why?" and "What went wrong?"

Self-awareness can help us avoid these pitfalls. When you take in more information from different parts of yourself, you will eliminate false starts and roads that lead nowhere. You'll be more aligned with your whole self or, in other words, more congruent.

Think of the effort it would take to move your belongings by yourself across town versus moving with seven people helping you. Energy and clarity are created when more parts of yourself are aligned. Decisions and actions are faster, easier, and longer-lasting.

If more awareness helps us make better decisions, how do we actually grow our awareness?

Jean Gebser, a philosopher from the early 1900s, outlined five lenses of awareness or perspectives that humans have used throughout history. These lenses, or what Gebser called "Structures of Consciousness," describe different ways of thinking and being that lead to increased self-awareness.

Each lens represents an evolving consciousness or stage in humankind leading to "transformations" or a new way of knowing (i.e., one lens gives rise to the next after it begins to degenerate, calling for evolution or "mutation" to another form).

Gebser delved deep into the historical constructs of human consciousness, which is far beyond the scope of this article, but we can take simple lessons from his model and apply them to areas of our lives to help grow and evolve our own awareness:

  • The Archaic Lens: This area of our lives is about knowing and being connected to something larger than ourselves such as nature, a divine being, creative energy, a religion, Source, love, all things, or everything.
  • The Magic Lens: This point of view is based on subtle information or ways of knowing and incorporates concepts such as belonging, ritual, intuition, and sensitivity to energy.
  • The Mythical Lens: This perspective involves a way of being and knowing that is based on myths, roles, archetypes, storytelling, dialogue, and different parts of ourselves.
  • The Mental Lens: This is a place of being and knowing that is based on logical, sequential, critical, and mechanistic thinking.
  • The Integral Lens: The sum of these different perspectives comes together and forms a new way of knowing called the Integral (wholeness) structure of consciousness. This is a place where all is one and everything affects everything else. Here, people hold multiple realities at the deepest level of their being.
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The goal is to reach that Integral Lens, which can bring us a greater sense of awareness and connection to the larger whole. Once we achieve it, we realize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

One example is the process of putting a picture puzzle together. We can see each piece individually, but when we've placed all the pieces together correctly, a whole new picture emerges. Baking a cake is another illustration. We add together flour, eggs, baking soda, water, and heat, and the result looks quite different from the ingredients that went into it.

When we can "see" through all the different lenses, we get a kaleidoscope view of the whole picture that calls for new paradigms for living and working together.

How to achieve the "Integral Lens":

Taking the time to look through different lenses of awareness can help us not only expand our self-awareness but also make better decisions and take better action steps.

Here is a decision-making tool from our Wisdom of the Whole Coaching Academy coaching model that demonstrates how to tap into all these lenses of awareness as if looking through a kaleidoscope:

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Step 1:

Consider a current decision/choice point you are currently faced with. Name your choices "A" and "B." For example: Do you leave your current jo or stay put?

Step 2:

Pick a physical space in your room for option A and move to it.

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Step 3:

Think about option A. Ask yourself (and maybe journal on) the following:

  • What thoughts am I having? (Mental lens.)
  • What feelings are coming up? (All lenses, especially the Magic lens.)
  • What story am I telling myself? (Mythical lens.)
  • What images do I see in my mind's eye? (Mythical lens. Fine if nothing comes to you.)
  • What body sensations am I getting? For example, Is my throat tight? Is my jaw clenched? Can I breathe easier in this option? (All lenses.)
  • How aligned is this option to my sense of purpose? 50%, 20%, 90%, etc. (Archaic lens.)
  • What else do I notice as I try on this option?
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Step 4:

Pick a new location in your room for option B and move to it. Ask yourself the same questions in Step 3.

Step 5:

Now, find a new place in your room to stand and experience a third option you haven't yet considered. This option might be a combination of A/B, or something entirely new (you don't even have to know yet). Sometimes, no new option comes to you and that is fine. But try to think of one, and then ask yourself the questions in Step 3.

Step 6:

Now, sit down and write your takeaways from the exercise. What did you learn about yourself and your options? Decide on a fun and easy new step during the next week to move toward a goal based on your new awareness. Tell someone about your next step and ask them to check with you in a week to see how you progressed.

The bottom line.

You are always making decisions, and some change your life forever. This exercise can help you make these decisions with a new and more complete awareness and act in a way that supports the most positive outcomes available to you.

Linda Bark, Ph.D., R.N.
Linda Bark, Ph.D., R.N.

Linda Bark, Ph.D., R.N. is founder and CEO of the Wisdom of the Whole Coaching Academy. She has trained almost 1000 coaches internationally in such organizations as Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, AWARE Recovery Care as well as KPMG and WeljiI in India. Her model helps build a new world that has more kindness and justice, increased healing for the planet, more wholeness, and deeper knowledge that we are all connected.

Linda has two nursing degrees, a master's in life transition counseling, and a Ph.D. in philosophy and religion. Dr. Bark received first place for professional development for her textbook The Wisdom of the Whole: Coaching for Joy, Health, and Success. She has been very instrumental in coach certification for Nurse Coaches through the American Holistic Nursing Credentialing Corporation as well as Health and Wellness Coaches through the National Board of Health and Wellness Coaching.

The efficacy of the coaching model she created has been demonstrated in several peer-reviewed articles. In the past, Linda pioneered new professional pathways in health integration. She started a holistic nursing private practice in psychotherapy in 1970 and brought holistic nursing to hospitals in the 80s. During the 90s, she led medical tours to China for New Dimensions Radio, CIIS, and her own company. To better understand Chinese Traditional Medicine, she lived and studied in China and discovered how to help others combine Western and Eastern approaches. For seven years she helped conceptualize, plan, and build holistic healing centers nationally such as Wege Center in Minnesota and Swedish American Healthcare System in Illinois. Her healing center work is part of her current practice.

She currenly lives at Earthaven in Black Mountain NC, one of the oldest ecovillages in the US.