Sometimes we are simply unconsciously conscious. We walk around in the light of day, but we are unaware of where we are, where we’re going, or what we’re doing. Not until we have passed the exit do we realize that we have been virtually asleep at the wheel and have missed the destination we thought we were heading for. Here are five questions that will heighten your level of awareness and increase your ability to change your life and achieve the results you desire.
1 – What Are You Feeling?
Our feelings or emotional reactions are a powerful reflection of what we value. For example, if you are feeling angry, frustrated or disappointed, these emotions are a sign of some misalignment with your personal values—hot or negative emotions are symptoms of violated values. On the other hand, positive emotions or feelings like contentment, satisfaction, or excitement indicate that values have been affirmed.
Suppose your boss tells you that you did a terrible job on a recent presentation you worked many long hours to prepare. You may feel angry or frustrated because you believed that your hard work would be acknowledged and appreciated. When your expectations went unrealized, and you received feedback contrary to your perceptions of your effort, not only were your hopes dashed, but your values for hard work and superior performance were also violated.
If your performance had been praised you might have felt excited and pleased at the acknowledgement for a job well done, affirming your personal value for professional performance and the acknowledgment of appreciation. Pay attention to your feelings—they reflect alignment with your values.
2 – What Are You Observing?
From the time we awake each day, we observe what goes on around us. Ironically, though, we don’t observe what we are observing.
Earlier in life I had the opportunity to practice law, and I once had a client who asked me to help her with her seventh divorce. At one point I asked permission to pose a very personal question. She agreed, and I asked, “Do you ever wonder if the universe is trying to teach you something?”
Amused, she responded, “What do you mean?”
“I just wondered if you ever asked yourself what you might be doing that contributes to all of yourrelationships ending this way.”
She contemplated for a while, then smiled and asked, “Will you do my divorce or not?”
We often become so mired in the events of our daily lives that we do not realize when we are stuck. The old saying holds true: fish iscover water last. Instead, we should be both participants and observers of our lives. Our behavior and the resulting consequences of our actions are constantly sending us messages, as is the environment surrounding us, but we usually ignore those messages. The ability to objectively observe our experience allows us to consciously make different choices should we desire. Observe what you are observing.
3 – What Are You Interpreting?
Noticing how you interpret your own observations will help you understand your feelings (because thoughts create feelings) and will also help you recognize the particular slant or bias you mentally assign to your experience.
One counselor shared with me that she was surprised at how many people stayed in abusive relationships. She said that when she asked them why they stayed, the reply was always similar: “The devil I know is better than the devil I don’t.”
Two interpretations can be made about such thinking. These people might believe that either (1) it is easier to stay with what they know than to try something new, or (2) anyone else they might choose will be as bad or worse as the current partner. Notice how an awareness of your thinking can serve as the basis for understanding your choice of behavior— because thinking drives behavior.
Exposing your thinking and learning to challenge its accuracy is the key to improving your results. Just because you think something does not necessarily guarantee that it is an accurate representation of reality. Yet we get so caught up in the way we think about things that we seldom stop to challenge our thoughts for their accuracy. We often make assumptions that are incomplete or entirely inaccurate, and then breathe life into them by living them into being. It is crucial that you learn to check your thinking by evaluating or substantiating your observations. Notice your interpretations and challenge their accuracy.
4 – What Do You Want? And Why?
Knowing what you want is an exercise in identifying and clarifying your purpose and goals. Answering the questions “What do you want?” and “Why?” is about making conscious choices. A lack of clarity leads to unrealized aspirations. The clearer your intent, the greater the likelihood that you will be successful in achieving what you want.
An instructor of first-time skiers will usually caution, “Whatever you do, don’t look at the trees when you start heading down the hill!” Why? “Because that is where you’ll end up if you do—in the trees!” Stay out of the trees; get clear on what you want.
After identifying what it is that you want, ask yourself why you want what you want. Asking “why?” helps you to identify the values or rationale behind what you want. If your “why” is big enough, it will help you overcome the debilitating power of excuses or stories you usually tell to justify your lackof results. Understanding your “whys”—your values—will strengthen your resolve and increase your motivation to pursue your goals. Identify what you want and why to drive results.
5 – What Are You Focusing On?
Answering the question “What am I focusing on?” allows you to recognize when your what and why are out of alignment with your thinking and doing. Just as your feelings are a reflection of your alignment with your values, your results are a reflection of your focus. And where your focus goes, your energy follows.
A friend of mine recently discovered that he was not getting an expected raise and a promotion. For weeks after his discovery, all he could do was focus on what he didn’t get. He whined, stressed, and complained about the company, his boss, and his work. Focusing on what he didn’t get created more and more negativity. Finally his spouse, tired of all the drama, pointed out that his energies would be better spent focusing on what he ought to improve and change. Only then did he shift out of victim or “woeis- me” mode.
It is important not to focus on what you don’t want. The human brain does not understand “don’ts,” but it is very clear on “do’s.” For example, if you say, “I don’t what to be unhealthy anymore,” the brain registers “go ahead and eat your heart out.” Instead, you want to clearly focus your aspirations by stating, “I am thin, healthy, and full of energy.” Your remarkable brain understands these aspirations and will help you achieve these results.
Actually, the ski instructor mentioned earlier really should tell his novice skiers: “Whatever you do, always look downhill and pick out the path where you want to go.” Telling people not to look at the trees practically ensures that they will look at the trees— and create the very results the instructor is trying to avoid. Observe and refocus your focus.
We all have everything within us that we need to achieve results. The key to success is increasing our awareness of our feelings, observations, interpretations, what’s and why’s, and our focus.
Bottom line: Each of us is, in ourselves, the clue to what we can do and achieve.
John R. Stoker, Founder and President of Light Storm Consulting, Inc. and DialogueWORKS, Inc., has been immersed in organizational development and change for over 20 years. He has worked extensively with a number of companies, helping them increase their capacity to enhance effectiveness and improve results. As a facilitator and coach, John works with leaders to improve their business results and focuses on developing interpersonal skills they must have in order to lead. He has experience in the fields of leadership, change management, dialogue, critical thinking, conflict resolution, and emotional intelligence.