Self-awareness and understanding are essential life skills. Without them, and even with them, we are prone to repeat the same unhelpful choices over and over again. In the recovery field, one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Understanding ineffective or destructive habits and patterns through self-awareness is the beginning of making new choices.

A young woman with years of therapy, in-patient hospitalization and residential treatment for her eating disorder told me that what she’d really needed all along was someone to help her understand herself and “be happy being me!”

The biblical wisdom that anchored me during my own years of disordered living spoke to this core conflict: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Years of  therapy, self-reflection and spiritual practice, along with lots of loving community, have nurtured the self-understanding I needed to be happy being myself…at least most of the time!

Self-awareness is the foundation for self-understanding. Not knowing what you feel, think, sense, want, or need, makes for a reactive rather than a responsible life.

When you aren’t attuned to feelings, you’re prone to let hurts, stress, and frustration accumulate then blow up in anger, shut down in depression, get a tension headache, or eat and drink in attempts to self-soothe.

When you aren’t attuned to sensations in your body, you’re less able to discriminate between physical hunger in your stomach and emotional distress signals from the same region.

Listening to yourself–to the sensations, feelings and thoughts that are the raw material of mental processes–enables you to take responsibility for how you respond to your experience rather than just react to whatever arises.

One of my current goals is to increase my mindful awareness in every day life. Taking simple “mindfulness moments” throughout the day has helped me decrease reactive responses (answering a text immediately just because it calls my attention) and increase my responsible choices (paying attention to clock time and planning ahead for the contingencies that inevitably arise).

Awareness of sensations, feelings and thoughts enables me to more compassionately and effectively process the dissonance that arises when I realize that I’m running late, yet again, in spite of my valiant efforts to change. When I feel the tightening in my stomach and shoulders, I take a deep breath and release the tension. When self-critical thoughts and feelings arise, I acknowledge them as part of an old story that is no longer helpful, and choose to extend forgiveness and kindness to myself.

Regular practice of mindful awareness is relatively simple. You can practice it right now. After you read the rest of these instructions, stop and check in with yourself as described here:

1.) Close your eyes and take a few long deep breaths. Breath in fully, then slowly exhale through your mouth. This activates the calming system of your body, telling everything to slow down and relax, so you can listen more carefully to your experience.

2.) Take a moment to notice any sensations in your face, neck and shoulders. Just notice whatever is there. Don’t do anything to change it. Just acknowledge whatever arises and let it be.

3.) Take a moment to notice any feelings or thoughts you’re having, either in response to this blog, or otherwise. Again, just notice and acknowledge what is.

That’s it. You don’t practice mindful awareness in order to “get a result”. You practice so that over time you can build your mindfulness muscles so they are available when you need them...like when being on time to your appointment is important so you finish your blog and get on with your day!