Recovery Series 6: Limitations of Self Awareness
Increasing your self-awareness can be a highly enriching experience. However, it is only a prelude towards greater awareness of your place among others. In fact, too much focus on your self can have detrimental effects.
One danger of spending too much time and energy on developing yourself is that you can become stuck in a mode of seeing everything only as it relates to you. This notion of fancying yourself the center of the universe is referred to as navel gazing because it evokes the image of one sitting in meditation staring down at her or his stomach. Once you start becoming more self-aware, it is important to invest time getting out of yourself. One excellent way of doing so is to seek out opportunities to serve others.
Excessive Self Discipline
Another danger of too much time spent developing yourself is that of excessive self-discipline. Too much discipline can kill your spirit by eliminating spontaneity in your life. Being spontaneous and taking time out to play is important for fostering creativity. Not only that, but if you don’t allow yourself to ever play or enjoy the moment, you will begin to rebel against many of the positive practices you have taken up. Too much self-discipline can even make it easier to lapse into child-mode behaviors in your interactions with others. It can also lead to arrogance and an inflated sense of your own importance.
Striving to be more humble is a key part of many traditions of spiritual practice, but it isn’t simply a spiritual act but an ethical one. When you are humble, you don’t look to assert your dominance over others or trumpet your accomplishments so that everyone should look up to you. Humility is the act of taking a lower position even when you might feel you deserve more praise or recognition. If you want a great example of humility, look no farther than the acceptance speech that basketball superstar Kevin Durant gave when he won the 2013-14 Season NBA Most Valuable Player Award. Instead of touting all the hard work he engaged in, he spent the duration of his speech appreciating all the hard work and sacrifices that other people in his life gave for him to experience success. Like any other spiritual principle, humility is one that you have to work at. Here are some ways that you can deepen your own humility:
Appreciate others. When you focus on the abilities, concerns, and accomplishments of others, this takes you out of being self-oriented. At every opportunity take time to thank other people.
Share praise and credit. Whenever you accomplish anything, if you look carefully, you will find that you didn’t do it alone. Other people are always helping us in ways that are sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle. While it may be tempting to bask in people’s praise and adoration, when you find ways to share credit and share praise, you not only help to deepen your humility but make it so others want to help you even more.
Allow others to be first and foremost. Insisting on being the first in line, the first to raise your hand in a class, the first to get the parking spot, and so on, has a tendency to inflate one’s sense of self-importance. However, when you allow others to have the spotlight or be first, it gives you a better vantage point to appreciate their gifts and what they are able to bring to the table. And when you can do this, you actually find yourself in a better position to lead others because you understand how they can best contribute.
Don’t insist on being right. Nobody likes to be wrong, including other people. When you are wrong it puts you in a vulnerable position, which can be scary. However, vulnerability is often what makes a person beautiful and appreciable. Allowing others the legitimacy of their beliefs without correction from you is a charitable act.
Listen to what other people think more than telling them what you think. Dale Carnegie once said that the sweetest sound to anyone is the sound of their own voice. Really paying attention to what other people have to say without having to correct or undermine them helps you to stay oriented outward rather than being self-absorbed.
· Try not to judge others. An old saying goes like this, “When you point a finger at someone else, you have three fingers pointing back at you.” While it is tempting to judge another person, to assess what they are doing and how they are doing it, when you do so, you are presuming that you know better. Unfortunately, unless you have lived the experiences of another person, you cannot know what is best for them. Your grasp on another person’s situation will always be incomplete because you don’t have the complete picture.
Another step you can take to avoid navel-gazing is to make a concentrated effort to develop a sense of empathy for others. Empathy is the capacity to understand and relate to how another person may feel in a given situation. If anything, it’s the opposite of judging, where you assess another person’s actions or circumstances according to your point of view. Here are some ways in which you can further develop your empathy:
Listen. You may not always understand where another person is coming from. Even the most creative and open-minded of people can fail to grasp an individual’s unique circumstances. Consequently, the only way you can understand where someone else is coming from is by listening to them. However, listening in this sense is not merely listening to the words a person says, but listening for the underlying needs that the person may be expressing even while failing to articulate this.
Validate. Particularly in times where people seem far apart in their political and social beliefs, it’s really easy to look at a person with whom you disagree and see an enemy. However, we all have the capacity to feel the same types of emotions, whether these are fear, anger, or joy. We also all have the same basic needs. When you try to recognize that beneath any disagreement are two people who need love and respect, it’s not so easy to see someone you disagree with as the enemy.
Consider your own attitude. When you find yourself in a disagreement with someone else, ask yourself what you are wanting out of the interaction. Do you want to see the other person punished? Is this about winning or being right? Wanting to see another person punished presumes that you know best, a dangerously arrogant attitude. Wanting to win or insisting on being right is a kind of vanity that indicates navel-gazing.
Suspend your own viewpoint. When you are trying to understand another person’s feelings, your own point of view isn’t a necessary perspective. In fact, it gets in the way of seeing another’s point of view. Remember that suspending your views is not the same as dropping them or changing them. Your viewpoint will still be there if you still need it.