Today we see an immense number of awareness-related material out there. It looks like everyone agrees on one single thing: Awareness is important, and you need to be aware of yourself, your surroundings including your relationships, your daily actions, and your goals. But from what we read; we usually might feel a little puzzled at times about especially one thing: Why do we need Awareness really? Yes, being aware is good for us, for our well-being, for our society and the world. Awareness is now mentioned everywhere including academic journals, daily newspapers, and popular magazines (you can see thousands of articles and papers written now especially under the term mindfulness which is a form of momentary awareness). However, it is not yet so clear why we need it and more importantly, how we can use it for the betterment of our beingness and our societies.
Throughout my career as a psychologist and a college professor, I’ve been working on awareness at personal, educational, scientific, and spiritual levels. And during that time of study and years of practice, I have come to draw some important conclusions I will share with you in this short blog. Let me start out by simply saying this: Awareness is in fact a very useful tool if you know how to use it. If you do not know how to use it, here’s what happens: You spend time and maybe some money to achieve more awareness and it becomes an end in itself. You are more aware of your feelings, your thoughts, your actions but you do not know what to do with this kind of knowledge. This is like knowing the exact ingredients of each food recipe but not knowing how to cook the food itself.
Today when we look at the general problems that the world population is experiencing, we see them outlined in five main areas:
- Health (including mental health)
- Family (Marriage, Parenting)
- Social Relationships (including Romantic ones)
And it sometimes may seem like a mysterious puzzle to solve even if you have increased awareness of yourself. For example, you might observe that you are having either one or more of the above problems even though you think you have been working on your awareness to a good extent. Here the problem is not that you lack or need any more awareness, but you may not actually know how to use it. Sometimes we hear stories of miraculous healings of health, relationships and other aspects of life and we attribute that to faith, luck, or to Divine power. Although they surely help us along the way, being open to that kind of power also requires us to use our awareness to the capacity that opens the doors for us.
At a more concrete level, you probably know that almost any kind of problem in our life is a result of a kind of beingness state or a personality that we have developed over the years and the key to that is our ability to use awareness as tool to unlock our inner power to turn things around.
As with all levels of expertise, you become better at using this tool as you practice regularly. When it becomes almost a daily habit, you do not even know how you use it to your best benefit regarding your life goals.
For you to better understand what I mean in this blog, I would like you to step back, think about your goals in relation to either one or the other (or both, if you like):
- Solving current problems as soon as you can
- Choosing a life goal and start working on it as soon as possible
And I would like to ask you the following question to start to cultivate your awareness as a tool:
With your current awareness level, how do you define your problem/goal?
Problem Definition is always the first step.
And how do we define a problem requires us to benefit a little bit from the scientific world. In science, we have something that we call operational definitions. It is usually the first step to start any type of research in social sciences, including psychology. Operational definitions help us approach any concept/occurrence/phenomena/problem/solution in a way that renders those ready to be observed and measured. When a concept or a problem is ready to be observed and measured, it is easy to tackle it because this way you are able to understand the what/where/when/why/who/how components (Ws and Hs) to it.
As an example, let’s say you are feeling anxious from time to time, and this is your problem. You want to solve this problem, and even most importantly, remove it altogether, right? However, when you define a problem this way it is not so easy to handle it because you do not know the Ws or the Hs of it. Operational definitions help you to handle a problem by identifying its specific aspects in terms of the frequency, duration, the people involved, the place, the history of the problem…etc.
So how do you turn your “anxiety” problem into an operationally defined one so that you can start working on it?
Well, this is the most important first step and as a scientist-practitioner let me give this a try and suggest some questions for you to create an operationally defined problem which you currently call “feeling anxious from time to time”.
Here we go:
- Where do you feel your anxiety most? In other words, what happens in your mind-body-soul so that you call it “anxious”? Is it a certain way of thinking? If yes, what does it involve? Is it a certain way of feeling? Can you describe that feeling a bit more? Is it a negative feeling, does it feel stressful for example? Is it a behavior in the form of reactions? If yes, what types of reactions? Can you please exemplify? Is there also a physical reaction that accompanies that anxious feeling? Does your heart beat faster for example? What really happens in your body during that problematic state that you call anxiety?
- Secondly, where/when/how does it occur including frequency and duration? Is it weekly for example? How long does it last? Where does it occur usually? Indoors, outdoors, at home or at the workplace?
- Are there any precursors to your anxious feeling? Anything that happens usually before or after? Can you identify what those are?
- Are there any people present or are you usually alone when this happens?
And these questions could go on and on until we come to a quite sound definition that incorporates all the Ws and Hs of your problem. Once we get to that definition which is finally operational, then we are able to start taking our first steps towards handling it.
This is why we start with a problem definition always.
Kayla Wholey, PhD.
Author of the book “Your First Step to Re-create Your Life in Oneness: Awareness”