Awareness, awareness, awareness—that’s the name of the game in Mindful Self-Discipline. If self-discipline is the father of all virtues, self-awareness is the mother.
By awareness we mean that quality of noticing what’s happening inside of you. It’s the ability to look inside, reflect, and contemplate. It is seeing things as they are, with presence of mind and radical self-honesty. In other words: mindfulness. Being awake to your inner world.
Self-discipline is a combination of two things: remembrance and action, or attention and intention. To practice self-discipline, day after day you need to remember your aspiration (attention), and then decide to act on it (intention).
Self-awareness brings many benefits to your inner life and outer life.
Self-awareness is the foundation for conscious living. Without self-awareness, you are living by default, not by design; you are reactive, not creative. Your future will be a repetition of your past.
When you are self-aware, you have a choice in each moment. While you can’t choose the thoughts, emotions, and impulses that arise in you, there is a pause—a space between the inputs and how you choose to respond. The wider the space, the more freedom you have. Your future becomes the result of your conscious choices.
Your thoughts, emotions, and actions sculpt your character and your life. It’s essential that you pay attention to them, or you are not really in control of your life. You only have the power to change what you are first aware of.
With self-awareness, you see your flaws and limitations not with shame but with compassion, because you understand your human nature and your past conditioning. You see that shame and guilt produce suffering, not growth, and you replace them with compassionate understanding. You don’t hold on to unrealistic expectations; you accept that self-transformation is a process.
So if your goal is to eat healthy, you are aware that sometimes there may be strong desires for junk food. If the desire comes up, you become aware of it. If the desire overpowers you, compassionate acceptance allows you to say, “I know I’m taking a step away from my goal right now. I don’t know how to stop it, but I’m aware of what’s happening.” Then you become aware that you did it, and how that felt in your body and mind. No shame required.
It is awareness that allows you to keep your goal in mind, to track your progress, and to keep coming back to the habits you are trying to create. Awareness reminds you of the new identity you are cultivating. It also makes you more aware of what triggers you; with this knowledge you can then choose better environments and be ready to exercise your willpower when the situation calls for it.
The more you have self-awareness, the easier it becomes to exercise willpower and self-control. First, because you remember to do things before it’s too late! Second, practicing awareness brings a natural pause to your automatic reactions, gives you options, and allows your aspiration to come alive again.
Acute awareness of what happens in your body and mind when you engage in a temptation—drinking a soda, smoking a cigarette, or scrolling social media—will naturally give you a distaste for it. As you meditate on your temptations over time, you will see them more clearly for what they truly are.
Hence, self-awareness can help you outgrow your addictions. It happens organically, without force, just as we outgrow children’s toys as we become aware of greater things in life.
The Awareness Pillar of Mindful Self-Discipline helps you cultivate your awareness and constantly remember your aspiration, so that you can translate it into action. Awareness is the bridge that connects who you want to be (Aspiration) and how you decide to show up (Action). It empowers you to live a more authentic life.