By Jimmy Warden
The ability to perceive and understand the relationship between the environment, one’s physical and emotional state, and the resulting decisions of those two forces interacting is what I like to define as self-awareness. It takes a lot of deliberate practice to notice and hypothesize how all three of those parts are intertwined and related. However, the more that we do, the more self-awareness we can cultivate. The more self-awareness that we have the more we enable ourselves to grow, adapt, and change into better versions of ourselves.
Wherever we are at a given point in the day and no matter what we are doing; we are in a specific environment. Each of these environments provide us their own personal stimuli, to which we have associations. These environments also provide us an expectation of how we are supposed to act. A great example of this is a kitchen. The association here would be that the kitchen is a place to prepare and serve food, so that is what people do while in their kitchen. As for a counterexample, you wouldn’t bring your laundry into a grocery store expecting to find a washer and dryer to do your laundry. Rather, there’s the expectation that we are in there with bags or a cart, we fill them up with our grocery items, pay for our groceries, and leave.
Physical, Emotional, and Mental States
Throughout the day, we are always in some type of physical, emotional, and mental state. Perhaps we’re feeling physically focused and emotionally happy, so we feel mentally ready and motivated to take on challenges. Other times, we might be physically lethargic and emotionally sad, so we’re not mentally motivated or ready to take on any challenges. There are a wide variety of physical, emotional, and mental states, but they are often related to one another; hence the two polar examples that were just given. These states often fluctuate throughout the day due to factors such as, changes in energy levels; daily work load; cognitive demand for tasks; hydration; and food consumption.
Each day we are asked to make tens of thousands of decisions. It can be hard to be fully engaged when making these decisions due to decision fatigue that accumulates as the day passes by. Not only do decisions take up a lot of our energy, but so does our thought process when we are engaging in decisions that require deep thinking and contemplation. The decisions that take days or even weeks, months, or years to make. Each time we exert cognitive effort, our energy is slowly, but surely depleted.
Understanding the Connections to Cultivate More Self-Awareness
For the sake of understanding the connections, let’s work in reverse order. The decisions we make are often the result of how the environment is influencing our physical, emotional, and mental states. Sometimes our environments create high levels of physical, emotional, and mental stress, so we are not able to make our best decisions because of that. For example, when we have been at work all day, perhaps that environment has been so demanding that we barely even had a genuine lunch break. This would elevate physical, emotional, and mental stress levels due to the fact energy has been expended, but not refueled; and the job is asking to keep putting forth physical, emotional, and mental energy forward for several more hours. Next, we leave work feeling physically spent, in a state of emotional frustration, and feeling mentally drained. Then when we get home, we immediately scrounge for junk food, pour a drink, and turn on the TV. All because this is an easy coping mechanism of dealing with stress by putting a band-aid on the issues, instead of trying to be aware of the actual problems that are below the surface.
Instead of letting this become our daily routine, it is important we take time to reflect on what’s causing us stress in our lives. Whether it be physical, emotional, or mental stress, we need to understand what the environmental cues are that trigger our stress, and then seek to understand how that influences the decisions we make. Not only that, but it’s vital to think of some strategies that can be used in those moments that we are under a high level of stress. That way we can be prepared for those moments and try to make better informed decisions that are rooted in rationality instead of impulse.
For example, if you’ve reflected and come to the realization that going into your boss’s office to discuss your performance puts you under a high level of stress, it’s important to know that before you meet with them again in the future. That way, you can perhaps do some deep breathing before walking in to slow down your heart rate and clear your racing mind and steady your emotions. Maybe try to mentally prepare for the meeting by envisioning how the conversation might go based on how previous encounters have gone. Whatever the scenario may be, the more prepared we can be, the better we can set ourselves up for success.
States that are too arousing send our bodies, emotions, and minds into a tizzy, so knowing that certain environments make us feel certain ways can help us be masters of ourselves. Understanding our physical, emotional, and mental responses to specific stimuli in specific environments will help us recognize when we are in a state that is becoming irrational. This self-awareness will help us use a specific strategy in that moment to help us be able to think more rationally and respond more appropriately.
This process is a lot easier said than completed because it is one that is never completed. Our irrational decisions can often get the best of us, but the most crucial part of making the changes we are seeking is reflection. Reflect on the decision. Reflect on your states of being and how the environment may or may not have influenced those states. After that, try to use strategies and cultivate habits to help create more rationality in your daily life.
That is the gift of self-awareness. The gift that keeps on giving.