The Three Areas of Self-Awareness
According to Tasah Eurich – author of Insight: The Surprising Truth about How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More Than We Think – there are 3 major blindspots to self-awareness.
- Behaviour blindness.
- Emotional blindness.
- Knowledge blindness.
Behaviour blindness is being oblivious to your own actions. Not noticing when you are getting distracted or why.
Emotional blindness is being oblivious to your own feelings. Not understanding how you actually feel – what situations trigger specific emotional responses or why.
Knowledge blindness is being oblivious to what others think about you. Where they believe your strengths and weaknesses lie.
To help place a spotlight on each, I’ve come up with 3 stupendous questions:
- What on earth am I doing?
- What on earth am I feeling?
- What on earth are you thinking (of me)?
It works like this.
We first learn to manage our autopilot before we practice hand-flying. Finally, we ask our trusted co-pilot for some much-needed feedback.
We then use that information to fly our aircraft toward a more desirable destination – so we don’t act like a giant asshat the next time round!
Today, to avoid overloading your minimal attention span (no offence), I will tackle question #1, What on earth am I doing? and teach you how to first manage your autopilot.
Let’s jump right in.
What on Earth Am I Doing?
Why you engage your autopilot.
A pilot engages the autopilot because it makes life easier. With the autopilot engaged, we can put out feet up, flirt with the hostess, stare at the clouds, or even read a newspaper. (What’s a newspaper?)
When we take the autopilot out, however, we start to sweat. This is because we must constantly scan our instrumentations – our speed, heading, altitude, etc.
This is on top of all the other stuff we usually do when the autopilot is engaged, such as monitoring the radar for weather, looking out for other aircraft, or flirting with the hostess.
So our work is cut out for us.
Now, you’d think the predominant emotion of a pilot taking the autopilot out would be confidence – “My, what big cojones you have el capitan!” – but I can tell you from personal experience the predominant emotion is fear.
That’s why most pilots engage the autopilot approximately 4 to 5 seconds after take off. (Phew!)
As it turns out, we engage our mental autopilot for the same reason. We do it to avoid feeling pain or fear, or crippling self-doubt.
How you engage the autopilot.
How exactly do we avoid these difficult emotions? Through distraction.
“Distraction is the mental equivalent of engaging your autopilot.”
So we reach for our phones, mentally check out, wander over to the fridge, grab the bottle of tequila, binge-eat Ben and Jerry’s, or binge-watch NETFLIX.
Basically anything and everything to numb ourselves from the intensity of existence.
A big part of the problem is our repetitive thought patterns – which are themselves a form of distraction. Of course, these pesky thoughts tend to ruminate about how we’re deeply flawed human beings or worry about an apocalyptic tomorrow (thanks, Putin).
This manifests itself as pain in the present, which we seek to avoid at all costs by either keeping our heads stuck in the clouds or, if that’s too much, reaching for the bottle or our phone.
“Click.” Autopilot in. (Phew!)
Contrary to popular belief, distraction isn’t the root of all evil. Sometimes it’s needed. We should schedule a time to let our minds wander and otherwise fuck around.
But the key word here is awareness.
We want to remain aware of when and why we’re engaging the autopilot. We want to stay conscious in case we need to reign it in. We want to make sure we are choosing our distractions instead of having our distractions choose us.
Put another way – we want to manage our autopilot – not get rid of it.
Trying to get rid of it is the mental equivalent of going to the supermarket and buying a lifetimes supply of toilet paper whenever someone mentions the word pandemic. It’s overkill. All you’ll end up doing is pissing everyone off.
What we really want to get rid of are our compulsions.
How to manage your autopilot.
“If distraction costs us time, then time management is pain management.”– Nir Eyal
One of the best ways to manage your autopilot is to schedule time for your distractions.
That is, you should allow yourself to check out occasionally. But you want to do so in a way that is both healthy and satisfying.
So don’t stop watching NETFLIX or playing video games. No, no, no! Schedule time for it – but set a hard limit – make sure you have allocated the time for that purpose and nothing else.
Nir Eyal – author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life – calls this time-boxing.
You’d think you’re supposed to time-box your work first and then allocate whatever time left over for your family or the hobbies you wish to pursue, but Nir recommends you take the opposite approach.
He suggests you time-box play quality time for yourself first.
The reasoning behind this is straightforward: if you are not caring for yourself, everything else, from your work to your marriage, will suffer.
So, you will want to kick things off by setting aside enough time for sit-down meals, a good night’s sleep, and some of your favourite hobbies. Follow this by scheduling quality time with your friends and family.
Finally, fit work around all of that.
(Who would have thought that work was supposed to support life, not the other way around?)
Once these boundaries are firmly established, you can start to note when your autopilot takes you away from your intended flight path in a given moment. When you find yourself wandering off to some alternative head-space universe. When you are deviating from your planned activities, pursuits, or conversations.
Here are some questions to think about.
- Are you compulsively checking your phone every few minutes? (yes)
- Do you refuse to go to the toilet without it? (yes)
- Do you need to check it during the middle of a meal? (yes)
- When are you checking out mentally – at what times do you find your head is stuck in the clouds? (almost constantly)
- With who? Is it around family or friends? At work with co-workers? (everyone)
Look for the patterns and note them down. I suggest you reflect on these questions every day as part of a journalling routine.
A final point.
Whatever you do, don’t judge yourself. The goal with all of this is self-acceptance. Remember, you’re human. Learning to manage the human autopilot is hard fucking work. Perhaps the hardest – so stay kind.
Step 1 is to simply understand where your autopilot goes and when. Once you have a clearer picture, we can consider why.
That brings us to the next week’s question: What on earth am I feeling?
- Distraction is the mental equivalent of engaging the autopilot
- We use distraction to avoid feelings of pain or fear.
- The best way to manage our autopilot is to schedule time for distraction.
- We want to take note of when we’re getting distracted throughout the day.
This is part 2 of a series of posts on the topic of Self-Awareness:
Part 1: The Automation Paradox
For a collection of meditations designed to help you navigate your fears, generate lift and take command of life – join my weekly Stuck in the Clouds newsletter here.