I have been practicing awareness using several mindfulness tools (including meditation, yoga, and journaling) consistently for three years now and what I’ve learned along my journey is that awareness does not discriminate.
As I strengthen my capacity for awareness, I have realized that I become more aware of the good AND the bad. The pleasant AND the unpleasant. The wanted AND the unwanted. For example, if I’m doing a body scan, I will not only become aware of the parts of my body that are feeling relaxed and strong, but also of the parts that are feeling tense and weak.
Although many of the resources I’ve benefited from focus on strengthening awareness through various tools, techniques and processes, what I have found has been missing for me (and maybe you) is the understanding that with an increase in awareness, I need an increase in acceptance. When I am not able to accept what I have become aware of in the moment, I find myself feeling worse about my current reality.
For example, here is an observation that you may have experienced. Today, we are more aware of the world around us than ever before. Every act of terrorism, natural disaster, gun violence and so on. This is thanks to social media, smartphones and the attention economy that generates an almost infinite amount of content. A byproduct of this increased awareness may be a feeling that the world is becoming a dark, scary and deadly place. However this could not be further from the truth. The data tells us that there are fewer fatalities and fewer acts of violence than ever before. Our world is actually becoming safer. We may understand this at an academic level, yet our lived experience day to day makes us feel otherwise. We have not matched the increase in awareness we now have with an increase in acceptance.
Let me give you another example: dealing with a personal vice. I don’t have many vices in my life right now, however one that I am struggling with is pizza. It may sound trivial but it illustrates the point well. I spend a lot of time in New York, where truly amazing pizza is readily available, and I’m eating out often. This combination is a perfect storm where I find myself eating pizza three, to four and sometimes five times a week. Now the challenge is that I am aware of my consumption habits but have not yet accepted them. It is this disconnect between awareness and acceptance that can cause tension and anxiety. Now I know the way I feel about it will change, I will either choose to eat less pizza (unlikely) or choose to finally accept the reality of this very serious situation!
In business, there are many opportunities to practice acceptance alongside awareness. We use Slack heavily at Polar (so much so that no one sends anyone any emails, imagine having no internal emails). Everything is shared and we bias towards public channels. In a team of 30 people, we have 160 channels. Every partner we work has a channel, where we post meeting notes, automated reports and questions. Every product feature we build has a channel, where we collaborate, solve issues and support each other well. Every conversation I have with someone external is captured with a short post, so everyone knows what I know. All of this to say, we consciously have raised awareness for our team.
This practice of sharing everything has also taught me that awareness does not discriminate. We not only share good news, but also bad news. Believe it or not, sometimes there are issues with the product, or partners are upset or even choose to work with a competitor, or we lose a deal we’ve been pitching. And all of this is shared. Without our team’s ability to accept what we are consciously making them aware of, you can imagine how easy it would be for people to fixate only on the negative and start to needlessly worry or feel anxious. Transparency leads to trust and I trust my team to be able to accept what they become aware of, good or bad.
I have understood that acceptance and awareness need to go hand-in-hand. Another term used for acceptance is equanimity. Which is about choosing how to feel in the moment. When I become aware of something new, I can delegate (blame) some external force for how I feel. Or I can choose to accept that it will change (or the way I feel about it will change). Or I can choose to take ownership and responsibility for it, and lead the change from a place of acceptance, calm, peace and focus.