I have a friend who has a bumper sticker that somebody made for him that says “Awareness is a bitch”. They made it for him after he expressed how frustrating personal growth can be. And I can totally relate to that. I have experienced that feeling personally.
My belief is that I’m never going to be done. I’m always going to be learning and growing. I’m never going to be done. And that isn’t depressing or overwhelming. It’s exciting. Sometimes it’s tiring, but it’s mostly exciting.
Ongoing growth like that requires self-awareness. Awareness of patterns mostly. The patterns of stimuli and reaction. Sometimes those patterns are beneficial. Often they are because I’m still alive, right? So they’ve been working for me so far. And at the same time, that doesn’t mean I want to stay where I am. And this is when becoming aware of the patterns that might not be so helpful can be frustrating.
Because once you truly become aware of something, you can’t become unaware of it. You’ve done the work to become aware of the pattern (yes!) but you haven’t broken the pattern yet so when it keeps showing up you keep feeling frustrated (fuuuuuuck!). Sometimes you want to be able to forget what you’ve noticed to avoid that frustrated feeling. But you can’t. You can’t undo awareness. You can numb it. You can avoid it. But you can’t truly unknow it.
I have seen my clients experience this frustration as well. I totally understand it not only becuase I’m doing my own work on this and have experienced it myself, but because I know they wouldn’t be hiring a coach like me if they didn’t also want to grow and this is just part of the growth process.
But it seems like people think that awareness IS the process. As if we just become aware and then we stop doing the stuff that doesn’t serve us, right?
Nope. Don’t I wish.
Don’t get me wrong, awareness does lead to growth but it’s just the beginning.
But let me digress for a moment so you can understand how I came to believe this.
Besides therapy, self-help books, coaching, classes, etc, a lot fo people can gain a lot of awareness through personality assessments. They can be a kind of jump start to self awareness.
Personality assessments can be really helpful in fostering awareness.
There are behavioral assessments out there, like the DISC. While they can provide some awareness, they are primarily used and introduced to people in the context of hiring and job placement. They are meant to identify “predictable actions and personality traits within human behavior“.
And then there are personality assessments. These assessments are more focused on fostering self-awareness. They are intended to help you understand your core personality and how you are wired regardless of circumstances.
My two personal favorite personality assessments are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is an assessment that helps you look at your hard-wired preferences across four dichotomies. Here’s how the Myers & Briggs foundations describes these dichotomies:
- Favorite world: do you prefer to focus on the outer world OR on your own inner world?
- Information: do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in OR do you prefer to interpret and add meaning?
- Decisions: when making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency OR first look at the people and special circumstances?
- Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided OR do you prefer to stay open to new information and options?
This can be really useful information to help you navigate life, navigate relationships with others, et cetera. It can be like a fast forward button on fostering awareness in yourself as well as appreciating the differences in other people. This is why a Myers-Briggs discovery session is the first session I have with my new monthly coaching clients.
There’s something interesting that happens when I do MBTI discovery sessions. Once we zero in on someone’s MBTI personality type, we go through and look at the description for that type. And I’m always really excited for this part because I know that we now have just pressed the fast forward button on fostering their self-awareness. We have something they can look at, respond to and refine.
The description starts with a basic description and then goes into a section called “You at your best”. And a lot of the time people respond to the information with an almost emabarrased “Yup, that sounds like me.” It doesn’t matter how I approach the content. Whether they were consciously aware of what I’m sharing with them, the initial response is sometimes just “Yup. Sounds like me.”
I’m always blown away by this because I think each description of each type sounds so amazing and sometimes people respond in such a resigned kind of way.
And then I remind myself that I responded the same way, when I first did some of this work myself. I was like, “Oh, yeah, that sounds like me.” Sigh. I downplayed the positive and only saw the drawbacks of my personality type. It was really frustrating.
It took time for me to realize that I needed to not just jump into that zone of being frustrated by aspects of my type, I also want to celebrate some of it too. And even for the parts that frustrated me, I needed to grow some acceptance of myself.
When I started my career as a coach, I was excited about sharing this awareness stuff with clients. But over time I realized that the work I really was doing with them was around fostering acceptance. I wasn’t just helping them become more aware of who they are and what some of their hard-wiring is, I was also helping them to accept what we uncovered without judgement.
For all of my love of the MBTI, it took learning about the Enneagram to really lock into the belief that awareness is not enough.
The Enneagram is a personality system that describes nine fundamentally different ways of “thinking, feeling, and acting that arises from a deepr inner motivation or worldview“. Each of us developed one of the 9 patterns to protect a specific aspect of our self that felt threatened as our own personality was developing.
Sometimes people feel like personality assessments are about putting people in boxes. What I like about the Enneagram is that it’s not about putting you in a box, but, instead, describing the box that you’re in so that you can get out of it.
Anyway, my growth process led me to the Enneagram and I did some study under Dr. David Daniels. He is one of the co-founders of Enneagram in the Narrative Tradition. He also co-developed a model called the Universal Growth Process, also known as the 5As.
It was through this work that I understood why I knew awareness wasn’t enough. What his model shows us is that awareness is actually just the first step.
That image I shared earlier isn’t wrong, it’s just not complete. Awareness leads to growth, but there are other As that you need to really grow.
Based on the UGP model, Awareness if the first step. Then you have Acceptance, Appreciation, Action and Adherence. Let me share a little bit about the 5As model, or the Universal Growth Process model more in Dr. David’s terms, okay? You can learn more here. In the meantime, here’s the overview:
- Awareness – Having a practice to increase our receptivity and grounded presence.
- Acceptance – Opening our hearts in non-judgment to accept whatever arises in the moment. This includes befriending our reactivity and working with the critical mind or superego.
- Appreciation – Requires realizing that the positives in our lives often get neglected and require our re-experiencing them in order to help us use appreciation as a great resource. Appreciation is exactly that and more; it’s an appreciation for “what” is revealing itself, in the moment, in another, and/or within ourselves.
- Action – Noticing → pausing → collecting energy → containing not suppressing. Mentoring with the “inner coach” into conscious conduct. Conscious conduct includes two interrelated forms: releasing into acceptance and taking action.
- Adherence – Committing to regular practice and the process itself.
The model was developed as something you use moment-to-moment in your life. Being Aware of something that triggers you. Accepting what arises within you without judging yourself for it. Appreciating the patterns that were created to protect you. Containing the reaction so that you can channel your energy toward conscious Action. And sticking to, or Adhering to the model.
The model is a super helpful model to be implementing in your day-to-day, moment-to-moment life, and I also realize that it works at a higher level, too. When you gain awareness about yourself at a broader level, if you can accept what you find there, find appreciation for your patterns and be intentional about the actions you take, you can go anywhere you want to go.
My ideal clients are already on the self-awareness journey, they just aren’t always happy with what they find. They think they want a deeper level of awareness, but what they really need is acceptance. And that’s what I help people do, is gain a level of self acceptance that’s really empowering. And then the appreciation comes, and then we identify the more conscious purposeful action they can take in the world, so that they can show up in the ways that they want to. And that is what leads to growth.
Do you understand now why sometimes awareness is a bitch? Why it’s not enough? If you are feeling frustrated by your awareness journey, hopefull you now realize that you gotta get to acceptance. You have to work through the self-judgment that comes up. And when you do that, amazing things can happen.
Let me give you a super quick example. In Myers-Briggs lingo, I’m an ENFJ (I prefer Extroversion, iNutition, Feeling and Judging). While I’m a mediator and harmonizer, I’m also highly structured. I like to have decisions made, I like to come to conclustions and move on, I like to have a schedule, I like all my little systems.
And throughout my life, through a number of different people and experiences, I didn’t always feel valued for that structured part of me. In fact I felt like it was kind of a bad thing, like I was uptight. I’d get teased about how structured and organized I can be. This was one of those traits in the “you at your best” section of my ENFJ description that was listed as a positive and that I saw as a negative. I felt like it was a trait that I should maybe be less of. It was usually valued in me in professional situations, but in my personal life and in important relationships, not so much.
I’ve always done this kind of work in all the careers I’ve had. With my coaching clients, I have always helped them through a process to understand themselves and take action in a way that’s sequenced and structured so that they can keep it up and maintain it.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed more personal and professional relationships with people who really appreciate my preference for organization and structure. They like that I can see the next step and also get all the next steps lined up after that.
In aligning with people who valued traits so inherent and hardwired in me, I came to accept and appreciate these parts of me as well. Which, of course, led to conscious action, different choices and a different way of showing up.
And that’s why I have added a whole new dimension to my coaching work over the past couple of years. Especially with my Get Your Shit Together (GYST) program, where I help people develop their own work+life productivty system. Where productivity means moving the things forward that you want to move forward. Not busyness, productivity. And I love what I’m doing even more than I ever have before.
And it was because I went beyond awareness and learned to accept and appreciate the part of me that is structured, likes to have systems in place, likes to sequence and categorize and organize. I really fully accepted that part of me, and then took conscious action around moving that part of me forward in a way that felt good, and in a way that was valuable to other people.
Whether you come to your own awareness through coaching, self-help books, therapy, or assessments, when you hit the frustration point, remember to push forward. Remember the 5 As. Keep going until you can reach the empowering experience of acceptance and appreciation. Take conscious, puerposeful action. Because that is where the growth is. In the actions you take and the awareness that comes from those actions.
What is your experience with self-awareness? How has it led to growth for you?