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20 Powerful Self-Awareness Questions

I usually don’t feel drawn to doing “list posts.”  Some of this is because of my unease about doing something “everyone else” seems to be doing.

So, as a personal growth exercise, I’m going to jump right in and do a list post!  I also think this is a pretty cool and valuable list of questions for building awareness about how we limit ourselves with our ways of thinking and being.

Without further ado, here are some questions I’ve gained a lot from asking myself.  Some of them may be uncomfortable to think about, but I think that kind of discomfort is usually a sign of growth:

1.  What quality in other people irritates you most? (For example, is it ambition, shyness, laziness, or something else?)  How do you have this quality in the way you live your own life?

2.  What quality in other people do you envy the most? How do you already have this quality in the way you live your own life?

3.  What emotion do you least want to feel? Is it fear, anger, sadness, or something else?  What do you do in your life to avoid feeling it?

4.  What do you most want people to think about you? What do you do in your life to make sure others think that?  What is that costing you?

5.  What do you least want people to think about you? What do you do in your life to make sure others don’t think that?  What is that costing you?

6.  What have you done that you least want people to know about? What do you do in your life to make sure no one finds out about what you did?

7.  What have you done that you most want people to know about? How do you go out of your way to make sure people know you did it?

8.  If you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the only reason you’re alive is to enjoy every moment, would you change the way you live?  How?

9.  If you knew that, no matter what you did or didn’t do, you would love and respect yourself, how would you live your life?

10.  What would you create if you knew no one would ever see it? In other words, if you were 100% certain that your work would never make you famous or rich, and the only thing you’d ever get out of it was personal satisfaction, what would you choose to do?

11.  Here’s another interesting way to put Question # 10:  How would you live if you knew that no one would ever approve of you? If you knew that nobody would ever be happy with the way you live, and that you might as well do whatever fulfills you, what would you do?

12.  How are you trying to please your parents with the way you live? What is that costing you?

13.  If you knew that you were 100% forgiven for everything you think you’ve done wrong, how would that change the way you live?

14.  If you cried in front of a stranger, how would they react? (Take the first answer that comes to mind.)

15.  If you got angry at a stranger, how would they react? (Same rule as Question # 14.)

16.  In what situations do you try to look happy when you really aren’t?

17.  In what situations do you hold back from speaking the truth to avoid hurting someone’s feelings?

18.  If you’re a man, how do you think a man is supposed to act? How do you make an effort to act that way?

19.  If you’re a woman, how do you think a woman is supposed to act? How do you make an effort to act that way?

20.  How is the “public you” different from the “private you”?

Whew!  And we’re done.  It was an intense experience for me writing and thinking about those questions — I’m curious what it was like for you to read them.  You don’t have to share your answers to the specific questions, but if you want to that’s great too.  Thanks!

In other news: I did an interview with Evita Ochel of on meditation, how to do it and the benefits it can bring.  I hope you enjoy it.

Escaping The “Action Distraction” Trap


We’ve all heard about “analysis paralysis”—being unable to make a decision because you’re bogged down in weighing all the possible factors.  But there’s another mental trap we tend to fall into that doesn’t get as much attention, which I call “action distraction.”

We fall into this trap when we stay constantly active and busy to distract ourselves from what we’re feeling inside.  The way we do this is unique to each person.  Maybe, for example, we work seven days a week so we don’t need to experience the loneliness of our personal lives.  Perhaps we put loud music on in the background all the time to shut out our sadness.  Maybe we constantly socialize to avoid the fear we feel when we’re by ourselves.

How I Saw This In Myself

My own flavor of “action distraction,” when I was a lawyer, involved working obsessively to take my mind off the “big picture”—the overall impact I wanted to make in the world.  In the rare moments when I’d stop to ask myself “why am I doing this job?”, I wouldn’t be able to come up with a satisfying answer, and so I worked nonstop to avoid that empty, directionless feeling.

With constant activity, I kept myself from experiencing that sense of emptiness for a long time.  This approach got me plenty of praise from others—my superiors loved my work, and others in my life saw me as diligent and ambitious.  Unfortunately, all the extra work it took to avoid the big picture began to tire me out—more and more, I started having to painfully drag myself out of bed in the morning to go into the office.

When I finally resolved to sit quietly and be with how I really felt about my work, it definitely wasn’t easy.  I felt practically crushed by the weight of my unfulfilled wants and needs.  But it was also an intensely liberating experience–it helped me let go of a lot of the draining busy-work I was filling my time with, and set out on a path toward fully giving my gifts to the world.

Discerning Your Distractions

So, I think it’s helpful to let go of the activity and busy-ness we use simply to take our minds off what’s going on inside us.  But this is easier said than done.  In our culture, we’re conditioned from an early age to stay in constant motion.  When we were kids, our parents and teachers didn’t usually reward us for thinking about how to do our homework, or resting to regain our energy—if they checked on us and didn’t see us reading or writing, they suspected we were slacking off.

And, of course, we do some activities because they genuinely fulfill us.  Action, in other words, isn’t always a distraction.  I don’t coach clients, for instance, to avoid feeling lonely—I do it because it deeply nourishes me.  Because of this, several people at talks I’ve given have asked me:  how do I tell the things I’m doing to distract myself apart from the things I really enjoy?

Stop and Listen to Yourself

I’ve found that a good technique for drawing this distinction is to pause briefly in what you’re doing and watch what you feel.  Whether you’re working, partying, playing golf, or something else, stop for a moment, and notice the sensations coming up in your body when you pause.

Several people I’ve recommended this to have found their bodies tensing up or aching, as if they were withdrawing from some drug, and found themselves desperately wanting to go back to what they were doing.  If this happens to you, ask yourself whether you genuinely enjoy what you’re doing, or are just using it to escape from some experience you’d rather not be having.

As I and others have found, letting go of the ways you distract yourself from what you’re feeling can free up so much energy to pursue what you really want in life.

Link Love: Ian Peatey, who leads workshops in Nonviolent Communication, writes a heartfelt, thought-provoking blog that I recommend checking out.

Guest Article At The Change Blog: “What To Do When Meditation Gets ‘Hard’”

I’ve just published a new piece over at The Change Blog called “What To Do When Meditation Gets ‘Hard’”.  The main idea of the article is that, when meditating feels difficult, that’s actually when it’s helping you become aware of and root out the patterns of thinking and behaving that hold you back.  I hope you enjoy it!

How To Want Less Stuff

In these economic times, cutting spending on creature comforts, and getting rid of unnecessary stuff, have become high priorities for many of us.  With this in mind, many of us have been reading up on techniques for writing eBay listings, holding garage sales, decluttering our living spaces, and so on.

While these techniques are useful, few of them address the real reason we find ourselves looking to unload our stuff:  our gnawing hunger for possessions.  We bought all these things—whether they’re plasma TVs, lettuce dryers, robot vacuum cleaners, or something else—because of this craving, and unless we do something to dissolve our stuff-hunger we may have trouble staying frugal.

In this post, I’ll offer a simple three-step process for getting to the root cause of, and overcoming, our stuff addiction.  My goal is not just to help people want less stuff, but also to show how spiritual practices like meditation and self-awareness can have important practical uses in our lives.

Step 1:  Get Familiar With Your Hunger

The next time you feel a burning desire to buy something, pause for a few moments and notice how that desire manifests in your mind and body.

In other words, ask yourself questions like these:  What do you find yourself thinking when you’ve “got to have” that car, sofa, pair of jeans, or whatever it is you normally crave?  Are you dreaming about how others will compliment you on your new chair, how people will admire the way you look in those pants, or something else?

What sensations come up in your body—is there an ache, tension, heat, or some other discomfort?  Perhaps the desire feels like a gaping hole inside that you need to fill with some new possession.  If so, where is the hole?  How big is it?

As you start getting familiar with how you experience your craving, you may notice it beginning to feel more comfortable and manageable.  The more deeply you understand your hunger for stuff, I think you’ll find, the less power it will have over you.  As Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj said, “you cannot transcend what you do not know.  To go beyond yourself, you must know yourself.”

Step 2:  Burn In The Urge

Once you’ve got some idea of the contours of your craving, the next step is to spend a little while simply allowing that desire to be.  Don’t buy the item or turn your attention to anything else—stay where you are, and fully experience your need for the thing.  No matter how intense or painful that need seems, keep breathing, relax your body, and allow the craving to persist until it passes away.

I think you’ll discover that allowing your desire to be, without doing anything about it, can’t hurt you.  And when you let yourself fully experience that yearning, it actually passes away quickly—much like any other thought or feeling.

In the past, to avoid the discomfort of that unmet need, you may have been in the habit of immediately reaching for your credit card.  But when you understand that you’re strong enough to experience your stuff-hunger without doing anything about it, you’ll find yourself giving into that urge less and less often.

Step 3: Notice That The Hunger Is Insatiable

Another useful technique is to reflect on your life, and recall moments when you’ve let your urge to acquire stuff pull your strings.  Each time, you may have expected the things you bought to make you happier, or fill a hole within you.  And perhaps you got a short-term high from your purchase.  But did you get any lasting fulfillment out of it?

If you take an honest look at all your past acquisitions, I think you’ll find that the answer is no.  While getting more stuff may have temporarily “taken the edge off,” in the end it only saddled you with more things to maintain and eventually sell or give away.

I’m reminded of this every time I pass by my neighbors’ yard.  For what seems like years, they’ve been landscaping and remodeling their home, and at least three construction vehicles have been on their property at any given time.  You’d think my neighbors would eventually be pleased with the results, but each time I talk to them all I hear about is their frustration with their gardener or architect.

If you repeat the simple process I’ve described each time you find yourself consumed by the urge to buy something, I think you’ll quickly begin to see some changes.  You’ll feel more in control of your stuff craving, and become able to simply let it flow through you and pass away.