Manila, 28 November 2018 — With choppers rushing executives to work and speakers blasting Christmas songs, how to find the awareness to work in peace?
Imagine that you are enjoying a peaceful morning jog on a deserted road, with sunshine, in the middle of nature.
My Monday morning looked very different.
It was 9:30 in Makati, the central business district of Metro Manila, and I was surrounded by noises coming from everywhere as I was sitting outside on a terrace to work on my research.
It seemed to be rush hour for the helicopters that were noisily delivering executives to their office towers, and a coffeeshop speaker was blasting Christmas songs of ‘good cheer’ to everyone who wanted—or did not want—to hear it.
How did all of that noise that fit into my post-corporate dream life of working when and where I wanted? How could I, or anyone, focus on something worthwhile to work on with so much noise going on?
The experience served to remind me of the almost continuous assault we face today from visual and aural intrusions and distractions. How precious it would be, and how scarce, to find a modicum of peace and quiet to focus on doing what’s important, and to do it with quality!
That’s what made me write about awareness in this post. Achieving quality awareness is one of my personal top values. Through the ages, people have been reminded by gurus to cultivate awareness.
Awareness: what it does
“He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened,” said Lao Tzu. And in the modern age, Stephen Covey reminded us that we “see the world, not as it is, but as we are–or as we are conditioned to see it.”
So awareness has to do with yourself and with others. And, I will add, about the situations in which you find yourself and in which you want to exercise leadership to bring about a positive change.
The basic question here is to get clear about what is really going on, in yourself, in others, and in the situation. How could you hope to make an effective contribution without being clear on that first!
That, in a nutshell, underlines the importance of awareness. You can see this visually in the diagram below, using the idea that the reality inside and around you continuously plays out in Three Worlds: your personal world, your social world, and your observed world.
So how did this model help me as I was intent to do my work on a terrace on Monday morning in Makati?
Three worlds to scan
Well, what mental models like the one below do is to help you gain a bigger picture view of any situation you are in. Or, in other words, they help you to double click on ‘the situation’ and see what’s going on. You do that by practicing to take perspectives. Leaders invariably work hard on mastering this skill.
As I double-clicked on the situation I was in, I realized that I felt annoyed by the noise. It was distracting me from what I wanted to accomplish. The helicopter noises came and went, yet the Christmas songs didn’t show any sign of stopping, of course. I was checking in first with my Personal World, my private emotions, thoughts, feelings, which other people could not see, yet were very real and important to me.
Then I decided to shift to a second-person perspective (my Social World). I was not the only one sitting on that terrace. I observed how other people were also enjoying coffee on the terrace. If they had come in a pair or group, it seemed that the noises were not bothering them as much.
As I was playing with perspectives, I got curious what brought these people there at the same time as me, and I moved on to a third-person perspective (my Observed World) of how all these people, including me, were finding something to do on that morning and were sharing a nice place on the terrace, with an agreeable temperature to sit outside. Luckily, there were no smokers, so the air was fine. And next door, the baristas were working hard to give us all a drink of our choice.
Over the past years, I have practiced double-clicking on my situations every day. With practice, you can ‘scan’ a situation very quickly. It takes me less than half a minute, or more if I allow myself to keep double-clicking for longer.
By double-clicking on the situation you’re in, what you are doing is to expand your awareness, to take multiple perspectives on what is going on, including in yourself. This will definitely make it possible to take a more informed decision on what to do next, to make a sensible contribution to a meeting or, in my case, to decide if I should stay there, put on ear phones, or move to a less noisy environment.
I learned how awareness allows you so see yourself as you are, and see what happens outside as what happens. With practice, you can expand your self-awareness and situational awareness without creating stories. When you are aware, you can choose your actions and own them.
As it happened, I decided to get up and do some useful errands in the same neighborhood, seeing that I would also gain the benefit of valuable exercise steps in doing so, before returning to my home office where, at least, the music is in my control while I am working!
Practicing awareness by double-clicking on different perspectives helped me to enjoy a wonderful Monday morning in which I gained new insights.
Expanding your personal, inter-personal, and situational awareness is a hugely important topic for developing your leadership. Using the Three Worlds model gives you a quick handle on getting started, using 1st-person, 2nd-person, and 3rd- person perspectives on the situation.
Why not start experimenting with this for yourself? I’m interested in your experience as you expand your awareness.