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How often do you stop to notice what you’re doing? Once a day? Once an hour? Are you always or never actually aware of what you’re doing?


Your brain is exposed through your senses to 11 million bits of information in every moment, and you can focus consciously on only around 7 bits. So obviously you are not very aware. I am not very aware. We are very selective in what we notice.

The limits to my awareness have been very relevant to me lately as I have been both busy and stressed. I am challenging myself with an entrepreneurial project, and it is putting me frequently quite outside my comfort zone. The more my mind is caught up with figuring out the puzzles of this challenge, the less I can see, and the more time I need for processing both the analytical and emotional aspects of the work.

Have you ever stopped to notice that when you are rushing through life you are missing what is actually happening?

I noticed the effects of this pressure on my decision-making process when I caught myself adding additional pressure unconsciously. I had used a standard assumption (A therefore B) which resulted in a very tight time line for my team and I. It was logical that I would have to work over the weekend to meet this schedule, and my team would have to drop everything to make it happen on time. Luckily I did insert some space for myself to reflect, I had a relaxing evening, a good sleep, and when I woke up in the morning I realized that A did not require B. A could be C instead and that would give us an extra week in the schedule.

What specifically allowed me to make that better decision? Definitely the space to reflect is one element, and by that space I don’t mean reading or watching TV. I mean the kind of mental space you experience when the mind can wander in a relaxed fashion: a bath, a walk without purpose, eating without talking or listening, staring at the moon.

Another element that allows me to make decisions that make my life easier, even under stress, is the firm belief that I can. It IS possible to be flourishing while working. We can be both successful and healthy. I am careful to surround myself with examples of people who do this so that it can seem normal to me, even living in a city like Hong Kong which abounds with examples of people who are out of touch with themselves.

When you take a break (at last) do you remember things? Sometimes very important things?

The busier I am, the more crucial it becomes to have regular breaks. Because my brain is taken up with so much information, if I expect to be effective, I need to process information before I can input more. And yet the flood of information is so enticing. It is our training to ‘be productive’, ‘always be learning’, ‘don’t miss anything’ that actually leads us to overwhelm ourselves with information and become increasingly ineffective: rushing in the wrong direction when we would be better off sitting still.

What do you need in order to make the smartest decisions? More information? Or more time to process what you already know?

Perspective is needed. Perspective comes from standing further away from your day-to-day thinking to get a different view of it. You don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t even know what you know! But when you pause and free the mind from the tyranny of trying to find answers, or trying to get things done, you can tap into a much more complete awareness. Perspective brings clarity.

Perspective is also gained through reflecting your thoughts with someone else. That person (perhaps a Coach) must have enough experience to relate to your situation while being open enough to allow your perspective to be heard and not simply compared or subjugated to their perspective. When you need perspective to work out an issue, being heard is very satisfying.

And if there’s no one available to hear you, reflecting on paper is also very effective, either by journalling or mind-mapping. It’s important to stay relaxed as you write, or draw. Your own self-judgment can easily act as another block. Perspective occurs when you let the thoughts out as they are, and then you can see them from outside your own head for a new perspective.

I don’t know what I am doing. Does it matter?

It’s not possible to know what we’re doing, in reality. It is too complicated. On the level of biology alone, we have no idea what our bodies are doing at any given time. The vast majority of our thinking is completely invisible to us.

And it’s also not possible to predict the future, although we imply that it is possible by the way we hesitate to make decisions, as if we could somehow know what will happen as a result of what we do.

But by paying attention more fully and more frequently to my present moment experience, I can make much more conscious (smarter) decisions and take more conscious (effective) actions. And paying attention to what I’m doing can be extremely satisfying. Present moment awareness, mindfulness, is the root of true happiness. What is life for anyway, if not for at least experiencing it in every moment?