08/12/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Life Lessonss: The Power Of Awareness


Last week, I gave an overview of the Cycle of Improvement, touching briefly on each of the elements. Over the next few articles we will explore the Cycle in increasing depth, focusing on how to use each element to create major impact on the quality of your life.

Awareness just might be the most important step in the entire cycle. When I first started working with these concepts in the late 1960's, I found awareness to be the most significant key in transforming my entire life experience!

Let's start with an awareness exercise or experiment. Wherever you find yourself right now, whether in a chair at home, at your desk in your office or any other place, just give this little experiment a whirl.

We are going to ask you to focus on your body and what you notice or feel as we go through the exercise. It works best if you can sit someplace, but you can even doing it standing up, walking, or lying down.

It goes something like this: keep repeating to yourself, "Right now I'm aware of," "Right now I'm aware of," "Right now I'm aware of" in rapid fire succession, keeping the focus on your body. If you can, say what you notice out loud.

Please allow me to demonstrate. I am going to write everything thing I notice as I am as sitting here at my computer.

 Right now I'm aware of: crossing my feet
 Right now I'm aware of: my hair falling on my forehead
 Right now I'm aware of: moving my legs and feet out in front of me
 Right now I'm aware of: a little knot in the middle of my back
 Right now I'm aware of: stretching my back and sitting more upright
 Right now I'm aware of: feeling the warmth of the sun on my shoulders
 Right now I'm aware of: moving my feet back under my chair
 Right now I'm aware of: my "cheeks" resting on the chair
 Right now I'm aware of: my wrists resting on the computer
 Right now I'm aware of: my fingers hitting the keyboard

This exercise works best when you simply repeat "Right now I'm aware of" as fast as you can, filling in the blanks without hesitation or thinking - just observing and saying out loud what you notice.

Okay, your turn - take a moment and try it. I'll wait.

What did you notice? Were you surprised at how easy or how hard it is to do this little exercise? For people who are not particularly attuned to their body, this can be really challenging.

Some people can go through an entire day and never really notice much of anything about their body and how it feels. A great example is the person who gets so absorbed in working at their computer that they don't even notice how tight their neck, shoulders and back have become until they stand up.

Or how about the person who gets so involved in their project that hours go by and they suddenly notice that they haven't eaten all day. And now they have a slight (or severe) headache.

Why is observing what is going on with your body so important, you might be asking? Well, how about the fact that your body is constantly sending you little signals about what it needs in order to remain or become healthy? Little pains could be telling you that you need to stretch; or drink some water; or have something to eat. Big pains often start as little pains that get ignored on a consistent basis.

Learning to become more aware of your body and what it is experiencing can pay huge dividends over time. Perhaps even more significant is that expanding awareness may allow you to perceive more choices at those forks in the road we noted in an earlier post.

In the awareness work that I have been doing with groups of people for the past 30+ years, I often start an exercise by asking people to get into a comfortable position.

Go ahead and do that yourself - get into a comfortable position.

Here's the kicker - did you have to move? Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people have moved their body around when I simply ask them to get into a comfortable position. Now isn't that curious?

If you had to move to get comfortable, the question arises: why were you sitting uncomfortably in the first place? Maybe it isn't so much that you were sitting uncomfortably on purpose; rather, it may be that you were focused on something else and therefore unaware of how your body was feeling.

If you stretch this idea past the body, you may discover similarities in other aspects of your life as well. What signs are showing up in your life right now that indicate something needs more attention, greater focus or a different set of choices? Are their indications about a relationship that needs attention, something with your finances, or perhaps something at work?

For now, let me leave you with this paraphrased thought, taken from Fritz Perls and his book, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim. This is the key I mentioned earlier that has proven to be one of the single most important keys I have yet discovered: simple awareness can be curative.

What if the only thing you needed to make major improvement in your life were expanded awareness? The first step is simply becoming more aware of what is already present.

In future posts, we will look more closely at awareness, how you expand your awareness, how awareness gives you choices, and how the choices you make either produce more of what you don't really want or lead you to a truly fulfilling life.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my new book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

You can buy Workarounds That Work here.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)