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On Becoming More Aware
In a legendary graduation address, later turned into the book This Is Water, David Foster Wallace offered this allegory: “There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?’”
We are often unaware of the essential ingredients in life that surround us and allow us to prosper. It is rare for people to reflect on the air they breathe, the tools they depend on, and the design that surrounds them. We take for granted so many of the things that sustain us.
The commitment to becoming more self-aware has taken a strong hold in all walks of life. The popularity of mindfulness and meditation attests to its importance. The question worth asking is how to achieve more awareness of those things we naturally take for granted.
Of the many techniques created by the masters of mindfulness, one stands out for its commonsense and power—the ability to slow down and do things deliberately. Calling out the minor and major actions required to do just about anything creates both a delay and an introspection about what is transpiring. Enhanced awareness follows.
Try this simple mindfulness strategy: Select any everyday task, from reading the messages on your phone to loading the dishwasher. Now slow down the task by saying out loud every movement, action, or thought it takes to complete the job.
Get really specific. Instead of saying, “I am moving my hand to pick up the phone,” describe what your fingers and eyes are doing, as well. Attempt to describe every step or action as completely as possible. Push yourself to slow down even more. Describe precisely how you are breathing and how your weight is distributed. Your description can’t be too detailed.
Step back and reflect on what just occurred. What taken-for-granted element did you expose or uncover? Rinse and repeat with another task. You’re now on your way to more awareness. Remind yourself that awareness is the preeminent agent for personal insight.