An Air Freshener and Self-awareness
I have this air freshener in my car because well… you know. When I first got it I literally couldn’t smell anything else in the car. Seriously, it was so incredibly overpowering that I considered throwing it away and getting a different one. You know how these things go though, over time I completely stopped smelling it and I just left it there not thinking much about it. Then Lauren and I had to go somewhere and as soon as she stepped in the car she noted just how strong the air freshener was. I had gone completely nose-deaf to it. I thought the air freshener was ready to be replaced, meanwhile anyone in the car with me was being overpowered by it. Oops. Here’s the thing though, we do this with our lives as well. We have attitudes and behaviors in our lives that we are completely unaware of but others are intensely affected by them. I say “we” because the truth is I’ve seen my own struggle with self-awareness through the adverse effects I’ve unintentionally had on others.
Fugitives of Self-Knowledge
This theme of self-awareness is widely accepted as a critical aspect of life. Just typing ‘self-awareness quotes’ into Goodreads yields over 1000 results. One of my friends and mentors includes self-awareness in his 4 key mindsets for leaders. Yet despite all of this most of us go through life without taking the time to consider our actions and behaviors. As one of my professors once said, “We are fugitives of self-knowledge.” Listen to what Paul says to Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16 ESV)” Paul’s use of the imperative indicates his eagerness to convey his message to Timothy. Paul is makes a very interesting and yet important claim about self-awareness. He is essentially saying that by developing a knowledge of self we are able to save not only ourselves but others as well. What does he mean by this? To answer that question let’s look at the effects of self-UNawareness.
Came in like a wrecking ball
When we aren’t aware of our selfish behaviors we end up hurting others and in many cases we end up playing the victim suggesting that we are the ones who have been hurt. Furthermore, if we don’t keep a close watch on our lives then we often become hypocrites where we say and preach one thing yet do another without even thinking about it. In fact, it has often been said that the thing we hate in others is the very thing we see in ourselves. So when we lack self-awareness we can easily fall into the trap of alienating others, playing the victim, or simply becoming hypocrites. It isn’t hard to see how this effects others’ perception of us and furthermore their perception of God.
Unfortunately, a lack of self-knowledge acts more like a wrecking ball in our lives than we think. It has the devastating power to destroy our relationships as we have seen, but it also has the power to keep us trapped in unhealthy patterns and lifestyles. Remember Paul said that self-awareness would save Timothy as well as his hearers. I hear all the time how busy people are and how they don’t have time for this or that. For a few this is legitimately the case, they are working several jobs just to put food on the table, but for the majority I suspect there is more time available than they realize. I know for me personally, I have the tendency to waste time on buzzfeed lists or games on my phone that promise to take only a few seconds or minutes and turn into much longer periods of time. Without awareness of these things we waste time on things that are genuinely unimportant and miss spending time on things that are critical to our lives. Imagine with me if we developed a profound self-awareness. If we could look at our actions and behaviors and truly see how we are acting, imagine how our lives would be different. Perhaps we would learn to love more deeply and become defensive less often. Maybe our relationships would begin to flourish and our withholding of forgiveness might diminish. We might even find time that we didn’t know we had and be able to pour it into individuals and family members that we care deeply about. I believe that self-awareness has the ability to lead to a sense of freedom in our own lives and provide healing to those who are in desperate need of it.
So how do we handle this? How do we develop a self-awareness that will enable us to live genuine, authentic, and attractive lives? Here are a few things that I would suggest.
- Keep a journal each day. Record in it your daily habits and any conversations that strike you as important especially arguments that you had. Spend some time thinking about how you may have come across in that conversation.
- Consider the spiritual practice of the Daily Examen. This is an ancient spiritual practice that was formalized by St. Ignatius of Loyola. ( Here is a great article explaining the Daily Examen in more detail)
- Ask others for honest feedback. This one will take time as most people have an aversion to offering feedback of this nature. Consider doing it anonymously through a third party like you would if you were doing a 360 leadership evaluation.
- Find a spiritual director. I can’t emphasize this one enough. My spiritual director has helped me to see things that I’m too close to see and has helped me grow in ways that I never could have before.
- Record how much time you spend doing certain activities. Even just monitoring the time you spend will help change your behavior.
Paul’s urging to keep a close watch on ourselves is vital to the Christian life. May we develop a profound self-awareness in order that we might save ourselves and those around us.