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Published on July 12, 2018

Being Self Aware Is the Key to Success: How to Boost Self Awareness

Being Self Aware Is the Key to Success: How to Boost Self Awareness

My intent for this discussion is to build on an article I published called How to Upgrade Your Critical Thinking Skills for a Sharper Mind. The focus here will be on self-awareness, critical thinking and a new idea I am developing called “Swarming the Brain”.

I will use methods and frameworks from Systems Thinking V2.0, the Red Team Handbook from the Center for Applied Creative and Critical Thinking, and Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop. I will then demonstrate tools and techniques from these frameworks to show how you can improve your critical thinking abilities, as well as self-awareness.

4 Simple rules for self-awareness

Similar to how I introduced How to Upgrade Your Critical Thinking Skills for a Sharper Mind, here I will introduce another version of it leading to greater self-awareness. In this version, there are four simple rules for self-awareness. These simple rules will move us from information to understanding.

Simple rules moving us from information to understanding:

  1. Observe. Sense information (think of nodes within a network).
  2. Orient. This is the process of making sense of the information (think of the process of connecting nodes within a network).
  3. Decide. Thinking is introduced to connect the nodes (the connection of nodes within a network is the creation of knowledge).
  4. Act. When we connect knowledge we attain understanding or wisdom (think of the emergence of a network or the edges of a network).

    For each simple rule, I will provide both a question and a set of tools or frameworks to use.

    The question should trigger the rule, where the tool or framework will lead to an emerging network. I use simple questions with simple rules because there is power in simple.

    Sometimes the best way to get at the heart of the matter (especially in a complex world) is to ask a simple question:

    Rule #1 — Observe: The Unexamined Life

    Observe (Awareness or Awakening)

    • Question: What lens do I see reality through?
    • Tool(s): Systems Thinking V2.0 (DSRP) and Who Am I?

    The process of improving self-awareness through introspection takes discipline to look inward to examine our own thoughts, feelings and motives.[1] Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection, as well as the ability to be more enabled as a critical thinker and more aware of your own biases. It is through this understanding of the individual that an expanded world view opens.

    By reflecting on our world view, we are essentially trying to understand our mental models. The Cabrera’s inform us,

    “Mental models shape our understanding of everything around us. The goal of systems thinking is the continuous improvement and refinement of our mental models such that they more closely reflect the real world. The closer the mental model to reality, the more useful it is to us.”

    The Cabrera’s discovered DSRP in order to interrogate our mental models. They remind us that our understanding of reality is just an approximation. Following the advice of the Cabrera’s, I used a combination of DSRP and a Red Team exercise to understand my own mental model.

    One of the first techniques we learn in Red Team training (instructed by the UFMCS Center for Applied Critical Thinking) is an exercise called Who Am I? This exercise requires reflection and introspection of your personal narratives and dynamics, culture, religion, education, and critical watershed moments that shape your worldview and values. Let’s briefly examine the method for this exercise.

    • Step 1. You must first recall seminal life changing events and moments that shape who you are. To do this you must conduct a disciplined self-reflection study of your life.
    • Step 2. Share your Who Am I? in a group setting or with another individual. The people or person listening should not speak or interrupt you in any way. So find someone who is good at active listening and explain to them specifically what you need prior to beginning the exercise.

    This is also a great team building exercise. You will find that you truly get to know each other on a deep level by simply conducting this exercise.

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    With that said, let’s a couple powerful tools offered by the Cabrera’s in Systems Thinking v2.0: Thinkquiry and Plectica.

    Thinkquiry

    Thinkquiry is the term the Cabrera’s use for thinking differently about how we ask questions from a systems thinking approach. What’s different about Thinkquiry is the underlying logic of DSRP which is multivalent. Traditional question logic is born of Socratic Logic (which is bivalent logic) and typically employs such rubrics as the 5Ws (Who, What, Where, When, Why).

    DSRP Logic expands on this bivalent Logic which means that these kinds of questions can still be asked, but we are encouraged to penetrate deeper into our topic and ask deeper questions. [2] The following illustrates some of these questions:

      Plectica

      It is a visual systems mapping software based on Systems Thinking v2.0. I personally use this free software daily to visualize, analyze and synthesize concepts to gain a greater understanding of ideas or concepts in their entirety. The image below represents the creativity this system offers us as I used it to create my swarming idea.

        I also recommend watching the following video for a deeper understanding of Systems Thinking V2.0 — DSRP:

        By thinking meta-cognitively (thinking about thinking) we are able reshape connections in our brain and reshape our mental models. You actually reshaped connections in your brain by simply watching the Systems Thinking v2.0 video.

        Rule #2 — Orient: Hang a question mark on things

        Rule #2: Orient

        • Question: What would have to exist for something to be true? Or why must something be true?
        • Tool(s): Simple Rules and the String of Pearls (Think IF-AND-THEN)

        In Flock Not Clock, the Cabrera’s provide an example of using simple rules leading to emergent behavior in an organization. This is a powerful technique and is the foundation for this entire article (as this article is essentially simple rule for an emergent behavior). Let’s see how this works.

        Step 1: Identify your future state

        Step 2: Identify simple rules

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        • Rule #1: Observe
        • Rule #2: Orient
        • Rule #3: Decide
        • Rule #4: Act

        Step 3: Emergent behavior (What can we actually see)

        We learn to observe the real world via a new mental model, orient to reality, make good decisions, and most importantly… to act (while receiving and reflecting on continuous feedback).

        The String of Pearls technique can be found in the Red Team Handbook. It is a way to ensure teams consider unintended consequences. It is a tool to help prevent “wishing” or “assuming away the problem” and to identify weaknesses in thinking or a plan.

        Moreover, similar to the domains within Bloom’s Taxonomy, this technique uses domains. Bloom’s Taxonomy provides three domains: cognitive domain (reflects knowledge); affective domain (reflects emotion); physical domain (reflects the body). Let’s further examine these three domains:

        • The Cognitive Domain: Reflects knowledge — the mind completes levels of understanding of a concept; building to the next higher level of understanding. To me, this is like visualizing the Rubik’s Cube as a brain.
          • The Affective Domain: Reflects emotion — our attitude and awareness. We feel levels of emotion about recognizing and synthesizing information.
          • The Physical Domain. Reflects the body — we connect mind (Cognitive Domain) to body events in a way that generates muscle memory for an action.

          Events (also known as actions) are called 1st order effects and occur in the Physical Domain. 2nd order effects represent how we feel about the event (Affective Domain). 3rd order effects represent thoughts about the event (Cognitive Domain).

          Furthermore, cascading effects follow a chain of actual causality (If-Then) as they occur in the Physical Domain — where one event precipitates the next. [3] Events subsequent to 2nd and 3rd order effects which precede them are unintended consequences of the first event. However, they are not caused by the original event. By identifying unintended consequences, we can minimize the likelihood of overlooking something.

          The following three questions are key to the String of Pearls technique:

          1. Will your plan or actions produce a cascade of other events? If so, what could they be?
          2. What message or information is being conveyed by the plan or action and to whom is it being conveyed?
          3. How will the message be interpreted by others?

          Rule #3 — Decide: Crisis hunters

          Rule #3: Decide

          • Question: Where are the pattern of bullet holes NOT located?
          • Tool(s): Scout Wheel

          Nassim Taleb writes in Fooled by Randomness,

          “In the markets, there is a category of traders who have inverse rare events, for whom volatility is often a bearer of good news. These traders lose money frequently, but in small amounts, and make money rarely, but in large amounts. I call them crisis hunters. I am happy to be one of them.”

          Taleb goes on to inform us of an asymmetry in knowledge. In his discussion on why statisticians don’t detect rare events, he provides the following example,

          “Common statistical method is based on the steady augmentation of the confidence level, in nonlinear proportion to the number of observations. That is, for an n times increase in the sample size, we increase our knowledge by the square root of n. Suppose I am drawing from an urn containing red and black balls. My confidence level about the relative proportion of red and black balls, after 20 drawings is not twice the one I have after 10 drawings; it is merely multiplied by the square root of 2 (that is, 1.41).”

          Taleb continue with the following remarks,

          “Where statistics becomes complicated, and fails us, is when we have distributions that are not symmetric, like the urn above. If there is a very small probability of finding a red ball in an urn dominated by black ones, then our knowledge about the absence of red balls will increase very slowly — more slowly than at the expected square root of n rate.”

          Here is a key point in his discussion,

          “On the other hand our knowledge of the presence of red balls will dramatically improve once one of them is found. This asymmetry of knowledge is not trivial.”

          What does this mean?

          What if red balls were randomly distributed as well? As Taleb informs us that we can never get a true composition of the urn. He provides an example of an urn with a hollow bottom, and as you are sampling from it, a mischievous child (without you knowing about it) is adding balls of one color or another.

          Taleb remarks,

          “My inference thus becomes insignificant. I may infer that the red balls represent 50% of the urn while the mischievous child, hearing me, would swiftly replace all the red balls with black ones. This makes much of our knowledge derived through statistics quite shaky.”

          So, what’s the point?

          Taleb points out that we take past history as a single homogeneous sample believing we have significantly increased our knowledge of the future by observing the sample of the past.

          Taleb asks two questions at the end of his example:

          1. What if vicious children were changing the composition of the urn
          2. In other words, what if things have changed?

          The point of this discussion is that things do in fact change. As self-aware critical thinkers, we should not be worried about increasing our knowledge about the absence of red balls… we should seek to improve our knowledge of the presence of red balls. Thus, we should never forget that things will change.

          This brings me back to my earlier discussion on changing how we phrase a question. A simple change in how we phrase a question allows us to completely change our perspective and potentially bring about a paradigm shift. The change here is the following:

          Change “absence” of red balls to “presence” of red balls. Thus, you seek to become a crisis hunter — an asymmetry in knowledge.

          For those of you who are a fan of Sherlock Holmes and have read How to Upgrade Your Critical Thinking Skills for a Sharper Mind, go back and read my section titled SDWFAP.

          • Scouting (S): Think like a Scout — the drive to see what’s really there.
          • Dog (D): Find the Dog who isn’t barking.
          • Was (W): What would have to exist for something to be true?
          • Frightened (F): What’s not right in Front of us?
          • At (A): Ask what evidence is not being seen, but would be expected for hypothesis to be true.
          • Patterns (P): Where are the Pattern (or location) of bullet holes NOT located?

          Moreover, we can visualize using SDWFAP to swarm our brain. Using simple rules similar to how Artificial Intelligence (AI) would using swarming tactics: Sense — Decide — Act. Let’s see how we could “Swarm the Self-Aware & Critical Thinking Brain”:

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            Rule #4 — Act: Success = Sensors + Feedback

            Rule #4: Act

            • Question: Where is the dog who isn’t barking?
            • Tool(s): Swarming the Brain Tactics

            If we change our behavior we change our brain. “Swarming the Brain” is priming the brain to learn and we can do this through the development of sensors (or triggers), exercise, nutrition, reading and learning, the development of a morning routine, and receiving (and reflecting on) continuous positive feedback. We must also identify key indicators of change. These allow us the ability to assess change and the ability to place key sensors in the form of Indicators (or Expected Change).

            Moreover, the first rule is the most crucial — Observe. Let’s examine this from a parent-child relationship. If the parent is not aware then the child will not be aware. This is why something must serve as the sensor or trigger to bring about awareness.

            This reminds me of how I use my favorite iOS application — WikiLinks Smart Wikipedia Reader. This app mimics the way I think as it maps and connects concepts and narratives.

            For example, if we are only aware of the term ADHD as a diagnosis of a Disorder, then we will not be aware of any additional knowledge. But if we are aware of additional knowledge, and aware to the fact that ADHD is not a Disorder, then we start to see more links, then more links, then a paradigm shift takes place.

            Here, a parent must first shift their perspective from,

            “If my child is diagnosed with ADHD — And it’s a Disorder — Then my child will receive Negative Feedback.” to “If my child is diagnosed with ADHD — And it’s a Superpower — Then my child will receive Positive Feedback.”

            Once the shift takes place, they should establish Indicators (Expected Change) and set the conditions so that the swarm can proceed.

            The following are what I call Swarming the Brain Tactics:

            • Exercise and Nutrition: Dr. John Ratey wrote about one of my favorite topics — Neurogenesis in one of my favorite books Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. He found that, as we age, our brain is still forming new brain cells and can change its structure and function.
            • Reading and Learning: Through reading and learning, we can reshape our brain as it brings in new challenges and keeps the child cognitively active.
            • Morning Routine: Establishing a morning routine allows a child (and you!) the ability to wake up before anyone else, kick start your metabolism, and provides you time to read and exercise (I do them together by listening to audio-books).

            Finally, we all have the ability to improve our self-awareness. If we follow the simple rules outlined in this discussion, we have the chance to improve and become better (more self-aware) critical thinkers. Thus, we have a chance to bring about an intelligent emergent behavior.

            “People often do not realize that they have a chance, so they miss it.” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb

            To learn more about these methods/frameworks, I recommend you read the following:

            1. Swarming the Brain: The ADHD OODA Loop. I discuss this topic in greater detail.
            2. How to Upgrade Your Critical Thinking Skills for a Sharper Mind. I discuss each framework in this article.
            3. Systems Thinking v2.0. Dr. Derek and Laura Cabrera discuss simple rules of systems thinking — Distinctions-Systems-Relationships-Perspectives (DSRP) in two books I highly recommend: Systems Thinking Made Simple and Flock Not Clock. I also recommend using Plectica — their free visual systems mapping software based on Systems Thinking V2.0. Nearly every image I use in this article was created using Plectica.
            4. The University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies (UFMCS) Center for Applied Creative and Critical Thinking. I highly recommend reading the free Red Team Handbook published by the UFMCS.
            1. Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop. Frans P.B. Osinga provides the most in-depth description and understanding of the OODA Loop in Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd. I also highly recommend reading The Tao of Boyd: How to Master the OODA Loop.

            Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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            Reference

            More by this author

            Dr. Jamie Schwandt

            Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

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            Last Updated on March 12, 2019

            Feeling Stuck in Life? How to Never Get Stuck Again

            Feeling Stuck in Life? How to Never Get Stuck Again

            The statistics are dismal. A recent study has found that 69% of people feel trapped in the same old routine, and only 3 out of 10 people are happy with their lives.[1] People are feeling stuck.

            Some are feeling stuck in their careers, feeling like they’re too far along one path to make a change. Some are feeling stuck in their personal lives. The toll of the daily grind sucks most of their time and energy. So their relationships, self-care, and personal goals get lost in the shuffle of the treadmill existence.

            When people come across these challenges of feeling stuck, the feeling sometimes doesn’t go away. It often intensifies as time goes on. As the stuck feeling intensifies, some people choose to settle. Subconsciously, without even realizing it, they end up pushing their dreams and goals further and further down.

            Others, if the feeling of being stuck intensifies to an unbearable point, choose to make changes. They may choose to pivot in their careers, even after years at a successful job. They may end up making big changes in their relationships, or start putting their fitness at a higher priority. They may make drastic changes to finally feel free. These changes can be incredibly difficult to make, especially if a person has lived many years in a certain lifestyle.

            Feeling stuck is NOT fun. I’ve been there. I get it.

            Why Are You Feeling Stuck?

            People feel stuck once in a while. There are many causes of feeling stuck. Many people work toward goals that don’t actually align with who they are at the core or what they truly desire. I call these “False Objectives”.

            Living a life of False Objectives can cause people to feel very stuck and frustrated. People can build lives that are very “successful” according to society; but if you’ve built your life based on False Objectives, you’re not going to feel fulfilled. You’ll end up feeling stuck.

            Another cause of feeling stuck is not knowing who you are. If you don’t understand how you’re innately wired – your strengths, your gifts, your talents, your passions – it’s tough to make decisions that enable you to maximize those. It’s tough to reach your full potential if you don’t know who you are.

            You can feel stuck if you’re doing work that doesn’t allow you to maximize your innate strengths. If you’re doing work that doesn’t bring out the best in who you are at the core, you’ll likely feel some dissatisfaction and you won’t reach your full potential.

            Other people feel stuck because they haven’t surrounded themselves with mentors or peers who have achieved what they want to achieve. They stay in certain routines while craving to do life differently. As Jim Rohn says,

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            “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”

            If your goal is to run a marathon and you’re spending most evenings and weekends drinking beer with your coworkers, you’re probably not going to run that marathon. If your goal is to live a location-independent lifestyle and work anytime from anywhere, but everyone in your social circle is at traditional jobs; it’ll be tough to break free from the 9-5 mentality.

            How Feeling Stuck Screws You up Secretly

            Feeling stuck screws up people’s lives. The consequences of feeling stuck can range from mild to severe. People may feel a mild discontentment with life and end up succumbing to the idea that life is “okay,” and settle. (Nancy’s story will resonate with you.) They may never reach their full potential, their highest levels of happiness and satisfaction. And they may not make the impact on the world that they could make, and have a looming sense that there could be “more” to life.

            Often, though, the feeling of being stuck comes with much larger consequences. Feeling stuck can hinder career growth and contribute to disrupted marriages. It can lead to huge midlife crises.

            The feeling can (and frequently does) increase as the years go on, leading to significant regrets about unfulfilled dreams. In fact, the number one regret of the dying, according to Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, is, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” She writes:[2]

            “This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Many people had not honored even a half of their dreams, and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”

              How to Approach Life Differently

              Thankfully, some highly effective strategies can prevent you from feeling stuck. Using these strategies can help you avoid significant problems in your life. It’s different than conventional living, and it works.

              Commonly, people live with many set routines. While certain routines are helpful, becoming stuck in the daily grind routine can get frustrating. Many people eat roughly the same foods each week, go to the same place each day, talk to the same people, keep the same commitments, and end up living life on autopilot.

              It’s tough to feel like you’re progressing forward when each day is spent doing the same uninspiring routine. In order to avoid feeling stuck, it’s important to live intentionally. It’s crucial to live in the driver’s seat of your life and get out of autopilot mode.

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              First, ditch the False Objectives. Just because everyone in your family are doctors doesn’t mean that’s the best path for you. Just because all your friends are married with a big house, a white picket fence, and 2 kids doesn’t mean that’s the best path for you. Just because everyone you know works 9-5 doesn’t mean that’s the best path for you. It’s not easy to design your life intentionally, but it’s critical in order to avoid feeling stuck.

              Remember, the majority of people feel stuck. So, if you’re doing things like the majority of people, you’ll likely feel stuck, too. You’ll need to think differently and create your life differently.

              Two Questions to Ask Yourself Every Day

              In order to intentionally design your life, avoid falling prey to False Objectives, and prevent feeling stuck, there are questions to ask yourself every day. These questions can help you stay focused on what matters most to you, help you avoid feeling stuck and frustrated, and create the best life possible.

              1. Why am I going to do what I’m going to do today?

              If you’re showing up to work each day and giving your years to your job, it’s important that your “why” is deeper than “to pay the bills.” Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing can help you make choices that inspire and motivate you.

              By asking yourself why you’re going to do what you’re going to do today, you will be living intentionally. In today’s incredibly busy, easily distracted world, living intentionally and focusing every day on what matters most is unique.

              When you choose to ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing every day, it will help you stay focused on what’s truly important to you. This can prevent you from getting stuck.

              2. What would future want me to do today?

              Imagine yourself, in the future, as the best version of you. What would that version of you want you to do today? Making decisions from the viewpoint of the future you can help you move forward and prevent the stuck and frustrated feeling.

              When you make decisions from the viewpoint of future you, you will develop perseverance and reap the benefits of delayed gratification. Today’s society is very focused on instant gratification, but a lot of great things in life take time and effort. Learning to take small steps forward by making decisions from the future you’s standpoint can help you progress toward your biggest goals and dreams.

              How to Get Unstuck

              After asking yourself the two questions, work on the plan to get unstuck. I’ve personally tried these strategies and they work for me.

              1. Choose goals you truly desire to accomplish

              This might sound obvious but we all get sucked into False Objectives at times. When you’re setting goals in your career and your personal life, make sure they are goals that matter to you.

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              Working hard toward big achievements that don’t align with your values, priorities, and who you are at the core is a fast-track toward feeling stuck.

              Learn about your strengths, your gifts, and your passions. Choose goals that align with who you are at the core, and work toward goals that align with your inner strengths and gifts. This will help you maximize your potential and minimize the stuck and frustrated feelings.

              2. Watch your mindset

              Often, we think we’re stuck, but the problem is our mindset. Being mindful of our mindset and self-talk is important to living a life of freedom and fulfillment. Work on rephrasing your self-talk in order to improve your mindset.

              For example, if you tell yourself, “I could never start a business,” rephrase it to, “I don’t know how to start a business YET, but I can learn.” If you find yourself saying, “I don’t have enough money to travel,” tell yourself, “I don’t have the money right now, but I can make a plan to save money to travel. Rephrasing your self-talk can help you see opportunities and possibilities instead of feeling stuck.

              Occasionally, even the most driven people have days where they feel unmotivated. Check out this article for tips to get motivated when you feel like doing nothing:

              What Motivates You And How to Always Stay Motivated

              Those tips can help you break free from the rut.

              3. Get out of your comfort zone and add some excitement to your day

              Shaking up your daily routine and adding some excitement to your days can help you get unstuck.

              While breaking out of your daily routine can be uncomfortable, it can be a great way to invigorate your life. You can start by getting out of your comfort zone in small ways. Here are 10 ways to step out of your comfort zone and overcome your fear. As Brian Tracy says,

              “Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.”

              Getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing growth can help you to continue to move forward and prevent you from getting stuck.

              4. Surround yourself with people who have done what you aspire to do

              It’s easy to get stuck if you’re trying to accomplish something and you’re struggling to believe it’s possible to accomplish it.

              Instead of letting yourself be isolated and stuck, commit to learning from people who have done what you aspire to do. This can help you believe it’s possible to achieve the same goals. It can also help you to be inspired to progress forward instead of staying in stuck-land.

              You can seek out a mentor, or even read inspiring books or listen to motivating podcasts by the people who have achieved your biggest goals and dreams.

              Final Thoughts

              It’s frustrating to feel stuck. But you don’t need to stay stuck if you know the right ways to break free from the rut.

              Practice living intentionally by asking yourself the 2 critical questions:

              • Why am I going to do what I’m going to do today?
              • What would future want me to do today?

              When you constantly reflect about what you truly want and whether you’re doing the things that lead you to what you desire, you’ll feel less stuck gradually.

              Featured photo credit: Krists Luhaers via unsplash.com

              Reference

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