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Self Awareness

by Gerald Epling

In the best of circumstances, education draws on what is inside of an individual in a way that increases the personal focus on who we are and where we are going.

Along the way to finding your own highest and best path in life, there will be external and internal pressures to move in one direction or another.

Consciousness allows you to consider the possibilities of what is to come.  Self-awareness provides you with abilities to find your way through the challenges of life.

If opportunities and challenges were likened to a stream, you might first choose to wade into a slowly moving stream.  As you learn how to go out into the water and return to the shore, you will bring back greater confidence.  Each foray into a new stream of consciousness will call upon you to make decisions.  Many of these decisions will need to be made without complete knowledge of all of the facts.  In these cases, you call upon your nature.  Listen to your inner sense of what is right or wrong.  Listen to your body talk.


A common definition of consciousness is the awareness of your body and your environment.  Presumably, the ability to navigate across a room would be evidence of consciousness.  An expanded definition of consciousness includes the knowledge of one’s character, feelings, motives, and desires.  The first definition could be applied, if you were just interested in behavior.  The expanded definition allows for personal access to internal states of mind and introspection.


Self-awareness is something different than consciousness.  Self-awareness is the recognition of your own personal consciousness and more.  Self-awareness includes comprehension that you are aware of your existence.  Once you begin to explore this comprehension of personal existence, the world opens up in new and marvelous ways.

The personal use of self-awareness allows you to understand what it is to be you; to live inside of your skin, to think your thoughts, and to grapple with understanding the world around you.  The art of observing your soul at work allows you be comfortable with making decisions in an imperfect world, where there may be missing pieces of the puzzle.

The great actor, David Suchet, makes many decisions, when taking on a new role.  His performances as Hercule Poirot from the works of Agatha Christie are impeccable.  Suchet has a well-developed sense of how to become the character he is portraying.  Suchet expressed his method of getting into character:  “I have to inhabit the people I play.  I have to get under their skin.”

The ability to get deeply into character is an essential element for any actor to develop.  Equally important is the ability to return to being their self.

In an interview from 2009, Suchet relates his first realization that he needed to take time to get out of character and return to himself before going home.  This occurred after a psychologist friend noted that Suchet seemed to be out of sorts.  The friend remarked that Suchet was not really present.  Suchet was unaware of the problem.

His friend persisted with a series of questions, which should have been easy to answer.  What is your birthday?  What is your wife’s birthday?  On it went and Suchet could not answer any of them.  He was in-character, inhabiting the character in a play.

In order to return to himself, Suchet looked into a mirror and said his name.  Next, he started to run through personal information such as date of birth.  More details were recalled over a period of several minutes and eventually Suchet returned to himself.

This is extremely interesting thing to know about acting.  This knowledge applies generally to life.  It is important to return to yourself, whenever you begin to lose sight of who you are.  Recognizing the details of your life is the best way to do this quickly and effectively.  The changes in Suchet’s sense of self were self-induced and a consequence of his chosen career.

Another example of a move away from personal sense of self can be found in an experiment conducted at Stanford many years ago.  Students were divided into two categories.  The first category was prisoners; the second category was prison guards.  They weren’t really prisoners or prison guards, but they soon came to see themselves in these roles.  Without a strong sense of self, the students began to act in ways that were considered to be dangerous.  The experiment was cut short.

In the candid report of Suchet and the results of the prison study by Zimbardo, we see that the mind can be influenced in a way that takes each one of us away from ourselves.  Individuality is important!  Knowing who you are is integral to finding your way in life and achieving your highest and best path.


Relevant Listening

David Suchet, BBC Interview 8 Feb 2009.

Relevant Reading

Ferris Jabr, Nov. 1, 2012. Self Awareness with a Simple Brain.  Scientific American Mind.

Stanford Prison Experiment.  Wikipedia.