The Aspiration-Driven Life: Part 4 — Living with Awareness5 min read

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At the heart of self-discipline there are two elements: awareness and willpower. These elements have been considered essential for growth, well-being, and achievement by many authors in the fields of personal development, psychology, and meditation. In fact, many say that willpower is the father of all virtues; if that is the case, then awareness is the mother.

Awareness and willpower are two key aspects of the most evolved part of our brain, which I call the higher mind. They are essential in living the aspiration-driven life. Without them, our aspirations are just dreams, rather than a lived reality. The regular approach to self-discipline is all about mental toughness—I call it military self-discipline. In Mindful Self-Discipline, the emphasis is first on awareness, then willpower. The order makes a big difference.

The more you live with the awareness of your aspirations, the less you will need to be forceful about them. Many times, simply showing up with full awareness is enough for resolving many challenges, re-aligning yourself with your values, and taking a step forward in the right direction. When that is not enough, then we bring in willpower—yet that is done in a way that feels more natural, aligned, and desirable.

So what exactly is awareness? Why is it so important? And how can we train it? In this article, we will answer these questions, as we dive into the Awareness Pillar of Mindful Self-Discipline.

[This is the fourth article in this series. Check out parts 1, 2, and 3, which cover the Aspiration Pillar.]

Awareness as Mindfulness

In Mindful Self-Discipline, awareness has two aspects: mindfulness and space.

Mindfulness means to keep something in mind, or to be continuously aware of something. This is also the original meaning of the Buddhist term for mindfulness, which is the Pali word sati—to remember.

In the Buddhist context, mindfulness means to be constantly aware of the precepts and insights gained through wisdom and meditation practice. In self-discipline, it means to be constantly aware of our aspirations, goals, and values.

It’s as simple as this: when you are aware of your goals you can take action on them; when you forget them, you won’t. When you remember your values, you can live in a way that affirms your values; when you forget them, you can’t. Being constantly aware of your aspirations is, thus, essential.

We naturally forget our aspirations, which is why self-discipline is difficult. We forget because our minds get busy with other things, or we get distracted, or we don’t take the time to reconnect with what matters most. Business, distraction, and indifference are the enemies of awareness, for they lead to forgetfulness.

The solution is to regularly bring to mind your goals and values—to pay attention to them. For this purpose, I recommend the daily practices of journaling and day planning. Having reminders in your environment, and surrounding yourself with the right people can also help.

Awareness as Space

The second aspect of awareness is space. Awareness creates space between you and your thoughts, feelings, impulses, and triggers. This space is the space of your freedom.

When you have this space, you are free to act in accordance with your values. It means that you don’t believe every thought, follow every emotion, and act on every impulse. There is a gap, a pause, in which you can consider what option is most aligned with your goals, and do what will be a +1 in your life.

This is living inside out. It is an expression of the meditation principle of witnessing. You are the witness of your thoughts; you are not your thoughts. This may be a new idea for you, but when you have cultivated the space of awareness for long enough, you will know it experientially.

When you don’t have this space, you will act based on your conditioning, as triggered by the environment. You are living reactively, on autopilot. You are not really free. The future will tend to be a repetition of the past, with minor variations.

If your environment is pushing you to go left, and your beliefs, feelings, and impulses are also telling you to go left, but going right is what you know is most aligned with your aspirations, can you go right? If you have the space of awareness, you will be able to do so, with a little willpower. Otherwise, you’ll be overwhelmed and end up choosing something you will later regret.

Developing this aspect of awareness requires more long-term training. Here is where the practices of meditation and the PAW Method come into place.

The Key Practices of Awareness

Here are four different ways that you can cultivate the power of awareness in your life. These are all meant to be daily practices. These core disciplines will help you to grow as a human being, live better, and be more effective.

Meditation is what I call the self-discipline gym, because it’s a focused exercise for both awareness and willpower. For the purposes of self-discipline, a daily practice of 10 to 15 minutes, of any concentration or observation types of meditation, is a good start.

Planning is taking five to ten minutes every morning to review your aspirations and plan your day. When doing so, make sure to include enough time for your goal-promoting activities, so you can live more purposefully.

Integration can be implemented through the PAW Method, at any time of the day. PAW is short for Pause, Awareness, and Willpower. Whenever you are facing a self-discipline obstacle—such as getting distracted, having the urge to procrastinate, engaging in negative self-talk, or doubting yourself—you apply this technique.

(To learn more about it, see chapter 17 of the book, or check out the PAW Method summary in our free workbook)

Reflection can be practiced in different ways. The minimum practice is doing the GAIA journal at the end of the day, which only takes a couple of minutes. You ask yourself these four questions:

  • Gratitude — How did I take a step toward my aspirations today?
  • Awareness — How did I take a step away from my aspirations today?
  • Intention — How will I do better tomorrow?
  • Alignment — Were my actions aligned with my aspirational identity today? Rate yourself from 1 to 10.

To the extent that you maintain these four core practices of awareness, even if only in their minimum version, you will be cultivating the Awareness Pillar. You become more grounded and present. Self-discipline becomes easier; and life, more fulfilling.

Going Deeper

To implement these practices in your daily life, you can check out the Higher Mind app, which was built exactly for this purpose: to be a tool to cultivate the Awareness Pillar.


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