When I ask my clients this, I often get responses like, “I’m always with me, except when I am asleep,” or “My brain is always going…working, reading, daydreaming.” Sometimes I hear “I talk to myself all the time, planning what I want to do next, or telling myself what I just did wrong.” And, every once in awhile it is, “Why would I want to be present with myself? I’m so (boring, lazy, stupid…).”
While each of these responses speaks to some form of mind-body connection (or lack thereof), none of them speaks to presence. As I am using the term here, the core characteristics of presence with oneself include self-awareness in the moment (self-observation) and non-judgment. Let’s look at each of these characteristics briefly, and discuss why they are so critical to change.
Self-Awareness in the Moment; Self-Observation
We already touched on this one above. If you are not observing yourself in the moment, the trigger will click and the old habit will respond before you are able to intervene. Self-awareness in the moment allows you to say, “Stop! I want to practice a new response.” It allows you to execute that new response consciously. And it allows you to evaluate the effectiveness of the response once it has been executed.
Passing judgement on how you have responded to situations in the past doesn’t change those old responses, but it can undermine your belief in yourself. Passing judgment on a response you are about to make may or may not change that response; however, it is liable to undermine your resolve to act. (“I’m going to try this new way of responding to this situation and make a total fool of myself!”)
When it comes to being present with yourself, non-judgment is critical. It allows you to explore responding to circumstances in ways that you haven’t before; to evaluate the results relative to the outcome that you are seeking; and to determine whether you want to continue to apply the same response in the future (to “habituate” it), to make some modifications to it, or to continue to explore alternative responses.
If you are working with a mentor, coach, consultant, or even a therapist, it is possible that they can help serve as a reminder for your self-presence during your time together. You might also ask others whom you trust–and who will do so without judgment–to call your attention to the triggers when they occur. (The non-judgment part is important here… Just like you don’t want to be judging yourself in the moment, you don’t want that from others.)
Even in the best of circumstances, though, it is unlikely that others will be with you–and be present–to alert you each time your triggers are fired. That is why cultivating your own self-presence is so important. Next week I will describe some ways to do so.
How have you worked with self-presence in the face of change? What has and hasn’t proven effective for you? Comment below.