Daniel Goldman explains that emotional self-awareness is the ability to “recognize and understand our own emotional reactions”. He maintains that it is the foundation competency for the development of emotional intelligence. If we have self-awareness, we are better able to achieve self-management and be empathetic and compassionate towards others.
Building self-awareness through mindfulness meditation
Goleman maintains that one of the best ways to develop self-awareness is mindfulness meditation. He states that his review of research on mindfulness with Richard Davidson demonstrated that meditation lessens the amygdala control over our response to negative triggers; enables us to be more aware of, and reduce, mind wandering; enhances our concentration and, overall, makes us calmer under stress. According to Goleman, there is considerable payoff from self-awareness.
Kabat-Zinn, in discussing meditation in his book, Coming to Our Senses, maintains that the purpose of mindfulness meditation is to “cultivate qualities of mind and heart conducive to breaking free from the fetters of our own persistent blindness and delusions” (p110). He suggests that our innate ability to be aware of our emotions and thoughts has eroded over time, the decline being further exacerbated by the pressures of modern living. What mindful awareness, “wakefulness”, has brought to society, in his view, is the possibility “to break out of seemingly endless cycles self-delusion, misperception, and mental affliction to an innate freedom, equanimity and wisdom” (p.113).
Goleman in his book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, maintains that mindfulness meditation enables people not only to manage their attention but also their emotions (p.198). As a result, one thing that such meditations can do is increase the response ability of people so that they are better able to create a gap between stimulus and response and choose constructive ways of responding. He suggests that there is a very wide variety of meditations that can help people achieve the desired level of self-awareness.
Goleman, in his Focus book, also reports a conversation he had with Jon Kabat-Zinn about his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program (p.198). In that conversation, Kabat-Zinn pointed out that people on their own accord changed their behaviour (e.g. stopped smoking) once they started “paying attention to their own inner states” – this happened despite the changed behaviour not being the focus of their meditation efforts. Just developing self-awareness about their own feelings and stimuli enabled them to see what needed to be changed in their lives.
As people grow in mindfulness through meditation, they are better able to develop an understanding of their own emotions and thoughts and improve their response to stimuli that occur throughout their day. In this way, they are calmer and more in control of their reaction to negative triggers.
By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)
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