An exercise to help make you more aware of yourself when you need it most

September 2, 2014 by Joshua
in Awareness, Exercises, Nonjudgment, Tips

Today’s exercise builds on the one in my post, “An exercise in knowing your beliefs; so you can change them,” so please do that one first. It’s easier for most people, more general, and develops skills that you can use for this post’s exercise. Still, you can do this on its own if you want.

It also looks similar to, but is subtly different from, the recent exercise, “An exercise to help you understand others, reduce arguments, and become more aware of yourself.” As similar as it looks, it’s as different as two stretches or weight-lifting exercises that work different parts of the body.

It’s still similar in its simplicity

  • It only takes a few minutes a day
  • It costs nothing
  • You don’t have to tell people you’re doing it
  • It reveals a lot of how you view the world and yourself
  • It helps you become less attached to things and ideas you don’t like

The exercise

1. Carry a notebook or some paper with you every day for a week.

2. When you find yourself stressed, angry, or feeling emotions you don’t like, keep aware of your thoughts, and write your beliefs during that time, especially the ones contributing to that feeling.

To clarify: this exercise looks at your beliefs in stressful, difficult, or unwanted situations. The other earlier exercise I posted looked at the beliefs of other people.

That’s it. It costs nothing and takes a few minutes a day. At the end you’ll have a list of some beliefs that contribute to feelings you don’t like.

Occasionally you’ll go a week with no stressful situations. If so, keep carrying the paper until you find yourself in such a situation. The point is to record them without guilt, blame, or any judgment — just to record them.

The exercise isn’t to sit still and trying them out. It’s to develop the skill of identifying beliefs whose effects you don’t like while they are influencing you. Try noting them in difficult situations and making yourself aware of them. That way you don’t just get a list of beliefs, valuable as that list is, you also develop the skill of identifying your counterproductive beliefs in the moment. If you’ve gotten into arguments you later regretted and later wished you could retract things you said, you know the value of identifying beliefs in the moment.

Like behavioral exercises, you don’t just do this one for the outcome, you also do it to improve your skills.


Here a some beliefs I’ve noticed in myself when I feel emotions I don’t like or during arguments. I’m not saying you’ll see the same ones, nor that I endorse or condemn them. Again, the point of the exercise is to increase awareness, not to judge, nor to try to change your beliefs—not that you shouldn’t change them, just that this exercise focuses on one thing. I believe action without awareness can move you in a counterproductive direction.

  • I’m right, they’re wrong.
  • I’m listening to them but they aren’t listening to me.
  • I understand what they’re saying but they don’t understand me. If I tell them enough, they’ll understand me.
  • [When depressed] This feeling is real. All those people who say they’re happy only think they’re happy, but they’re not.
  • There’s no point in trying.

What to expect

You’ll get different results than these examples.

You’ll probably notice only a few in the first stressful situations, then more as you develop the skill (faster if you’ve done the earlier exercises). You don’t have to write every belief you notice, but keep writing the whole week to get a fuller cross-section of the beliefs contributing to emotions you don’t like.

You may notice that your awareness and understanding of yourself under stress or feeling emotions you don’t like changes. I predict you’ll understand yourself more and find your ability to manage yourself in such times improves, as well as your relationships

Let me know how your experience goes.

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3 responses on “An exercise to help make you more aware of yourself when you need it most

  1. Thank you for writing about this exercise and even about the others’ beliefs one for I had almost forgotten doing the latter in the past few days.

    I was having a pretty terrible time yesterday but I didn’t write down anything. I do remember some of the thoughts which were going thru my mind then, so even though it’s not the same thing as having written them in real time I’ll write them now.

    The good thing is that by today morning I had gotten over the awful mood. In the past, such distressing mental states have lasted for days together and their after-effects have sometimes lingered on for months. So I am glad I could deal with it and get over so soon. The main thing I tried was to keep in mind that it was a temporary feeling and not a reflection of reality, and that since I wasn’t in a state to think clearly, all I needed to do was to first get over it and think about it later.

  2. Do this exercise! Below are the results from the week I spent doing it.

    Taking the time and focus to observe the beliefs behind my actions was wonderful. Some of the highlights I noticed were that the majority of my negative emotions were caused by beliefs about what I thought other people were thinking and not necessarily what they were actually thinking. The rest of the beliefs causing negative emotions were based upon critical views of myself which were mostly unfair judgements viewed through a colored lens.

    Some examples of each were-

    About others:
    -That someone being late was that they dont value my time (instead of it just being outside circumstances)
    -That if someone does something that directly or indirectly makes things harder on me it was intentionally aimed at me (instead of being them focusing on themselves and any impact on me being unintentional and perhaps not even factored in)
    -That based on their actions they arent interested in something (instead of realizing odds are they have other things which are occupying them and keeping them from being present during interactions)

    Of myself:
    -That I am not good enough (instead of realizing I am comparing myself to people with 20 years experience and then only the top performers of that group when I have less than a years experience in the area)
    -That I am stagnating (instead of realizing I am focusing on the areas where I am making less progress in order to take additional gains in other areas and realizing that even what seems like stagnation in the area because I am less focused on it is growth just slower growth)
    -That what I producing is not good enough (instead of realizing it doesn’t need to be perfect, it will never be perfect and realizing that what I am producing is very high quality and above the level needed in this circumstance)

    • These are incredible realizations. They read like ones that play a major role in moving people from passive victim or someone who blames others and loses their ability to help themselves to active participant who takes responsibility for important parts of his life.

      Congratulations, and I look forward to hearing how these realizations propagate through your life.

      To readers who haven’t done this exercise: note the difference between reading about someone else becoming aware of these things through experience and experiencing them directly. The former is no substitute for the latter, which is probably why David started with “Do this exercise!” and not “Read what happened to me and skip this exercise.”

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