The Most Important Skill
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An unproductive, disorganized life is truly one of the saddest things that can happen to a person. In life, acting sooner is almost always better. So let me share with you the first thing that I ever learned. The thing that facilitated change for me and helped me strive to be better and do better. It is the skill that will help you make sure you are doing all the right things in life. To discover this skill is to find the Holy Grail to our better selves.
The true Holy Grail in life is found by drinking from the sobering waters of awareness.
I say sobering because, if done right, it can help you reconsider your whole worldview and sometimes even bring about a serious identity crisis - and so, it’s natural that most people are scared to think about this skill and cultivate it. Awareness is just like this picture - having none of it will leave you happy and giddy, having a little taste will make you regret why you ever started in the first place. But powering through and getting to the top can help you experience the world in a whole new way and make you a better version of your true self in the process.
None of us like to depart from the safe haven that is our image of who we are. In Sigmund Freud’s revolutionary psychoanalytic work, he defined his conception of the three forces that were fighting for control of our brain, the Id, Superego and Ego. He defined our Id as that instinctual and primitive part of us - the part made up of all the things that define our personality. And with this he named the greatest obstacle to success. Because of its instinctual nature the Id does everything it can to ensure its survival. It treats any threat to the current state of things - any change, that is - as something to be avoided at all costs. Change is scary and detrimental, "change destroys us", the Id whispers to us. Overcoming this conviction is crucial.
The message is the following - really thinking about who we are - really cultivating awareness and possibly deviating from what we’re used to is a threat to our survival. There is nothing more wrong.
A change doesn’t have to be a threat to who you are; if approached right, it can be a vehicle to uncover who you are meant to be. The Id can die many times over but if you use awareness, then every death - every change of the status quo - is a step in the right direction. So this aversion to change - that needs to change first of all.
This is why awareness is so important. What is the most fundamental thing that usually distinguishes the successful? Is it luck? Is it brains? Is it hard work? Is it school grades? Is it determination? No, it is precisely awareness that is the most important facet of a successful life.
If that is all you learn in life, but you are able to make it your reality, then you’re already halfway there. Great success can only ever come as the result of great awareness, because nothing in this life really gets decided without awareness. And, if you’re not a part of the decision making process, at the very least in regards to your own life, then someone else is making the calls for you. Or you are not making any calls at all - it is hard to say which is worse. There is nothing as depressing to me as a person who is living somebody else’s dream or living no dream.
A positive change in your life, or in anyone else’s life, is impossible without awareness. The Id might be happy and content, but you will never be.
I am claiming that awareness is the secret ingredient, but you should never take anything for granted. What else could it be?
Could it be hard work? A lot of people believe this religiously. Without hard work you won’t achieve anything, they say. And they are, for the most part, right. However, you need awareness much more. You can have hard work without awareness, but it is very rare to have awareness and not work hard, and therein lies the secret as to why it is so powerful. It is the catalyst for any other skill that you will ever need. If you possess this, then nothing can stand in your way for very long.
Sometimes you can see people working simply for the sake of working hard, because they believe that it will get them to where they need to be, without much consideration of where that is in the first place. However, everyone can agree that if you are working hard on the wrong thing, then you will not achieve anything that will bring you happiness. In fact, if you are working hard on the wrong thing, it will only accelerate the speed at which you get to the wrong place. Our ability to work hard, to be determined and persevere can lead us to achieve great things, but that is only conditional on the fact that you know precisely where you are headed, why you are headed there and how you plan to get there.
Others may think that it is intelligence that sets the successful apart. Of course having a decent, sharp brain wouldn’t hurt, but assuming you are reading this then that is already true. Warren Buffet himself has said that you will generally be better off selling any IQ points over 120 and who are we to argue with Buffet? Being intelligent is important, but it is not nearly that important. There are a lot of people who are very, very smart, but are working for others, usually in prime position to make someone else’s dreams a reality and not their own.
Maybe this would be a good place to actually define awareness. By talking about an aware person, I mean someone who is the most alert, most capable of seeing the world around him just as it is, and with the most clear of perceptions. It is the person who is truly able to realize when something needs changing, the person who is most able to read the obvious signs for what they are. To not misinterpret them or color them in a light that best suits his Id, and act on them. This person wouldn’t lie to himself with stories that align with his altered perception of reality - something that most of us do on a daily basis.
Why is he the most likely to succeed? Because he knows himself best of all, he knows how his mind works, and what will get him to achieve the right results he is looking for. Because he is able to see when he’s coasting through life and isn’t in pursuit of his goals. Because he is clearly able to see when he is doing something that isn’t moving him closer to his desires and is able to act accordingly. Because he is capable of realizing how others think and influence them in just the right way as to achieve what he set out to. Because if something is broken, he will realize it and work on fixing it. Because if there is a gap in his knowledge, he will be the first to admit it and fill it in. Because he will be the first to notice a problem and will know what to do to make it go away.
Why is it important to be truly aware? Because you need to be able to realize what is going on around you and respond to it. A lot of that is you being able to read the obvious signs. You will be surprised how many people can’t do that. Stop yourself right now and take at least 5 to 10 minutes to think about your own level of awareness. How would you honestly rate yourself? A lot of times, simply thinking about these things can unlock a lot of room for improvement.
If you are leading an unhealthy life, then you must change that; but before you can change it, you must realize it. If you are not working on something that brings you pleasure, then you need to change it; but before that, you first need to realize it. If you want to find love and happiness, then you must realize what is the real reason you haven’t yet. Once you’ve found it, go ahead and change it. If you want to be successful, you need to be able to make things happen. There is a saying that fits perfectly here, "There are people who watch things happen, people who make things happen and people who sit and wonder how things happened." You must never be someone who wonders what just happened.
I try to no longer wonder how things happen. Now I see when something needs to change in my life and I try to take responsibility for changing it. Nobody is perfect, but it is trying ones’ best which is important. We are responsible for almost everything that happens to us. This is a heavy burden, but it is also a freeing realization.
Start by becoming aware, then accept the responsibility and don’t overthink things outside of your control; things like the economy, the weather, the illuminati, and all the other excuses you give yourself for where you are in life and focus on changing the things that you can. Stephen Covey says that it is only by focusing on our sphere of influence that we can expand it and eventually be able to affect things we never thought possible. Have faith in the fact that you can change your life, your habits and your thoughts.
You might have to start out step by step. You might be far off from where you want to be but if you open your mind and become aware of what it is you need to change, then slowly, but surely, you will get there.