We have many blind spots when it comes to understanding our patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. In some cases, blind spots in self-knowledge can have negative consequences, such as poor decision-making and lower life satisfaction.
Take for example an article published by Scientific American that points out a few centuries ago, women in Italy used to artificially dilate their pupils with bella donna plant. Bella Donna, the italian name for ‘beautiful lady’, was also a toxin but women subjected themselves to possible sight loss in order to be ‘more attractive’ to men.
More recent studies have confirmed that men are more attracted to women with dilated pupils. In a recent study men were given photos of similar women to judge who they were most attracted to. The men unconsciously picked the women with dilated pupils without being able to explain why they were more attracted to them. (Source http://boileddown.me/storage/pupil.pdf)
Would we notice these choices in our daily life if we were more mindful?
A March 2013 issue of Perspectives of Psychological Science published an article by Ericka Carlson of Washington University in St. Louis. This article revealed how mindfulness could improve self-knowledge.
Is it possible that unconscious decisions like these alter our effective decision making in business, as leaders, parents and spouses? Most of us go through life in an autonomic fashion. Some of us have periods of introspection where we sense we may need to change on some level so we look within. Very few of us actively practice the art of mindfulness. That is not something our culture values. We want labels, formulas, categories, teams and groups to sort out all the data and give us a sense of ‘belonging’. What we fail to recognize is that all this separation creates more separation!
So what is the difference between introspection and mindfulness?
Sometimes introspection can be an endless cycle of pulling meaning out of events to justify ones purpose. Mindfulness on the other hand simply focuses our attention on non-judgmental observation. Introspection is a double edged sword. If we have a broken filter in which to self evaluate then we will overvalue our attributes, which is a block to self-knowledge. Since we have a tendency to ‘magnify’ our traits we may be afraid to look at other areas of our life that need improvement. The lens we use is so ‘intense’ and therefore so harsh we may become resistant to looking at those uncomfortable aspects of our personality. This too is a block to growth.
When we can simply become the ‘witness’ to our thoughts in a non-judgmental way then we are less likely to be reactive.
Yesterday we talked about lowered expectations leading to joy. When we value something we are more likely to place higher expectations on it. If we value our marriage then we are more likely to place higher expectations on what we think we should get from our marriage and from our spouse. So even when we obtain some happiness, since our expectations are so high, we don’t allow ourselves to experience this as a win.
I find this in my own marriage. My husband cooked breakfast this morning, took our children for a bike ride, walked the dog, straightened up and did the dishes. Some would say marital bliss! Yet while I was talking to him he became distracted so I was upset. This seems irrational on paper does it not? He does the same with me. I will clean the house, put the kids to sleep, run up and down the stairs three or four times to comfort them, and then he will become impatient with me that I have not bid my hand quickly enough in a game of spades.
If we tune in to our reactions would we discover the sense of belonging we are looking for?
Through mindfulness (which is simply noticing my reactions in a non-judgmental way) I was able to SEE what I was doing. I did not feel bad; there are no judgments remember. Instead, I laughed and thought HOW INTERESTING. This gave me the space to go up and thank him for all he did. I felt close to him because I recognized how hard he was working to make the family and me happy. Instead of withdrawing from him in anger over a small lapse in attention on his part, feeling separated and unloved, I made a decision to see everything he was doing as a sign of his love for all of us.
How often do we miss moments for connection because we are too self absorbed seeing how the world has treated us unfairly instead of how we could fairly treat the world and those around us?
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” – Mahatma Gandhi