Best Practice Series: Awareness


If your emotional abilities aren't in hand, if you don't have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can't have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.

―Daniel Goleman

Some facts are chilling. Consider this one: the quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first. It is chilling because its implications are enormous. The key implication is that there is nothing – nothing—more important in developing organizational effectiveness than ensuring that people think for themselves with rigor, imagination, and courage. Every day, in every meeting, and in every interaction.

It begs the question: In hierarchical structures often driven by the alternation between reward and reprisal, what does it take for people to think clearly and for themselves? And how do we find the time?

The answer is not in our innate intelligence, education, experience, or power. It is not even the amount of time we allot to thinking. The key factor in whether or not people can think clearly for themselves is the way they are being treated by the people with them while they are thinking. The impact of our behavior on people’s ability to think is, whether we realize it or not, that big.

The quality of our Attention is the central principle and discipline of Deep Craft Leadership. Attention has long been the focus of many schools of thought from Buddhism, psychiatry, education, philosophy, and religion—to name a few.

The ability to suspend our attention is a meditative and psychological tool that helps us perceive the subtle patterns continuously occurring between others and ourselves. These patterns determine our behavior and the automatic ways in which we react. When we do not suspend our attention we cannot be fully aware of our behavior, nor can we perceive the unconscious subtle pulls continually placed upon us by others.

When we hear or watch any narrative, our brains go wholly into perceiving mode, turning off the systems for acting or planning to act, and with them go our ability to see reality clearly. This is one reason why humans have such trouble recognizing lies. First we believe what we are told. Then, we have to make a conscious effort to assemble facts, and disbelieve. Only when we stop perceiving to think about what we have seen or heard, only then do we assess its truth-value.

The ability to suspend attention is accessible primarily to people with a sufficiently developed self-esteem, which enables them to reflect back upon their own and other people’s behavior uncritically.



  1. Hold some of your attention back while being in one of the three situations described above (become an observer).

  2. A good way to begin is to feel your body (notice the sensation of your back against the chair or your feet on the ground). The process of sensing the body automatically holds some attention in suspension.

  3. Become aware of your thoughts, sensations, and the emotions that are motivating you in the moment.

  4. Discover that there is a particular internal, physical sensation that always accompanies the practice of suspended attention



How does new awareness change us? When we learn to see, taste, hear, and feel; when we learn to discern and discriminate through participation and observation; when we learn to make distinctions and become an expert; and, when we become intimate with the details of a particular medium from our activity with and in it.

Simply put, through practice, practice, practice.

--> Initial awareness is gained through reflection after an incident occurs. If we understand what the gap in our behavior is and know what it should be we have a shot at catching ourselves in the act the next time. (we started here)

2. When we successfully catch ourselves in the moment we get just enough time to make a different choice. 

3. When we catch ourselves enough times, we can spot a trigger coming rather than having it blindside us into rash reactivity. Seeing a trigger coming gives us even more time to choose a different reaction.

Note that you are in and out of these three phases ALL THE TIME based on how triggered you are at any time and how aware you are of your triggers when you are triggered.



  • Klein, N. (2005). Time To Think: An Imperative of Behavior, Not Time

  • Brenner, C. “Brief Communication: Evenly Hovering Attention.” The Psychoanalytic Quarterly (July 2000): 545–549.

  • Roth, B. (2018). Strength in Stillness: The Power of Transcendental Meditation. New York: NY. Simon & Schuster.

  • Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2009). Immunity to change: How to overcome it and unlock potential in yourself and your organization. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Press.

  • Harris, D. (2014). 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works - A True Story