One of my self-organizing groups (Doug Nathan of conflictmatters plus Neil Baker of Neil Baker Coaching and Consulting plus me) is creating a proposal this week to speak at a national conference next spring. One hour into our first discussion, we decided to talk as a panel about something we’re all doing right now but hadn’t entirely noticed until we came together: namely, sustaining a self-reflection practice to increase our self awareness. I’m sure after our second meeting—over a bottle of wine—the title will become less stuffy and more fun, but here’s what I’ve been thinking about today and trying to write about despite the fact that my new kittens Ansel and Joe keep unplugging my keyboard.

Joe, Collective Self's new Director of Napping

Ansel, Collective Self's new Chief Play and Innovation Officer

We (Doug, Neil, and I not Joe, Ansel, and I) are going to speak as a panel–demonstrating the benefits of consciously thinking and talking about your self-awareness practice–so we came up with 12 questions off the top of our heads to include in the proposal. Here are my earliest thoughts about my own responses to the first six.

1.  What is self-awareness?

A review of a dozen different online definitions left me less than impressed, so here’s my own definition. Self-awareness is the understanding of myself that everyone who matters to me can both back me up on and help me expand.

For comparison, here are the first three I found online:

  • From Google: Conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.
  • From Merriam-Webster: An awareness of one’s own personality or individuality
  • From Wikipedia: The capacity for introspection and the ability to reconcile oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals. Self-awareness, though similar to sentience in concept, includes the experience of the self, and has been argued as implicit to the hard problem of consciousness.

2.  What does increased self-awareness get us?

As I was writing this today (actually as I was briefly blowing off writing this today), on Twitter Deepak Chopra said this to me: “Awareness is the birthplace of possibility. Everything you want to do, everything you want to be, starts here.” Umm, wow. What he said.

For me, increased self-awareness means increased freedom. The more I understand about myself, the more choices I recognize as available to me in any given moment. Regardless of what happens, this freedom cannot be taken away from me. As I shift across levels of self-awareness, I experience and see more. Most days, this helps me move from a more graceful, happy place and I’m more enjoyable to be around. This makes it easier to enjoy life and to get things done.

3.  What is your self-reflection practice?

There are three components to my self-reflection practice:

  1. Learning with my self-organizing work groups
  2. Learning with my self-organizing groups
  3. Learning with and from self-organizing groups connected to my groups

I participate in these groups, watch what we/they do, watch how we/they do it, model my individual behavior on the groups’ behavior, experiment with them, laugh and cry with them, and keep learning by getting closer to group members, who learn with me and who connect me with the next groups I need to learn with. My own self-organizing group members never stop holding a mirror up for me, so that I can see how my own behavior and ideas are experienced and perceived by diverse others and so that I can imagine and see things in myself that I couldn’t imagine were there before. I get to do the same for them. This is my practice in life and in my work practice as a self-organizing groups researcher.

4.  What do you do to sustain that practice?

 To sustain this practice, I do the things that bring me the greatest joy in life: learning with my self-organizing groups and work groups and finding learning with and from self-organizing groups connected to us. From my perspective, these groups do 99.9% of the sustaining for me. Things I attempt to sustain on my own—like this week, not eating the 12 Trader Joe’s lemon bars that were in my refrigerator—I tend to bail on.

5.  How conscious do we need to be about our mission, vision, and values?

This is a really good question (thanks Neil!). First thing I want to say is that people who believe that missions and visions are important need them and absolutely ought to create them and have them. That used to be me, and they were extraordinarily helpful for that me.

If a vision is “what we want to be” and a mission is “why we exist” I will say that at the moment I live and work in a space where I know my own answers to these questions for myself and I already am what I want to be, thanks to the groups I’m part of and study. These groups naturally shine a light on our own answers to these questions, and on our values, and allow us to consciously watch them evolve, so we don’t need to call special meetings on the subject. All of our meetings are on the subject.

My organization, Collective Self, is a forming around the groups I study, including my own. I don’t control this and wouldn’t want to. Some of the people I see as part of this organization are here: These people have their own practices, organizations, values, visions, and missions. I don’t need (and actually don’t want) them to be the same as mine. We’re stronger as a group if they’re not, because together we can think from different perspectives and connect with a greater variety of others. We are drawn to each other and amazing things happen every time we’re together. That’s all I need to know.

I think we need to be 100% conscious of our values and that that is impossible for us as individuals, but not as self-organizing groups. I especially like being conscious of my values in the moments they expand and evolve. That’s when they’re most interesting. In my self-organizing groups, I have open access to all the skills, abilities, perceptions, connections, and values that each group member has plus more that the group as a whole has that we get to practice and learn together. I see my self-organizing group’s values as my values too, even though some group member’s values are very different from my own. For me personally, the only deal-breaker value to group membership with me is openness to learning from diverse others. I see this as a common-thread value across 35+ self-organizing groups I’ve studied and been part of. If I don’t feel it in you from the beginning, or sense the potential in us to evolve together, you’re less likely to become one of my self-organizing group members (unless another group member sees it in you and invites you in).

6.  How do you move from self-reflection to decision making?

I’m relatively new to consciously thinking about this, which is why this answer is so long right now. Today I bounce from my individual self across three other states of “self” to make decisions. I see my “self” as:

  1. Individual self
  2. Self-organizing group self
  3. Self-organizing community self
  4. Self-organizing planet self

My own shorthand for these states of self-awareness are fish, school (of fish), river, and ocean. My school and river selves are wicked good at decision making, so that’s where all my decision making happens now. My ocean self has no need to make decisions, so when I go with that self, I decide there is no decision that needs to be made. I basically use these different levels of self-awareness to experience decisions from different perspectives:

  • What is my individual self telling me? Fear, anger, and doubt are some of the tools of my individual self.
  • What are my self-organizing groups telling me? What would Doug, Neil, Diane, Daniel, Cathy, Jeffrey, Erik, Jen, Cassie, Ali, Bas, Kare, Bob, Jim, Linda, etc. do or say? What do we do as a group when we’re together?
  • What is my self-org community and planet telling me?

When it comes to decision making, the nice part about self-organizing groups is that I become close enough to these people that we often don’t need full conversations. Sometimes we get what we need from each other in just a look, or in something we do or say for each other without being asked, or simply by imagining what the group or other members would do or say.

Beyond that, my river self believes that self-organizing groups don’t “make” decisions in the traditional sense. We find decisions together the moments in which we become close enough as a group to see what we couldn’t see before as individuals. Within these groups, individuals become so close that together—as a collective self—they become able to let go of individual fear and anger to the point that they can find/see/experience the decision that existed all along, just waiting to be discovered by the collective. Time is devoted to getting closer as people. Decision finding actually happens in a split second—when group members can look around the room (including into a mirror) and love/value/respect every person there for who they are and what they bring. Bottom line: when every member of the group experiences “We are whole and we are happy right now.” the decisions take care of themselves.

To keep reading, click here: Sustaining a self-reflection practice in a chaotic world (2 of 2)