Awareness – Self Awareness – Self Consciousness

by pre., Friday, November 7th, 2008.

You’ve learned to examine your awareness of your perception, but you are of course aware of things other than your perceptions. As well as being aware of things you perceive from the world, you’re also aware of things going on inside your head. You’re aware of your emotions, your thoughts, your evaluations of yourself. This we term “Self Consciousness”.

Much has been written on what “the self” actually is, what exactly people mean by “I” when they say “I believe in god” or “I don’t like maths” or “I can has cheezeburger?”, much of it barely coherent pseudo-philosophical rambling nonsense and most of it contradicting the rest. In the opinion of the Transcendence Institute probably Hofstadter or Dennet are about as close to an answer as anyone is, but for our purposes it really isn’t important what “The Self” is. It’s not important because you don’t need to know what “the self” is in order to become more aware of your self consciousness and the way it effects your actions. For our purposes, we’re going to use “Self Consciousness” to refer to your own brain’s monitoring systems. Circuits in the brain which are directed at the brain itself, ‘senses’ feeding back information about a brain’s state back into that brain. These systems surely exist, and whether or not they are what your local street preaching philosopher or the guru in the temple means when they say “Self”, it’s all that we mean. Just your own awareness of your mood, emotions and mental processes.

When you look out into the world and focus your attention on the shadow cast by the light falling from and sparkling off of an object you are not directly aware of each photon exciting a rod or cone at the back of your eye. You can’t even tell the absolute magnitude of the intensity of the light at any point. You barely even notice when your eyes succade from one part of that object to another. Your awareness of the image is an awareness of higher levels of abstraction than these base inputs. Not photon impacts and wavelengths but lines and shape and form.

The same is true of your internal senses, your self consciousness. You are not aware of the adrenaline molecules affecting neuron firing rates. You’re not aware of the growth of synapses or some pattern-recognition system’s current recognition strength. The information that you do get comes in the form of moods or vague gut feelings, things like weariness or nervousness or excitement or trains of thought.

And just as you have learned to focus on and pay more attention to your external perceptions by concentrating on them and practising, so the same techniques will help you to learn to listen more closely to those internal perceptions which tell you not about the greater world, but about your own state.

Try it now. Concentrate for a moment on your mood. Are you happy? Distracted? Engrossed? Bored? Drunk? Excited? Just as you’ve learned to turn down one sound to emphasise another, so turn down everything else and listen to your own internal feelings. Of course our guided meditation this month will help you do that for a few minutes.

The meditation will take you through some visualisations, and three times you will be asked to spend a minute examining your own internal state, to really pay attention to how much you do or do not feel a particular trait.


As you practise paying attention to your self consciousness more, you’ll get better at it, you’ll be less likely to hammer on a door saying “I am not fucking angry” because you’ll realise that in fact you are. You’ll be more willing to concede that you’re hurt or stressed or tense if you learn to better recognise the subtleties of those emotions.

Knowing your own mood is invaluable in daily life. It can help you to better understand your own actions, even to control them. Asking yourself “Am I just angry?” and learning to notice when you are can be enough to stop you getting into an unwise fight or argument. It can help you to both understand your behaviour and to change it if and where needed, to compensate for bias.

Awareness – Self Awareness – Private Self Image

by pre., Friday, November 14th, 2008.

Self Awareness is a much deeper topic than just self consciousness. Self awareness is about more than just understanding that you exist, and being able to perceive how you feel. As a complicated human mind, you are constantly building a model of your world in your head. Trying to learn to understand the sensations and feelings you’re receiving.

As you look out into the world you do not just see colours and shapes, you see buildings, and clouds, and sky, and bookshelves, and grass, and animals and dogs and cats and Shep and Garfield and Garfield’s Lasagne and the cheese on top of Garfield’s Lasagne and the hunger on Garfield’s face as he licks his lips looking at that Lasagne.

As surely as you are learning about and categorising your world, you’re also learning about and catagorising yourself, one of the few things which has been in your environment for the whole of your existence.

This, then, is Self Image.

Self image comes in two parts. The first, private self image, is the model you build of yourself in your mind. If you ask yourself “Am I smart?” or “Am I flexible?” or “Am I purple?” you’re querying your private self image.How do you build that private self-image? Self Perception Theory suggests that just as you attribute qualities to other people by observing them, you also observe your own behaviour and use that as evidence to attribute qualities to yourself which explain that behaviour. You use the same mechanism for determining if you are healthy, wealthy or wise as you do when you determine if someone else has these qualities. Though perhaps with rather more evidence to hand.

This abundance of evidence can be unhelpful though. You see the worst of yourself. The low-points and degradations that you rarely see in others. You are almost infinitely more likely to see your failures and your moments of weakness as you are those similar moments in others.

Also, once formed, people tend to assume that their self-image is fixed. Some even think that “stability” is a good thing and that they are better off for having a “stable personality” meaning that they can’t change. They think “I am bad at maths” or “I am pathetic at drawing” or “I am ugly” or “I am shy” which is a natural, though false, way to think. More accurate would be to say “I failed at that maths problem” or “I haven’t learned to draw yet” or “I was shy on that occasion“. In short, we have a tendency to assume universality of our personality traits, when in fact all people behave differently in different circumstances and with different mindsets.

The truth is that you can change your self image, most simply by changing the evidence presented to your consciousness.

Most of the ‘input’ to your sense of self-image comes not from actual events, but from recollections and reviews of that original event. From cogitation and reconsideration rather than direct experience. Factors considered ‘important’ are those which you spend more time pondering.

This shows an obvious way to change your self image: decide on a self-image you’d like, look for evidence of you showing that trait, or heading towards that trait, and then concentrate on that instead of your failures

Unlike some, we at the Transcendence Institute favour a realistic self image over a positive self image, however we also note that sometimes an overly-positive self-image will be useful and that this is likely to be the case an overwhelmingly large fraction of the time compared to the very rare occasion when an overly critical self image will be useful.

The Meditation

When you start listening to this month’s guided meditation, you’ll be asked to think of a positive trait which you would like to increase the importance of in your self-image, and an example of you either showing that trait or else geting closer to that trait, growing towards showing it. You’ll be asked to replay that example over and over in your mind, large and loud and colourful. You’ll also be given suggestions that you’ll remind yourself over and over of that example throughout the next day.

Of course, human beings are social and linguistic creatures, and their self-image reflects more than just an assessment of their own characteristics. We are also constantly ask ourselves and are often even told what others think of us and we usually internalize that to some degree. This is the second part of Self Image, Public self image. We’ll discuss that in detail next week.

Awareness – Self Awareness – Public Self Image

by pre., Friday, November 21st, 2008.

Deeply social species evolve some kind of theory of mind. A way of telling what other individuals are thinking. If that train of thought, or evolutionary pressure, is followed long enough then that creature begins to wonder “what does that other mind over there think of me?”

This, then, is your public self image. While your private self image, discussed last week, leads you to draw conclusions about yourself, your public self image reflects how others see you.

The desire to be seen in a good light, to have others think positively of you, is pretty much a universal human phenomenon. Your awareness of others in your environment, and your concern at how they may judge you, excites in you what is known as Evaluation Apprehension or the audience effect. A state of arousal which can effect your abilities in measurable ways.

For example, sports stars tend to do better when under the scrutiny of competition due to an effect known as Social Facilitation. Meanwhile less practised or more complicated tasks can be hindered by the knowledge that others are watching. It can lead to a collapse of confidence, shyness, you may ‘choke’ and even fail comparatively easy tasks completely.

Manipulating The Audience Effect

The power of the imagination has often been suggested to overcome this audience effect on stage and in job interviews: “Imagine The Audience Naked” they say, but clearly a naked audience is just as likely to increase anxiety as a fully clothed one. Rather than imagining an audience naked, we’d suggest imagining them gone. Empty chairs. Nobody’s there but you, doing your thing, dancing like nobody is watching.

Similarly, if you’re attempting something routine, simple or well practised, it may be useful to imagine that there’s an audience there when there is none, to get at small dose of the positive benefits of the audience effect. To help yourself concentrate.

This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, the audience effect will sometimes alter your ability and confidence, but your public self image isn’t just about how well you perform some given complicated task. It’s not just about how well you play a sport or give a presentation. Your public self image projectss the whole of your character into other people’s minds.

Public Self Image

Ask yourself now, how do others see you? Pick a specific ‘other’ to ask the question about. Not a close friend or family member, but a neighbour, a co-worker, a local shop-keeper or the milkman. Do you think their opinion of you is accurate? How do you think they formed that image?

The truth is that their image of you probably is unreasonably correct given how little evidence they’ve actually paid attention to. They haven’t known you long enough or studied you carefully enough to have much real idea of the workings of your mind, and yet of course they do have some idea. If we asked, we’d get an answer. Where does that information come from?

Their image of you is formed more through communication than observation. They haven’t observed you closely enough to know if you’re smart, but they can tell at a glance if you act smart. They have scant evidence of your shyness or flamboyance but they do know what you’ve communicated to them through body language, verbal implications and symbolic gesture or clothing.

Your public self image is formed in other people’s minds, and yet you create it through the way you behave: Your gestures and stance, words and expressions, clothes and gait and implications. Most of this is done unconsciously, merely reflecting what you actually think of yourself. Which is, of course, why it’s such a useful system and why public image is often so unreasonably accurate.

This can lead to a virtuous circle, where your confidence and skill are projected into the minds of others who then treat you as though you have confidence and skill, boosting both. Of course it can also turn into a terrible downward spiral. Your shyness and self loathing can be assumed to be lack of skill, so that others assume you’ll fail, increasing the chances that you’ll do so.

The Mix

Your private and pubic self image aren’t really separate things. They influence each other greatly and in both directions. It’s been said that “if you call a man a thief then he will steal.” Public opinion — the projection of other’s impressions onto us — can influence our public self image — the way we think others see us — and from there change our private self image as we come to believe they are right. Yet it also works both ways: The way you present yourself, which is in general deeply dependent on your beliefs about yourself, becomes the way others mostly see you.

The Meditation

We want to create that positive-feedback virtuous circle. So you’ll be asked to concentrate on the positive, and on noticing others noticing that. As you listen, you’ll be asked to recall in vivid detail some time when you were executing a desirable trait. To imagine some trait that you want to be part of your public self image. You’ll be asked to take note of the way you were acting at that time. Your gait, your expression, your mannerisms and behaviour etc. You’ll be asked to pay attention to the changes in the opinions and impressions of the people there to observe that.

Then you’ll imagine yourself acting that way more often in future, concentrating on the detail of the action, with suggestions that you will indeed be improving your self image by doing so. In this way you’ll be learning how better to project your public self image into other people’s minds.

Awareness – Self Awareness – Self Confidence

by pre., Friday, November 28th, 2008.

Last week we discussed public self image, concluding that your public self image is in other people’s brains and yet that it’s put there almost entirely by you, by the ways you communicate with those around you.

Very few of us get into many actual fights, and yet the social hierarchy exists. In humans it’s built not from violence, physical beatings or horn-clashing head-buts, it’s built from much more subtle signals: Body-language and uniform and context and posture and tone and gait and manner and pheromones and hormones and inter and intra-personal feedback loops. These plus thousands of other subtle signals we don’t yet understand. In short, it’s built from communication; messages that we’re all, mostly subconsciously, transmitting and recieving all the time.

Each nervous system is collecting all these signals, counting and collating them, doing unbelievably complicated statistical analysis on them and the result of all this frantic neuronal activity is that that particular nervous system feels differently. It’s assessment of it’s own position in that social hierarchy, and the position of those it’s currently dealing with, change the context of the rest of the interactions going on around that awesomely complicated network of neurons.

And the way it feels to that nervous sytem, the variance and range of the result of that complex calculation, combined with the effects it has on cognition and behaviour, is what our language has labeled “Self Confidence”. You can judge the confidence of others, and that judgement is doubtless a part of the calculation just described, but you can only feel your own self confidence.

Understanding Self Confidence

Seen in this light, it’s clear that self confidence is not a simple thing. It’s built from a huge range of signals, communications and tells in both yourself and others. It hides so many feedback loops and self-referencing parameters that it’s bound to be chaotic in the mathematical sense and so difficult to predict. Self Confidence certainly is not judged entirely by brashness, volume, recklessness or refusal to back down. These things are just a part of the overall calculation and each of them has an optimum value, related to and dependent on the others, none of them will increase confidence merely by magnification.

Like love, confidence is not a simple fraction. It’s a multi-dimensional abstraction, a hyper-landscape, and we can’t hope to do much more than put a few stakes in the ground and roughly characterize it by massively oversimplifying.

The confidence club break down Self Confidence into five components. Each represeting a part of confidence which is not truly independent of the other parts. Each feeds on the others in the same way that the spiral skills feed-back and exaggerate each other’s abilities.

Physical Presence

The signals which you interpret to build your sense of physical presence include the set of your shoulders, the relaxation in the arms and support provided by the core muscles. Even your own expectation of how you’ll be treated comes across through the delicate dance of muscle movements and posture. You have already begun to change your posture, and this will probably already have begun to help you feel relaxed about the space you take up your physical presence. As that improves so your command confidence will continue to increase. As your muscles begin to reshape in response to that improved posture, you’ll begin to feel more confident about your own body’s shape.

Status Confidence

We have already discussed the social hierarchy, the feeling, the sense, that we each build and project of our own status within the social group. Your ‘status confidence’ is the feeling, the change in mood, which changes the way your behave to reflect your position in that hierarchy.

Obviously this reflects your assessment of the confidence of the others within that group too, just as they in turn will be interpreting signals you’re sending to judge your opinion of yourself and of those around you.

You can effect your own sense of status confidence simply by imagining events which would change this sense if they were true. Your brain isn’t really sophisticated enough to completely include the difference between imagination and fact in the calculation of your own social confidence. Sure enough, this month’s meditation will have you remember or imagine some act which would lead others to believe your confidence is higher. You’ll also pay attention to others there, observing it.

Peer Independence

Peer Independence reflects your trust in yourself. The truth is that no sane person is ever completely sure of anything, and that being backed up by others agreeing with you reinforces your opinion on everything from the niceness of the weather through to your own status confidence.

By spending more time concentrating on the times you were right to trust yourself over others you can increase your confidence about taking that risk.

Note: It may not pay to increase your peer independence too much. Other people help to ground you.

Social Confidence

When you share a secret with someone, they are more likely to share a secret with you. Most human beings are pretty similar. They go through similar ordeals, they have similar concerns, fears, problems and difficulties. We all have more or less the same dashed hopes, painful episodes and of course joys and pleasures and dreams. We tend to concentrate on the differences between people, because these are the things which distinguish us from each other, but the similarities in our lives in fact far outnumber those differences.

Understanding this, and paying more attention to the similarities, will increase your social confidence, your willingness to share those experiences with others. Fearing their judgement is likely to decrease it.

Extra social confidence will literally help you find confidants, influencing that part of your confidence which is in your public self image, in other people’s brains.

Stage Presence

Public speaking can scare some people more than aeroplane flights, roller-coasters, video-nasties, or even physical attack. The fight-or-flight adrenal response is just as real and just as true when you’re about to step onto a stage, or make a presentation, as if you’re being chased by a lion.

Like all the other confidence skills, feedback loops are important here. If you think of yourself as a confident public speaker, then there’s nothing to be afraid of and so you’ll act like one. If you think of yourself as a poor public speaker you’ll concentrate on past experiences of being a poor public speaker, invigorate the adrenal response, make yourself more afraid.

By concentrating on positive outcomes, pre- and re-playing successful experiences, you will increase this form of confidence too. If you want to improve your stage presence, listen to our meditation this month imagining or recalling a scene in which you are indeed on stage and full of stage confidence

Manipulating Self Confidence

Obviously you can’t directly change all of the variables which are collected and categorized and calculated in order to build this abstract quantity which affects your behaviour and impression of yourself. You can’t directly change the pheromones in the air, though changing your confidence levels WILL effect the composition of the pheromones you sweat out. You can’t directly change the posture of your conversational partner or the tone in which they’re talking, though they will react to changes in your behaviour.

Much of the calculation which your subconscious brain is constantly re-evaluating does come from variables which you can change through conscious deliberate action. You can change your own posture, you can change your clothes, where you stand or sit in a room, how often and loudly you speak. You can learn to stride a more confident gait, you can (over time) change the shape of your body.

More than this you can change the focus of your attention, and change the importance of various aspects which infleunce the neural calculation that makes you feel confidence. If you focus on things which work in your favour rather than those which work against building self confidence, you’ll automatically begin to feel more confident. By spending more time attending to positive traits and signals and less obsessing over negative ones, you can alter the focus of that calculation, change which of those signals it assumes has importance.

This direct action will have repercussions on the aspects of that calculation which you can only influence indirectly, your public self confidence in other people’s brains and thus the actions of others.

Our Meditation

When listening to this month’s mediation you’ll be asked to think of a positive trait and remember yourself exhibiting that trait, remembering how it feels. If you’re trying to work on self confidence in particular you should obviously think of an example when you were showing the type of self confidence which you wish to work with.

It may help to think of the meditation as a personal puff piece, an advert to advertise your confidence in yourself to yourself. The billions invested in advertising are there because adversing works. By repeating things, focusing your attention on them, you can change how likely you are to believe them.

If you want to increase your physical presence, remember or imagine an event in which you observed that kind of confidence, in yourself or in others, but either way see yourself doing it.

If you want to increase your status confidence, focus on events in which you were in fact top-dog, or at least the most tip-top in the group. Recall the feeling, let your brain get used to that feeling, to assume it as a default.

If you want to increase your peer independence, concentrate on a time when you were, despite everyone else’s opinion, right. Or imagine yourself in a situation where someone else was. Emulate their actions, their expressions, their very thoughts if you can.

If you want to increase your social confidence use a time when you shared a secret, or a secret was shared with you, or you learned that others had suffered the same disappointments or enjoyed the same highs.

If you want to increase your stage presence remember seeing somone on stage, and replace them with your self. Remember the biggest audiences you’ve performed well in front of. Generally try to keep your brain focused on that feeling, that confidence, it’ll stick with you the more you feel it.

Guided Meditation File 10 – Awareness – Self Awareness
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