When men come to coaching or join a men’s group, it’s always because some relationship in their life has become unsatisfying or has failed altogether.
For some guys, a committed relationships with another person has turned sour. For others it’s the relationship they have with their body – which shows up as health problems or body-image concerns. Still others have concerns about their relationship they have with the world-in-general; in other words, they’re sick of their job.
Most men approach these challenges with a fix-it attitude, a deeply rooted belief that they if they can just learn and apply the right facts, information or techniques to their situation, things will change for the better.
It turns out, problems of relationship require men to develop new skills of relating; but, because men are largely socialized to think and do rather than to relate and wait, they struggle and often give up trying to create change altogether.
The best thing a guy can do, if he’s interested in making lasting changes in his relationship, is to deliberately cultivate the skill of awareness. For newcomers to the concept, awareness just refers to that innate capacity we all have to recognize what’s going on in our body, mind, heart and environment in a given moment without (at first) doing a damn thing about it.
For guys who see themselves as doers, this may seem incomprehensible – or irrelevant. What good could come from doing nothing? If that’s the thought that shot through your mind, you have misunderstood me. Cultivating awareness and being aware is not a passive activity.
Case in point: Have you ever played that deer hunting game at a bar or an arcade? If so, you’ll know well that feeling of aliveness, bordering on tension, that you feel as you scan the screen for the next deer to pop into sight. “What’s going to happen next? What now? What now?” That is what it’s like to apply awareness to your life. Not passive at all. You feel poised. You feel ready. You feel awake.
And how exactly does cultivating awareness improve relationships? Good question. Here’s a short list:
It trains you to be less reactive in difficult situations
It makes listening to others into a dynamic and interesting activity
It makes it possible for you to identify physical and emotional stress long before it becomes a medical or mental health problem
It creates a sense of more space in your body and mind, so the world doesn’t feel like it’s closing in on you
Of course, it’s up to each individual man to decide whether reading another book or listening to another podcast – to get tips, tricks and techniques for change – will benefit him and his relationships more or less than investing time in cultivating awareness.
I’ll write more in the future about specific ways to cultivate awareness. For now, chew on these ideas, men, and let me know your thoughts and – more importantly – your experiences.