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ental/Emotional Fitness & Peak Performance

The Power of Awareness

© Dan Millman
 (Excerpted from The Inner Athlete, Stillpoint Publishing, 1994)

Life is a Great School, and nature is the ultimate teacher, but without awareness you can't hear the teacher. Awareness transforms life's lessons into wisdom; it can translate confusing circumstances and events into useful knowledge. Awareness, then, is the beginning of all learning.

Learning is a response to a demand to grow do something you couldn't do before. The process of reaming there fore naturally involves errors. Errors aren't the problem; ignoring or misunderstanding them is. In order to correct an error, you must first be fully aware of it; then the error is inevitably going to be corrected.

The usual way of measuring how you are progressing in your sports activity is by observing the results. In other words, if you win the match, sink the putt, accomplish your goal, then every thing seems fine; but if the match is lost or the ball ends in the rough, you know something is wrong. Awareness can translate that "something" into specifics.

Most problems precisely defined
are already partially solved.


If awareness were merely intellectual, then infants couldn't learn. There is more to awareness than conceptual understanding. Awareness represents a kind of whole-body sensitivity arrived at through direct experience. Trying to learn a skill without total awareness is like trying to apply a stamp without adhesive it just won't stick.

In life as well as in training, errors are always with us. We can say that learning a new skill is a process of refining errors to the point where they no longer hinder a desired goal. Errors exists even in our NASA space program, but they have been minimized to an almost invisible level of tolerance. Even the "perfect 10.00" routines of Olympic gymnasts contain errors, but they are small enough to be considered irrelevant. Smaller errors make the expert.

It's desirable, of course, to be aware of strengths as well as weaknesses. Awareness of our strong points brings confidence, inspiration, motivation, and satisfaction. Only awareness of our weaknesses, however, allows us to strengthen our weak links and improve consistently.

Awareness Disillusion, and Success
Awareness heals, but it isn't always pleasant. On the contrary, the growth of awareness can feel like a disillusioning process. During my first few months of Aikido training I became quite disillusioned. The flowing martial art of Aikido requires relaxation-in-movement even while under attack. In the face of this demand for relaxation, I began to notice a great deal of tension in my shoulders. At first I thought that Aikido was "making me" tense, but I gradually realized that I was only becoming aware, for the first time, of tension I had always carried.

Freshmen on the Stanford gymnastics team going through this process of insight, awareness, and disillusion, would sometimes feel frustrated and tell me, their coach, how they "used to be better in high school" and how they were "going downhill."

This concerned me until I saw films of them from the year before, and it was obvious that they had improved radically. They had simply raised their standards and were more aware of errors than they were the previous year.

One sure sign of growing awareness is that you feel as if you are worse." Awareness in sport, in relationships, in any learning often entails a momentary drop in self-esteem, a dent in our self-image. Because of built-in defense mechanisms, therefore, most of us have a tendency to resist awareness

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About The Author
Dan Millman is a former world champion athlete, university coach, martial arts instructor, and college professor. After an intensive, twenty-year spiritual quest, Dan's teaching found its form as the Peaceful Warrior's Way, expressed fully in his books and lectures. His work continues to evolve over time, to meet the needs of a changing world....more
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