Awareness is an interesting model for What Is Important In Life.
Think about it: what do you place in your hierarchy? Probably some jumbled collection of money, love, recognition, friendship, a nonzero amount of ethical activity, and various ‘other’ altruistic activities, all centrifuged together. There might be some religion in there, or an extra serving of social justice. In general, though, it probably looks something like this.
Now imagine scrapping this diffuse list, and replacing it with one item.
When people in our culture talk imprecisely about intelligence, to mean something like ‘everything that is important to know in this situation’, they usually mean awareness. They are slicing and dicing a lot of concepts together – discernment, identification of the most important pieces, a wise form of agency – and wrapping it under a nice conceptual bow there, capital-i Intelligence.
The problem with intelligence, when used in this way, is that it doesn’t really go anywhere or lead to anything besides itself. How do you improve it? Crossword puzzles, maybe; university courses. For the most part, there’s a deterministic sense that ‘you can’t.’ This, despite the fact that better preparation in all other areas demonstrably leads to better outcomes. Yet intelligence sits there, supposedly unmoved and untouched in each person, decade after decade.
Awareness is a better proxy for it.
What we really mean when we speak about ‘intelligence’ in this ill-defined way is ‘the right amount of attention, in the right proportion, in the right direction, with the right amount of force.’ So if a difficult, conceptually involved takes, say, 5 hours to complete, we break it down as quickly as possible, complete each piece as quickly but as thoroughly as necessary (using our discretion to decide that point correctly).
Proportion is all.
Awareness is better here in that it suggests better directions and outcomes, all the time. Unlike intelligence, it is possible to test at practically any second, and suggest immediate areas for improvement. Are you aware of your body sensations right now? How about your breath? How about your emotional state? Are you aware of what you yourself believe you should be working on, at this very moment? The things you wanted to work on today, this week, and this year, broadly speaking? Are you aware of your posture?
Most of the time, and for the foreseeable future, awareness, when thought of in this way, can quickly suggest dozens of possibilities. In fact, it suggests so many that a new meta-level becomes introduced, managing your awareness.
This is the harder part – planning.
Because we have to get off our narrow little track here and select from the infinite amount of tasks now available to us in the best and optimal way. That’s awareness, all the way.
And this is something we tend not to think about, in our micro-focused way. We think, what is the best way to do this task, or that task. It doesn’t occur to us that that’s small beer, and the real choice, the real value, the life-changing victory will come from stringing a selection of conceptually advanced choices together.
Because if we’re bean-counting our to-do lists, then going to the grocery store, going for a run, and finishing a minor book is going to be weighted the same way as registering for a power giveaway, preparing our application, and submitting it early and on time. But if you’re just counting ‘completion’ checkmarks, they’re going to look the same – equal accomplishment, in both cases; equal completion (one hundred percent).
But that’s a dumb way to look at things, obviously.
And that’s when awareness becomes so important. That’s why awareness is what we really mean when we talk in this mystical way about intelligence. It’s the piece that joins the other pieces together, in the way they should be joined – that way that is best.
As a result, it takes years to develop. I’m not there yet, but I believe it justifies the effort.