Character Chats

What is intellectual awareness?

Here at True Balance Karate, our social-emotional learning program is called True Character.

Every month we have a word of the month, and this month’s word of the month is awareness.

For our younger students, we define awareness as, “I pay attention to my surroundings.” For our older students and adults, we say awareness means “I see people’s feelings. I know where I am. I ask great questions.”

So let’s start with intellectual awareness. How can we help our minds to be a little bit more aware?

The four levels of understanding

I talk about this a little bit from the competence scale. There are four levels of competence:

  • Unconscious incompetence
  • Conscious incompetence
  • Conscious competence
  • Unconscious competence

We turn this around in our leadership book that we wrote. To give it a little more general definition, we say there are four levels of understanding:

  1. I don’t know what I don’t know.
  2. I know what I don’t know.
  3. I know and grow.
  4. I got this

So for intellectual awareness, we can’t learn things we don’t know exist (“I don’t know what I don’t know”). To grow intellectually — to be smarter, better people — we have to purposely reach out to find those things we don’t know.

Always be looking for what you don’t know

We teach our leadership students that you always want to be looking for “I don’t knows.” You never want to settle in what you just know.

In martial arts we have in our class a great way of doing this. Students make it into the intermediate advanced classes. Occasionally we’ll practice all of our forms, just before our testing, especially. And we’ll have the students — instead of continuously practicing the form and learning broken up into groups — we’ll have the students sit down and watch the forms continue.

And when somebody who’s an orange belt, orange-green belt, just getting out of beginner into the intermediate curriculum, when they sit down and they watch and they actually see all of the martial arts moves all the way through black belts, they move from “I don’t know what I don’t know”.

They never realized these forms existed. They see these fancy awesome complicated moves. Now they know what they don’t know.

They now realize, “I want to earn that”. “I want to learn that.” “I want to be able to do those things.”

They’re now consciously incompetent. They can’t do them yet, but they know they exist.

Ask questions

It’s seeking out and looking for things like that that really helps us build. We can’t set a goal that we don’t know exists, and that all starts by asking questions.

We want to make sure that we’re always asking questions. We’re always striving for more. We want to make sure that we have an attitude of why.

Okay, we do it this way, but why? What does this mean over here? How do you build that? How does my water get into the faucet? How is it that a car works? How is it that math works? How does that equation help? How do verbs work? How do pronouns…? How do all those things work?

Understanding and asking those questions is how we build that intellectual intelligence.

Who do you ask?

Now, we also want to understand who to ask questions of. For example, if you’re having trouble with math, you don’t ask your art teacher or your gym teacher. You ask your math teacher.

If I have a toothache, I don’t go and ask my plumber about my toothache. I ask my plumber about why my faucet leaks, and I ask my dentist about why my tooth hurts.

Understanding we need to ask questions and then using our intellectual curiosity to find the right person to ask is an important part of that awareness.

But remember, you can’t learn something you’re not aware exists. So you need to always look in life for those “I don’t knows”.

Over-awareness and composure

Sometimes we can be aware of three things at once — our awareness of what we know, what we feel and where we are all happen at the same time.

We feel big feelings and have to ask about how to handle them, or we are lost and have to ask for help while feeling scared.

Having all three levels of awareness does happen and it can be a little over overwhelming. When that happens, we want to think about how to keep our composure.

So, especially when we feel lost for a second there, we become aware of our surroundings: “You know, I don’t really know where I’m at.”

We become aware of our feelings, “Boy, I’m feeling a little bit scared.”

This can sometimes take us over and stop us from doing the right things. That’s when we engage in one of our previous words of the month: our composure.

If our over-awareness acts up, like when you hear thunder outside (“Oh, I’m really aware that there’s a thunderstorm outside. Uh-oh, I’m getting really scared.”) you can think “I’m aware of my feelings. I’m aware of my surroundings.”

If your surroundings are you running around outside with a golf club in your hand, then your awareness is probably correct. “I need to drop that golf club and change my surroundings.”

But if your surroundings are your bedroom, inside, safe and sound, then you’re overly aware. You can bring in your intelligent brain and say, “Look, it’s okay. I’m aware it’s storming, but I’m in a safe place. My surroundings are correct. So now I can calm back down.”

If our awareness ever starts to act up a little bit, we can step in and use our smart brain — calm ourselves down.

Awareness is our word of the month.

Thanks. And we’ll see everybody on the mat.
–Master Helsdon