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In his sensational book The Six Pillars Of Self-Esteem Nathaniel Branden discusses:

  1. The practice of living consciously
  2. The practice of self-acceptance
  3. The practice of living self-responsibility
  4. The practice of self-assertiveness
  5. The practice of living purposefully
  6. The practice of personal integrity

In this article I summarise his chapter on living consciously. Future articles will cover the other pillars.

To live consciously means to seek to be aware of everything that bears on our actions, purposes, values, and goals – to be the best of our ability, whatever that ability may be – and to behave in accordance with that which we see and know.

Living Consciously entails:

  • A mind that is active rather than passive
  • An intelligence that takes joy in its own function
  • Being in the moment without losing the wider context
  • Reaching out toward relevant fasts rather than withdrawing from them
  • Being concerned to distinguish among facts, interpretations and emotions
A concern to understand the world around me
  • Being willing to see and correct mistakes
  • A concern to know not only external reality but also internal reality, the reality of my needs, aspirations, and motives, so that I am not a stranger or a mystery to myself
  • Being receptive to knowledge and willing to reexamine old assumptions
  • Persevering in the attempt to understand in spite of difficulties

The below sentences are powerful quotes from the chapter:

When we live consciously we do not confuse the subjective with the objective

Procrastination is the opposite of living consciously

Since I am responsible for my own existence and happiness, I choose to be conscious and to be guided by the clearest understanding of which I am capable.

Fear and pain should be treated as signals not to close our eyes but to open them wider

What I perceive, what I interpret it to mean, and how I feel about it are three separate questions.

Essentially a key part to living consciously, Branden states, is “a orientation of self-examination and self-awareness – of consciousness directed inward as well as outward”. He provides the following questions as examples:

  • Do I know what I am feeling at any particular moment?
  • Do I recognise the impulses from which my actions spring?
  • Do I notice if my feelings and actions are congruent?
  • Do I know what needs or desires I may be trying to satisfy?
  • Do I know what I actually want in a particular encounter with another person?
  • Do I know what my life is about?
  • Do I know what I am doing when I particularly like myself and what I am doing when I don’t?

These are the kind of questions that intelligent self-examination entails.

The Art Of Noticing

Noticing the feelings in your body. Noticing m emotions during an encounter with someone. Noticing patterns in my behaviour that may not be serving me. Noticing what excites me and what drains me. Noticing whether the voice inside my head is trill my own or belongs to someone else – perhaps your mother. To notice, I have to be interested, I have to think the practice worthwhile. I have to believe there is value in knowing myself. I may have to be willing to look at troublesome facts. I have to be convinced that, longterm, I have more to gain from so consciousness than unconsciousness.

If you were to bring a higher level of consciousness to your relationship with others, and to do so steadily, day after day, what do you suppose might happen?

Write down 6-10 endings as rapidly a you can:

  • If I bring a higher level of consciousness to my relationship with X…..”

The Mind-Body Connection

Wilhelm Reich brought the body in to psychotherapy. Feelings and emotions are blocked and repressed the process of implementation is physical: Breathing is restricted and useless contracted. When this happens repeatedly, the blocks become part of the body structure – the ‘body armour’ in Reich’s phrase, and what began as the psychological becomes somatisized.

Breathing might be so shallow and muscles so little contracted that the flow of feeling is obstructed and consciousness is diminished accordingly. When body therapists work to release the breathing and open areas of tight muscular contraction, the person feels more and is more aware. Body work can liberate blocked consciousness.

Freeing the body contributes to freeing the mind

Clients who bring more consciousness to the work do better than clients who are passive, who just show up and expect the therapist to do everything.

Sentence Completion Work

Sentence completion work is a deceptively simple yet powerful tool for raising self-understanding, self-esteem, and personal effectiveness.

First thing in the morning, before proceeding to the day’s business, sit down and write the following stem:

Living consciously to me means…..

Then as rapidly as possible write as many endings for that sentence as you can in to to three minutes. Write anything, but write something.

You can do this for all sorts of things:

If I pay more attention to how I deal with people today…..

If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my most important relationships…..

If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my:

  • depression
  • needs and wants
  • emotions
  • priorities
  • deepest values and goals

The good thing about not being fully conscious here is…..

If I were to stay more conscious here…..

If I were to experiment with raising my consciousness 5 percent in this area…..

Living consciously is both a practice and a mind-set, an orientation toward life


At the end of this chapter Branden suggests these reflective questions:

  • If you choose to be more conscious at work, what might you do differently?
  • If you choose to be more conscious in your most important relationships, what might you do differently?
  • If you choose to pay more attention to how you deal with people – associates, customers, spouse, children, what might you do differently?
  • If you feel fear or reluctance to expand consciousness in any of these areas, what are the imagined negatives you are avoiding?
  • If, without self-reproach, you bring more consciousness to your fears or reluctance, what might you notice?
  • If you wanted to feel more powerful and effective in the areas where your consciousness has been less than it needs to be, what are you willing to do?