Can People Really Change? Part II – The Awareness Wheel:What Changes When Things Change?

Not long ago we spent two days and an evening with a senior leadership team of a company doing business in Central/Eastern Europe (CEE). Sitting around the circle of chairs were the Country Heads from Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Turkey, Romania, Slovakia and The Czech Republic, all experienced executives responsible for returning significant business results to the parent company in a time of relentless competition and struggling markets. They weren’t doing all that badly, actually, considering what they were facing, and believed they could do even better. The first time we met with them they were a little bit wary of each other, and in the course of our work, we introduced the possibility of becoming a high-performance team. We explained it would mean they would be concerned, not only about their own country’s success, but the success of their colleagues’ countries. They balked. ‘We are so independent we could probably get along by ourselves’, was their view. We said, ‘OK. There is no sense in pushing to become something that isn’t necessary or wanted.’ And we left it at that. We will come back at the end of this piece to see what happened at our second session with them. . .

What Changes when People Change?

Some years ago, Sherod Miller, a psychologist colleague, came up with a useful conceptual model for understanding the internal human process. He called it The Awareness Wheel. Let’s explore it a little here to see if it can help put our finger on what actually changes when things change. If we are to ever change, that change will have to happen in one or more of the dimensions of The Wheel.

The Awareness Wheel

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Usually the starting point, these are the (raw) sensations that are experienced through our senses – seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling – as we encounter the people, events, and things around us. We will come back to this one later in future issues, but for now, think of it as what we notice or experience, how the world around us becomes manifest to us.


Here is when/where meaning is created, the interpretation we give to our sensory data. It usually happens so fast as to be virtually instantaneous with our sensing. We see or hear something, for instance, and it appears to us as an internal thought, shaped by our Operating System, the ‘Black Box’, introduced in Part I of this series.

Image 23


As a result of our interpretation – the meaning we ascribe to what is ‘happening’ – an emotional state emerges and is available to be noticed. ‘E-motion is simply energy moving in our bodies with a label attached (I can’t remember where I first heard that one. . .) And here are ‘The Big Five Emotional States’

  • Mad-from mild irritation to rage.
  • Sad-from passing sadness to despair
  • Glad-from simple happiness to ecstasy
  • Scared-from anxiety to deep fear
  • Close-from friendliness to intimacy


These are our desires, what we want to happen (or NOT happen) to ourselves, others, or even a cause we hold dear. This can be as specific as work-related goals and objectives or as general as hopes for your life. Sometimes they are a detailed and strategic intention; sometimes as simple as wanting a pizza. I see X  I think Y  I want Z. It’s usually not realized to be a series of internal ‘vents’ but as an unconscious, immediate ‘knowing’ – ‘I’m hungry’.

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What comes next is what we say and/or do, including our non-verbal ‘actions’ like tone of voice, body language and facial expressions. Think of everything you SAY, like promises, excuses, laughter, agreements, complaining-all of it. And everything you DO, like writing emails, leading meetings, cooking, walking/running /skiing, nodding – all of it. You are walking around all day DOING things, and everything you do – says The Awareness Wheel – can be explained in this process.

Awareness/Consciousness (At the core)

Inside – or beneath, or beyond – this internal process is that ‘place’ in us that is able to be aware of what we are sensing, thinking, feeling, intending, and doing. If asked, most people can usually name what is happening in this process. But our minds are so active it is usually difficult or impossible to get below the surface to notice what we are noticing, listen to what we are saying, think about what we are thinking, etc. Meditation and relaxation techniques are helpful in gaining access to that ‘place’, that inner core where The Listener/The Experiencer lives. When we are thinking, we are basically talking to ourselves. OK, but who is listening? At the core of who we are is this entity, this ‘place’, this ‘space’ or this aspect of our being.

Image 25

The Awareness Wheel and the Process of Change

To follow the model, these elements are happening inside us all the time. Even though they are depicted above in a nice, neat circle of circles, they are in fact interacting all the time, with one of them becoming foreground, then our awareness jumping to another across the circle, etc. For instance, you may find yourself doing something and only later, on reflection, realize the internal ‘chain of events’ that led to what you did. Or in a conversation you may suddenly feel something, only afterward understanding that it came from a judgment you had about the other person or the situation. It is a major breakthrough to realize that what you FEEL is a ‘product’ of some THOUGHT or INTERPRETATION you had about what was happening. Change what you THINK about someone and the feeling can shift as well. But that takes us back to ‘the black box’ of our Operating System I explored in the last issue. We are programmed to SEE certain things and NOT SEE certain other things, like the electrician and the carpet salesman in my example who see what they have been trained to see when they walk into a room, and miss completely what the other sees so naturally. Think of Wayne Dyer’s great saying: ‘When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.’

Meanwhile, Back with the Executive Group. . .

At the second offsite retreat with that CEE executive group, on the last day everyone in the room started noticing and speaking about how things seemed to have ‘changed’.

  • ‘You know, we could achieve a lot more as a Region if we started working together on things that affected us all.’ ‘
  • I find myself actually wanting to help you (his colleague in Russia) with that turnover problem, not just hoping you work it out.’
  • ‘Let’s create our own (internal) bonus system that motivates us to collaborate a little, instead of the one from Headquarters that actually pits us against each other for scarce resources.’

Wow. . . What the heck happened?! If change occurred-and it certainly looked like it had-what actually changed? Using The Awareness Wheel, it started with the way they looked at each other – what they ‘saw’ when they looked. Instead of seeing a POSITION sitting beside them (e.g. ‘The GM of Hungary’), they were deepening their ability to see the PERSON (let’s call him ‘Ivan’). Once they started to SEE and HEAR each other as unique human beings, not just roles – or even colleagues, the whole internal chain of events depicted by the Awareness Wheel shifted. Their change in perception resulted in different THOUGHTS about each other. In fact, there were several comments about how what ‘Ivan’ did (like sitting in meetings and not saying much) was no longer a problem for the team. Now they understood that ‘Ivan’ was simply thinking hard and carefully about what was happening and not wanting to throw out half-baked ideas. Once their thoughts about their fellow group members shifted, they accessed different FEELINGS about each other, and visible physical changes began to take place. They started sitting closer to each other, laughing more easily, dropping much of the superficial banter that had dominated their conversations. ‘We are becoming more real’, is the way one member of the group put it. We can’t wait to see what – if any – impact all this will have on their results for the next quarter. . .

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