Relevance of awareness in coaching

I used my coach-specific training and coaching experience to analyse it a bit more in the context of coaching


Consciousness exists in every living organism meant Ved Vyas, when he wrote in the Devi Suktam from the Puranas — “We bow to the divine Goddess in all existence who resides all throughout the consciousness and is known by the reflections of mind”

Awareness is fundamental to the existence of every human being in their respective evolution journey. As they evolve (grow) from infant to child to youth to adult to seniors, awareness is central to the learning process for each individual. Awareness is also central to changes in the behavioural aspects of the individual. It is because of awareness that an individual changes (transforms) from one behavioural state to another.

What is awareness?

We are not what we do, what we say, what we think, or even what we feel. Whilst these things may define our experience of life, they do not define who we are. To train the mind is to witness this for ourselves.

The mind is bigger than this. Life is bigger than this. There is something beyond thought, beyond feeling, beyond speech and beyond action. It is a place of awareness. We can call it by any name we like. We may attach it to a particular way of thinking, a philosophy, a faith or have no name for it whatsoever.

Awareness, consciousness and states of mind

Robert de Quincey, a noted philosopher, gives a list of what would be considered the marks of consciousness, including ‘experience, subjectivity, sentience, feeling, or mentality of any kind’. Associated with awareness is ‘sentience’, which requires special elaboration in the context of awareness. Sentience is defined as the ability and capacity of an entity to perceive, feel or experience subjectively.

Does state of mind impact awareness?

Michael H Ballard is a psychologist and calls himself Positive Outcome Specialist. His answer is “Awareness is in effect change of ‘state-of-mind’ for an individual”.

He further goes to elaborate seven states of awareness as follows:

1. You Don’t Know, You Don’t Know Unconscious Incompetence
2. You Know, You Don’t Know Conscious Incompetence
3. You Know, You Know (L1) Conscious Competence
4. You Don’t Know, You Know Unconscious Competence
5. You Know, You Know (L2) Conscious Competence
6. You Think You Know, You Know Unconscious Incompetence
7. You Know, You Will Never Know it All Partial Conscious Competence,

Incompetence with humility

I used my coach-specific training and coaching experience to analyse it a bit more in the context of coaching.

The first four states represent the clients’ transformation with each coaching interaction, whereas the last three states seem to represent the growth path for the coach.

Discrete or continuous

In relation to seven states of awareness proposed by Michael Ballard above, one is left thinking, whether these states are discrete or continuous.

Robert Arp, a philosopher, in his paper ‘Consciousness and Awareness — ‘Switched-on Rheostats,’ proposes a continuum theory just as a sliding rheostat.

Thus quoted: “I question whether it is completely accurate to think of the philosophical meaning of consciousness as being switched-on or switched-off. It may be that, once consciousness is switched on, it is then found in degrees in animals we deem conscious. In which case, consciousness is more like a switched-on rheostat, rather than a simple on–off switch.”

If the states were discrete, it would be possible to: one, switch-on and off any state and second, a subject would jump from one state to another (like an electron changing the orbit of revolution around the nucleus after gain energy).

It is rather observed that with each introspection, first the degree of awareness/consciousness increases continuously and then unknowingly subject transcends from one state of consciousness to another.

Create awareness: Is there an associated process?

As ICF coaching core competency is phrased ‘Create Awareness’, it implies an act of doing — a verb. Every act of doing must have an associated process. So what is the process of creating awareness?

The process is intuitively suggested by bringing in two types (not states) of consciousness in a paper titled ‘On a confusion about a function of consciousness’ authored by Ned Block and published in ‘Behavioural and Brain Sciences (1995)’.

Quoted from the abstract: “Consciousness is a mongrel concept: there are a number of very different ‘consciousnesses’. Phenomenal consciousness is experience; the phenomenally conscious aspect of a state is what it is like to be in that state. The mark of access-consciousness, by contrast, is availability for use in reasoning and rationally guiding speech and action”

Ned proposed a distinction between two types of consciousness that he called phenomenal (P- consciousness) and access (A- consciousness).

P-consciousness, according to Block, is simply raw experience: it is moving, coloured forms, sounds, sensations, emotions and feelings with our bodies’ and responses at the centre. These experiences, considered independently of any impact on behaviour, are called ‘Qualia’.

Quoted from Ned’s paper: “P-conscious states when we see, hear, smell, taste, and have pains. P-conscious properties include the experiential properties of sensations, feelings, and perceptions, but I would also include thoughts, desires and emotions.
A-consciousness, on the other hand, is the phenomenon whereby information in our minds is accessible for verbal report, reasoning, and the control of behaviour. So, when we think or reason or rationalise or introspect, information about our thoughts it is access conscious”

Intuitively, this process seems to be inherent in every person and it seems that a person is quite capable to creating consciousness by self-using the faculties responsible for P- and A- consciousness.

Consciousness, thus seems to be a two-step process

Step 1 – comprises perceiving (P-conscious) also termed as ‘Pre-reflective self-consciousness’ in a paper called ‘Phenomenogical Approaches to Self-Consciousness’.

Step 2 – builds on pre-reflection to analyse and report, termed as reflective self-consciousness. This seem to be encompassing A-consciousness.

Pre reflective self-consciousness leads to reflective self-consciousness sequentially. Though sequential, reflective self-conscious may be triggered in different instance because of the temporal nature of pre-reflective self-consciousness. Temporality contains an internal fracture that permits us to return to our past experiences in order to investigate them reflectively. Thus, the time difference between the two instances may be anything from a few minutes to few years.

To study the process further in context of coaching, we may have to deliberate around an important question: ‘Can consciousness be externally induced?’

In light of above discussion on self-consciousness, pre-reflection is very personal and intrinsic to a person. Reflection, on the other hand, involves investigation around the subject of pre-reflection. Every individual is capable of pre-reflective and reflective consciousness. Yet, some may seek assistance to attain reflective consciousness.

This external help comes in the form of a professionally-trained coach, who professes ‘creating awareness’, as embodied in the ICF coaching framework.

The role of a coach is to enhance the capacity and ability of an individual to dwell in an A-Conscious mind, before responding to the stimulus. This is done by breaking barriers, investigating feelings and emotions, exploring the unknown and envisioning the future et al.

Thanks to coaching, people from around the world have been able to surpass their limitations and achieve their personal and professional goals.

Find your ICF-credentialed coach today and partner to maximise your potential

Anyone can call themselves a coach. ICF-credentialed coaches have met stringent education and experience requirements and have demonstrated a thorough understanding of the coaching competencies that set the standard in the profession.

If you need support on your organisation’s and/or leader’s coaching journey, do contact us at ICF and our team of volunteers in India will be happy to help.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society.

Founded in 1995, its 40,000-plus members located in more than 145 countries and territories work toward the common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and maintaining the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching.

In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi NCR, ICF Mumbai, ICF Pune and ICF Hyderabad.

The author, Alok Sharma is an ICF ACC credentialed practising coach for leadership and life after spending 35+ years in corporate roles in IT industry. As a professionally-trained coach, within an ICF-accredited training programme, Alok aims to partner with individuals in their respective growth journey as a leader and a better person. A postgraduate in physics and an EMCC senior practitioner, Sharma practices basic yoga for physical and spiritual well-being. He is an ICF member affiliated to the ICF Delhi NCR chapter.

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