Recognizing People Operate on a Continuum from Asleep to Awake

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

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zoned out

Every day, we spend time physically awake and asleep.

This article is not about our sleep cycles. It is about our level of consciousness.

Here is something that I have learned, some people operate:

  • Less consciously aware (Asleep) – They are not very self-aware, mindful, or present, and operate largely on autopilot. They are the passenger of their lives.
  • More consciously aware (Awake) – They are very self-aware, mindful, and present, and operate intentionally. They are the driver of their lives.

I imagine that you agree with me.

The Challenge with This Concept

While we probably agree that people operate somewhere along the continuum from asleep to awake, do you think people are self-aware about the degree to which they are awake?

I don’t think so.

I think if you ask anybody, they are going to say that they are quite awake, even if they operate from a low level of conscious awareness.

This is a huge challenge to overcome.

And, here is part of the reason why: It is essentially impossible to tell the degree to which we have been asleep until we elevate in our consciousness. Here is how I think it generally works:

Awake to Asleep


I want to share several different examples of this phenomenon that I have come across lately:


Tracy is in her 60’s. She recently told me that she has only recently discovered that her whole life, she operated in a manner where she consistently sought out the approval of others to feel of value. She is now focusing on improving her relationship with herself and seeing her true worth so that she doesn’t need the approval of others. For more on Tracy, read this article: Going from Mind 1.0 to Mind 2.0


I recently had a coaching call with an executive. At the beginning of the call, he told me that he is very self-aware and loves personal development. Later in the same call, he told me that it is not uncommon for him to be an ass to others.


I recently had a coaching call with a COO, and we discussed how holding too tightly to goals can become problematic. When we hold too tightly to goals, we care more about accomplishing our goals (for ourselves) than on creating value (for others). During this discussion, a lightbulb went off for her. She said, “I have been heavily focused on goals because that is what I am financially incentivized to do. But, I don’t need to be a robot about this. As important as goals are, I need to make sure we focus more on our purpose than on our goals.”

Church Leader

I recently heard a church leader complain about people not attending an activity that they had planned. This leader was rather critical of those who didn’t attend. But, they were unable to recognize that maybe people didn’t attend because the church leader who planned it tends to be critical of others.

My Wife

Over the last couple of years, my wife and I have independently been working with a trauma therapist. Recently, my wife told me, I am realizing that much of how I used to operate came from a place of fear.


During the time I have been doing trauma therapy, I feel like my self-awareness is regularly getting deeper and deeper. I feel the deeper that I go, the more awake I become. I now look back on my old self and think, “I was rather unaware.”


Becoming more aware of my own awake-ness and that of others, here are some things I have learned:

  1. We can always awaken more than we currently are
  2. The more we awaken, the greater our ability to heal and elevate ourselves
  3. The more we awaken, the greater our emotional intelligence
  4. The more we awaken, the greater our ability to be a positive influence to others
  5. Awakening is a form of vertical development

zoned out

With all this said, what are you doing to become more awake?

Here are things that have helped me most awaken:

  • Trauma therapy
  • Receiving coaching
  • Reading (e.g., Bonds that Make Us Free)
  • Getting out of my comfort zone & pushing my limits
  • Questioning my beliefs, assumptions, and mindsets

Some self-reflective notes:

I just spent about 5-10 minutes thinking about the various things that have helped me awaken, and one of the things I wrestled with is the role that my religion and church involvement (I have gone to church my whole life) has played in my awakening journey.

As I thought about this, there were two main takeaways:

  • I am surprised that I do not feel that my church involvement has done much to help me awaken
  • In fact, the experience with my religion that has played the most significant role in my awakening journey was a very negative experience (I write about this in The Elevated Leader)

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