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Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus help over 20 million people live meaningful lives with less through their website, books, podcast, and documentary. The Minimalists have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Forbes, TIME, ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, CBC, and NPR.

Costs and Benefits of Awareness

I’m standing half-nude in front of a full-length mirror, pinching and poking at my midsection.

I’ve been on a dietary cleanse for the past two weeks: primarily raw foods, no alcohol, no caffeine, no processed foods, no animal products. Plus, I’ve been hitting the gym each morning with Shawn for a rigorous workout. Both have been significant improvements to my daily routine: I’m healthier now than a month ago—less body fat, more muscle, better sleep. And most important—I feel great (after all, how we feel is the best barometer of quality of health).

So why am I more frustrated with the image staring back at me in the mirror?

Whenever we make radical changes—diet, exercise, career, etc.—we shine a spotlight on our flaws, and our blemishes become more glaring in the light: this is the cost of awareness.

Our standards change whenever we are infused with a new awareness, and we scrutinize ourselves more: the more we scrutinize, the more the spotlight brightens, the more our imperfections stand out.

Awareness isn’t always pleasant, but becoming aware is critical: the benefits, especially long-term, aren’t realized until we recognize our flaws for what they are—past weaknesses. Only then can we strengthen ourselves; only then can we craft the best version of ourselves.

True awareness allows us to improve, to grow—to become better, but not perfect. Our lives will never be perfect—we’ve all been cut deeply, and we’ll continue to be cut deeply—but we’ll be okay: awareness will always help us heal, and our scars become the best parts of us.

Read this essay and 150 others in our new book, Essential.