Have you ever had a moment in your life where you did something so completely out-of-character that you’re shaken up by it? Maybe you said something thoughtless, did something selfish, or made a mistake you never thought you would make. Each one of us (rightly) thinks that we know ourselves pretty well. After all, who could know you better than… well, you? But according to a study done by organizational psychologist and executive coach Tasha Eurich, only about 10-15% of people are truly self aware.
But what is self awareness? How can it benefit you? And how do you start down the road to becoming a more self aware person?
What is Self Awareness?
There are two aspects of self awareness that you should know about, internal and external. Internal self awareness means understanding your own values, standards, strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, and motivations. It involves being able to evaluate your thoughts and actions to make sure they align with “who you are” or, in some cases, who you want to be. This type of self awareness requires an uncomfortable (and sometimes painful) degree of honesty that most of us subconsciously cringe away from.
Marriage and family therapist Amy McManus defines external self awareness this way, “The ability to look at your own words and actions from a perspective outside of yourself; to see yourself as others see you.” This can be pretty uncomfortable too. Other people often observe things about us that are mental “blind spots” for us. When a friend points out one of our blind spots, our gut reaction might be to shout, “I don’t do that!” And not even allow ourselves to consider the possibility that they might be right.
So if self awareness can be awkward, uncomfortable, and even painful, why pursue it at all?
The Benefits of Self Awareness
Becoming more self aware might seem scary, but the benefits completely outweigh any discomfort you might feel. Here are just a few of them.
- Decreased anxiety
- Greater self confidence
- More compassion
- Better listening skills
- Deeper and more meaningful relationships
- Increased happiness
- Expanding your creativity
- More success at your job
- Reaching more of your goals
Do you want these benefits for yourself? Let’s see how you can get started.
Self Awareness Begins with Introspection
Self awareness means thinking about, understanding, and contemplating your internal landscape. And introspection is the door that gets you there. The American Psychologist Association defines it this way: “The process of attempting to directly access one’s own internal psychological processes, judgments, perceptions, or states.” So how do you get direct access to your internal self? How do you open that door?
According to Tasha Eurich, we should ask ourselves the right kind of questions. Her research suggests that we should ask what not why. Why questions often cause us to fixate on the problem and view ourselves as a victim instead of dealing with it in a healthy way. I.e. “Why is this happening to me?” “Why am I feeling this way?” These kinds of questions can lead to a roller coaster of emotional responses that make us feel worse instead of better.
So, what are some healthier questions to ask ourselves?
- What am I feeling?
- What’s another perspective on this situation?
- What can I do to respond better?
What questions are solution focused. They help us identify our emotions clearly. And they help us understand what we can do right now to make our situation better.
The Value of Having a Growth Mindset
So, we understand the benefits of self awareness and how to get started. But how do we get past the discomfort and pain of confronting our own thoughts and feelings? Well, it’s easy to get into the perfectionist mindset. We have high standards for ourselves and that’s good!
But at times we won’t meet those standards. Instead of being crushed under the weight of “who we should be,” it’s healthier to see our shortcomings as opportunities to grow. A growth mindset will allow us to become better people every day and enjoy the road to getting there.
Do you want to become more self aware? Then start with introspection, ask the right questions, and develop a growth mindset. The more you practice self awareness, the less anxious, more successful, and all-around happier you’ll be.
Self reflection, introspection, and analysis will help you learn a lot about you. You will learn why you do the things you do and what it means about where you are.
Whether you are at your happiest or lowest point, there is a place for introspection. Don’t you want to know where your emotions are coming from? What is guiding you? You can’t grow as a person until you take time to pause, reflect, introspect, analyze, and move forward.
I’d suggest you start by sitting down with a blank piece of paper and writing about how you’re feeling. Do this without allowing your mind to shift into the blame game or without slipping into negativity. I want you to reflect on what you’re feeling non-judgmentally so you can get to grips with what’s going on.
It might not sound like much, but it’s a start and it should put things in a different light. You will uncover truths that you had never before realized, both positives and negatives. You might realize you love your job, but the commute is driving you insane.
Self Awareness: Analyzing the Why’s Of All You Do
While it might seem as though self awareness is just the latest buzzword, research suggests otherwise. In fact, with a bit of self awareness, you will not only see yourself more clearly, but you will be a more creative and confident person. Don’t you want to build strong relationships, communicate effectively, and make sound decisions? Well, that’s what self awareness delivers. We become better people, more effective in every role we play, and more satisfied humans, too.
Perhaps our greatest roadblock to self awareness is our own understanding of it, and our lack of knowledge around what it takes to improve. Sadly, a lot of people believe themselves to be self aware, but the evidence suggests otherwise. In reality, true self awareness is rare.
The Shades of Self Awareness
Firstly, there are two different types of self awareness. This has been a topic of conversation for decades and in that time, there have been a variety of definitions for self-awareness. There’s our ability to track our inner world. Some call it a state of self consciousness, temporary or otherwise. Then there are people who say it’s the difference between how we view ourselves versus how others do. We can say there are two broad umbrellas of which self awareness falls under.
The first is our internal awareness, this represents how clearly, we see our aspirations, desires, passions, and values. It also includes how we fit in with our environment and how we think, feel, and react. This is associated with your personal and professional happiness on the positive side, and on the negative side can influence anxiety, stress, and depression.
Then there is external awareness. This is your understanding of how people view you along the same factors listed above. When you are aware of how others see you, you tend to be more empathetic and more likely to listen to the perspective of others.
Just because you have one does not mean you have the other. The two are almost entirely unrelated. So, you may have a high level of external self awareness with no internal self awareness whatsoever (and vice versa). You need a balance of the two, especially if you want to understand the why’s of everything you do.
The Self Analysis of Self Awareness
The most obvious aspect of analyzing why you do what you do would be through introspection. However, introspection won’t always improve self awareness, it’s simply a tool to advance it, that is if you’re doing it properly.
We often ask ourselves why. That’s not an effective way to question yourself, even if you are trying to determine the why of what you do. A lot of the answers are trapped beyond your conscious awareness which means you create answers and they are rarely accurate. We don’t often behave rationally so we are guilty of seizing insights without questioning their value. Asking why also often brings up negative thoughts. The correct way to get introspective is what. By asking what you will find your way to the whys you have been searching for.
As an example, you are a veteran of your industry, but you despise your job. Do you keep asking why do I feel awful? You should be asking what situations make me feel awful? And what do those situations have in common? Now you can recognize the true issue you’re facing and understand why you are where you are and why you make the decisions you do, etc.
Analyzing the why’s of everything you do is one of the most effective ways to gain self awareness because as you learn valuable insights into your character you start to build a more complete picture of what makes you tick. To do this one must understand that self awareness isn’t a single truth, rather, it’s a balance of two viewpoints, which may or may not align with each other.
Self Awareness: The Cornerstone of Personal Growth
Self awareness is the concept of focusing attention on ourselves as a means of gaining further understanding of our emotions, thoughts, actions, behaviors, and motives. Then, armed with that understanding, we can make improvements and adjustments that allow us to grow in our personal lives.
Self awareness serves as the foundation of personal growth, as it is the awareness of self that provides us the crucial information about our patterns of being that hints at those things, we need to alter in order to transform for the better. The following are some ways self awareness is crucial to personal growth.
Identify Strengths and Weaknesses
Self awareness involves developing an understanding of your thoughts, emotions, actions, behaviors, and motives. As you become clearer about the underlying forces driving your choices and behaviors, you begin to understand those areas that are strengths and those areas that are weaknesses.
This information is valuable because it allows you to see those areas you can use to your advantage as strengths and those areas that you can improve upon in order to get better and grow (Schoenwald, 2019).
More Emotional Control
One facet of self awareness involves delving into our emotions in order to develop greater knowledge and understanding about how we feel, what triggers our feelings, and how those feelings influence our actions and behaviors. Having this knowledge empowers us to have greater control over our emotions versus letting our emotions control us.
When we know what triggers certain emotions, we can take steps to avoid those triggers or put measures in place to help us deal with those triggers. Similarly, when we understand how certain emotions influence our behaviors, we can then catch ourselves when we are experiencing certain emotions before we engage in potentially negative or harmful behaviors (Verma, 2020).
As we grow in our understanding of ourselves, we can gain critical information that can help us reach our goals. When we understand our actions and behaviors as well as the underlying motives driving the things we do, we can tailor our actions and adjust our motives in a manner that better helps us accomplish the goals we desire to reach.
Also, as previously noted, when we know our strengths and weaknesses and have more control over our emotions, we are in a better position to reach our goals because we aren’t held back by our weaknesses or behaviors/actions that would work against us (Verma, 2020).
The more we know about ourselves, the more confident we can be and confidence is essential to overall growth and development. If we don’t believe in ourselves and our abilities we cannot begin to move forward in our lives. Self awareness can highlight our strengths and show us things about ourselves that we can be proud of which can serve as motivation for us to work towards our goals, and for us to continue on a path of continual progress and growth (Verma, 2020).
Self awareness is a key first step in gaining necessary insight about the self that helps us grow and evolve for the better. Via the continual pursuit of self awareness, we can regularly gain knowledge about ourselves that will help us make needed adjustments and believe in ourselves in a manner that helps us in our pursuits and endeavors in life.
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