Self-awareness can be defined as the knowledge of consciously knowing your own personality, character and emotions. This includes knowing your strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, emotions, feelings, beliefs and other traits while being sensitive and aware that you or anyone else can feel that way. Do you find yourself asking the question “why am I so sensitive?” Being self-aware gives you a better understanding of not just yourself but the people around you because you are more likely to pay attention to how they feel.
Who are you? It can be one of the toughest questions to answer. It’s easy to look around and assess others, but when we turn inwards this simple question is not so simple. The answer requires honesty, introspection, and ultimately self-awareness.
Self-awareness has become a popular topic in fields like business, the arts, sports, and honestly just about every field that has people in it. According to research published in the MIT Sloan Management Review, self-awareness is the most important character trait a person can develop and is a predictor of success.
What Is Self-awareness?
The whole concept of self-awareness didn’t even hit the psychology field until 1972. Psychologists Robert Wicklund and Shelley Duval theorized that “When we pay attention to ourselves, we evaluate and compare our current behaviour to our internal standards and values. We become self-conscious as objective evaluators of ourselves.” Psychologist Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence proposed that self-awareness was simply, “knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions.” So, what is self-awareness? It’s knowing yourself, the honest you, with all the strengths and weaknesses that come with being who you are.
Why Self-awareness Matters
But why does any of that even matter? What possible advantage can be gained by looking inward or embracing weaknesses? The benefit, at least according to Goleman, is that someone who is self-aware has better psychological health, a healthier outlook on life, more profound life experiences, and are more compassionate with others, and more compassionate with themselves.
In a study conducted by Green Peak Partners and Cornell University, they examined executives at companies with a revenue of $50 million to $50 billion. When tested they found that executives with a high self-awareness score had greater overall success personally and greater success in the company.
Instead of the executives following the common modern mindset best summarized by the slogan of the US Army, “Be all you can be”, the executives followed a mindset best summarized by Dr William Hayashi of Columbia College, Chicago as, “Be all you are.” “Be all you can be,” shoots for an undefined target in an unspecified way, over an indefinite amount of time. It brings little hope of success because success is unclear and external. Being all you are can be assessed and defined by the individual alone, and the individual can decide what makes up success.
The benefits of self-awareness stretch into many facets of life here is just a partial list of benefits researchers have found:
- You become more aware of what your unconscious mind is thinking. Science is not clear on how much of our mind we are consciously aware of, but they know that most of the time people function using unconscious or automatic mind patterns. Not all auto responses are healthy or beneficial so being aware of them and engaging the conscious mind concerning those reactions can be very helpful.
- Other’s consider you a nicer person. Rather than functioning in a reactive state as most people do, the more aware you are, the more mindful you become. The more conscious you are, the better you can gauge how words and actions will impact those around you. The result is you become more considerate, patient and conscientious.
- You are more honest. Human beings can lie and not even know they are lying, at least according to Sigmund Freud. Why? Because human beings have a coping mechanism that allows them to deceive themselves not just others. Self-deception effects almost every aspect of life from career, to health, to mental stability. The higher a person’s self-awareness, the less likely they are to be self-deceptive. They are also more likely to make decisions with positive consequences.
- Fewer regrets, guilt, and inner conflicts. Ignorance is bliss until what you’re ignorant of catches up with you and bites you in the backside. Most of the time our ignorance is willing ignorance, the consequences of which we hope will just pass us by. But, self-awareness reduces the need for willing ignorance because it allows us to assess the impact of our actions on ourselves and others around us and make better decisions. Educated decision making means we don’t have to worry about regret and guilt and it dramatically reduces inner conflict while making those decisions.
- You really know what it is you want. So many people are stuck in circular living. They go to work at a job they don’t really like, to make money, to pay for the stuff needed so they can go to work and make money at a job they don’t really like. People do this because they don’t really know what they want. They don’t know what they want because they are focused on their external environment. Self-awareness allows you to look inside, assess your true desires and gives you the motivation to pursue those desires.
- Easier Decision Making. This has been alluded to already, but it goes much deeper. Being self-aware allows you to make decisions measured against all the traits listed in the section above, as opposed to making decisions based on ever-changing external factors.
- You become more peaceful. Stress and frustration are what occupies the space between what you want to happen and what is happening. Self-Awareness allows you to honestly asses those two points and bring them closer together by understanding why things are happening, and why you are reacting the way that you are.
- You have better intuition. Intuition is the ability to understand something without using conscious reasoning. Our minds can detect subtle changes or variations in situations in ways we can’t explain, but we know they are there. The more in tune we are with ourselves, the more of our mind is free to make these intuitive deductions.
These are just a few benefits of increasing self-awareness. But, how do you increase self-awareness in a culture that is so externally focused? Luckily there are proven steps we can take.
How To Become More Self-aware
To start a journey pursuing self-awareness you have to know exactly where you’re starting from. When using a map, you can’t get to your destination unless you know your point of origin. Here are three tools you can use to see where you’re starting from:
- Be honest with yourself: This is the baseline tool for building self-awareness. It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable, and it’s hard to maintain, but its benefits are almost incalculable. Self-honesty means you have to put your ego on the shelf and step back to look at who you really are. Most people can’t get past this first fundamental step. To be honest with yourself means you can’t blame other people, shift responsibility, or live in denial of the truth. You have to look at your actions and reactions to what life throws at you, both the good and the bad and accept how you deal with them.
- Know why you feel, not just what you feel: This second step means you have to step out and look at why you feel the way you do about things. Start paying attention to your feelings. So often we concentrate on what we feel because it feels good to feel it, or justifies our response, or allows us to walk a specific path even if it’s not leading us anywhere healthy. Striving to be self-aware means you have to sacrifice the short term emotional response to what you feel and step back, really look at why you feel the way you’re feeling. Understanding why you feel the way you feel starts you down a whole new path.
- Know what’s driving you: The first two steps lead us to this last step. What is really driving you to make poor decisions? Is it greed, the pursuit of fame or respect, safety, security, the desire to just get by, laziness, low self-esteem, insecurity, lack of self-discipline? Why is it you do what you do?
Once you have a starting point, you can start taking steps to become more self-aware. Start with these seven steps.
- Keep a Journal: Writing things down makes your observations and lessons learned concrete in our mind. Entries don’t have to be long or drawn out. Use bullet points, mind-maps, drawings, whatever works for you. Write down your goals, plans, lessons learned, questions, observations about yourself and others, and anything else you can think of.
- Self-Assess: Spend a set amount of time during the day to reflect on yourself and write your observations in your journal. This is the time to start paying attention to yourself and practice self-honesty. Try to step back and see things that have happened during the day objectively. Note not just how you responded, but why you responded the way you did.
- Practice Mindful Meditation: Mindfulness meditation is practiced by elite athletes, soldiers, executives, almost every high-performance discipline you can name, and it’s not hard. Most mindfulness meditation revolves around breathing. There are thousands of websites and books on how to meditate. Try a few variations and find one that works for you.
- Take Personality Assessments: Most people have heard of the Myers-Briggs test, but there are many tests out there you can take to assess your personality type. Take these to understand your psychometric type better so you can better understand yourself.
- Ask Friends and Family: Ask people you are close to whom you trust to describe you. Encourage them to get past just the positive aspects and into things you can work on. Assure them they are safe assessing you and that you really need them to be honest. Most importantly, do not hold anything they say against them.
- Practice Self-Discipline: Self-discipline is easy to define, it’s controlling your desires, impulses, and overcoming one’s weaknesses. Easy to say, but not to do. At least not at first. The good thing about self-discipline is that you become better at it the more you do it. Like a muscle, it becomes stronger over time. The root of self-discipline is persistence, which leads to our next point.
- Practice Persistence: The dogged pursuit of a goal is the hallmark of persistence. This trait can be developed by anyone, especially if they know their motivation, they know their purpose, and they practice. Start small like completing a crossword puzzle, or a word search, or Sudoku, or read a short book. Any activity that gets harder over time and is easy to quit. But don’t give up. Keep going until you complete it, then move onto something a little harder. And I stress only a little harder. Take small steps because persistence is developed over time and persistence is the key to developing self-discipline.
Now the answer to the question we asked in the beginning can take shape. As you pursue a higher level of self-awareness, you begin to see why you feel what you feel. Try to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and understand what internal resources you have to draw upon.
Understanding these things about yourself will have a profound impact on every aspect of your life. It helps you interact with others, make wiser decisions, address challenges, overcome hardships and become more self-aware. Studies have shown these are the things that equip a person to be a success.
And it all starts with being honest with yourself, knowing why you feel and respond to things the way you do, and knowing what drives you. All these skills spill over into your everyday life. Self-aware people understand this and are totally honest with themselves.
After reading this, you may ask why more people don’t pursue self-awareness? That is for doctors, philosophers, and scientists to decide. But honestly, it really doesn’t matter, because self-awareness is all about knowing what’s inside, not what’s outside. So again the question is: Who are you?