Have you ever wondered what it means to be self-aware? I used to!
As it turns out, self awareness can mean many different things, depending on who you ask.
In this article, we will look into the true meaning of self awareness, why it is so important to everyone of us, and what you can do to increase your self awareness to live a happy and successful life.
What Is Self Awareness?
Self awareness could be as simple as getting in touch with, and then understanding your thoughts and feelings. For some, it might mean connecting with your innermost beliefs and values and then living a life that is congruent with those values.
For people focused more on professional development, self awareness is understanding their strengths, weaknesses, personality types, and leadership styles.
According to Google’s Dictionary, self-awareness is:
“conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.”
According to Psychology Today, self-awareness:
“involves monitoring our inner worlds, thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. It is important, because it’s a major mechanism influencing personal development.”
Since publishing his book, Emotional Intelligence in 1995, Daniel Goleman’s idea of Emotional Intelligence (a.k.a. EQ or EI) and self-awareness have taken the world by storm. And as you can see, there are a wide array of meanings, definitions, and interpretations.
The two larger questions, in my mind, are 1) Why does self-awareness matter so much and 2) How can we become more self-aware in our lives?
Those are the two questions we’re going to dive into today.
Why Does Self-Awareness Matter?
In a study undertaken by Green Peak Partners and Cornell University, 72 executives at public and private companies ranging from $50 million in revenue to $5 billion in revenue were studied. Here’s what the study found:
“The executives most likely to deliver good bottom line results are actually self-aware leaders who are especially good at working with individuals and in teams.” The study went on to say, “A high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.”
So there it is!
Higher self awareness equates to higher levels of success. But this goes beyond our professional lives—it also applies to our personal lives.
In his book Emotional Intelligence, Goleman saw emotional intelligence as a vital factor in success, especially for children. He proposed that emotional intelligence would not only improve their learning abilities, it would also help them succeed in school by reducing or eliminating some of the most distracting and harmful behavioral problems.
Since 1995, there have been countless studies on self-awareness and EQ as a whole. Some have shown that improved EQ could help college students succeed, both academically and socially.
Other findings have shown that self-awareness can improve communication and reduce conflict in relationships, especially in married couples.
As you dive into the rabbit hole of research online, you’ll find that self-awareness affects everything you do. It affects your leadership, your relationships, how you treat others, how you communicate, what you expect of people, how you respond to situations, and so much more.
Self awareness is, without a doubt, a critical skill that everyone should seek to improve upon.
And here comes the good news! Self-awareness is something you can learn.
In 2009, Delphine Nelis and colleagues conducted a controlled experiment to test whether or not it’s possible to increase Emotional Intelligence.
Participants of the experimental group received a brief empirically-derived EI training while control participants continued to live normally. At the end of the experiment, they proved that improving emotional intelligence is possible.
How to Become More Self-Aware
If I’ve done my job correctly, you should be 100 percent sold on the importance of self-awareness, and you should be hungry to know how to improve on this area of your life.
That’s great because I have six strategies to help you do just that.
1. Create Space for Yourself
Have you ever heard the saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees?”
Sometimes, when we have our heads down, and we’re immersed in our everyday lives, it’s hard to see what’s really going on. Life is busy, so if you want to become more self-aware, you have to create space for yourself.
I don’t mean necessarily mean a meditation room, although that might help.
What I mean is, you need to carve out time in your day to reflect on your life.
How are you feeling?
Are you stressed, worried, or upset? Are you filled with joy and passion? Or, are you somewhere in between? It’s important to touch base with your feelings every day; otherwise your feelings can build and emerge in unpleasant ways.
What are you thinking about?
Do you have big problems but no time to think of solutions? Could things be going better in certain areas of your life?
What are you focused on?
Most people are far too busy running through the motions of everyday life that they forget to pause and reflect. But not you! You’re on a quest to become more self-aware.
Maybe you can reflect during an early morning walk or meditation. Perhaps you could reflect during an hour in the gym, on the treadmill, or on a hiking trail.
It really doesn’t matter where you create the space for yourself—all that matter is that you make the time.
I’ve tried meditation, and it doesn’t work for me. Instead, I tend to check in with myself the most while I’m mowing the lawn, jogging, lifting weights, or journaling. Those are the times it happens naturally for me. There’s just something about being engaged in repetitive activity that clears my mind.
Find what works for you and create some space in your life. You need it!
2. Practice Mindfulness
For me, this is a tough one!
Google’s Dictionary defines mindfulness as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.”
I’m bad about moving through life at hyper speed, fueled by copious amounts of coffee while trying to crush my goals as quickly as possible. Stopping to smell the roses every once in a while is just plain hard for me.
It’s easy to be so future-focused that you lose track of the present, but by creating space in our lives, we essentially carve out dedicated times to practice mindfulness.
During these times, it’s important to listen to your inner voice, tune into what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it, and to acknowledge and understand yourself better.
How many times have you been upset and had no idea why?
This has happened to me, but then later on, when my mind became clear, it was easy to see why I was upset and what I needed to do about the situation.
But we can’t always wait until our mind clears on its own!
In today’s fast-paced environment, the time may never come on its own. We have to make time for it.
Find some space in your life and use it to practice mindfulness each day. Here’s a beginner guide to try: Meditation Can Change Your Life: The Power of Mindfulness
3. Keep a Journal
What better way to create some space for yourself and practice mindfulness than to develop a daily journaling habit?
According to Psych Central,
“The act of writing accesses your left brain, which is analytical and rational. […] In sum, writing removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others and the world around you.”
I had no idea! Did you?
In addition to that, journaling can help you clarify your thoughts and feelings, get to know yourself better, reduce overall stress, solve problems more effectively, and even resolve disagreements with others.
If it helps, think of journaling as practicing mindfulness on paper.
Take some quiet time to think about your inner world, how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, and so on. While you’re analyzing your inner world, write down all of your thoughts as they occur to you. I call this a stream of consciousness.
If you can, do this at least once a day, either in the morning or in the evening. If you want to take your self-awareness to an even higher level, try journaling your observations every hour throughout the day.
According to the National Science Foundation, we have an average of 50,000 thoughts per day, most of which we are not self-aware enough to notice. Imagine if you took a little time to practice mindfulness and wrote some of those thoughts down.
4. Become an Excellent Listener
Stephen R. Covey, the author of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, once said,
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Do you fall into that category?
For the longest time, I absolutely did. As people were talking to me, I was trying to hold onto as many of my own thoughts, replies, and rebuttals as possible. Then, moments later, I couldn’t recall a single thing I had been told.
A couple of years ago, I became aware of this phenomenon when I read John Maxwell’s Becoming a Person of Influence. There was an entire chapter on listening, and I learned that I was a terrible listener!
When you stop to listen to someone, your goal is to do a lot more than just hear their words better—you need to observe their tone, their body language, their emotions, and their attitude. You need to become acutely aware of how they feel and how you’re making them feel.
Instead of evaluating and judging what the other person is saying, connect with them, and listen and observe what they have to say. As you become a better listener to those around you, you will learn to listen to your inner voice better as well.
5. Seek New Perspectives About Yourself
Most of us think we have ourselves pretty figured out, don’t we? We spend more time with ourselves than with anyone else. We know all of our own intimate secrets, hopes, dreams, and guilty pleasures.
How could we not know ourselves inside and out? Well, I would argue that it’s tough to honestly know ourselves, at least entirely.
I think we often know ourselves as the person we aspire to be, not the person we are in the present.
My favorite show of all time is NBC’s The Office. In one episode, Michael Scott is introducing a new salesman to the staff. The new salesman is highly skilled, attractive, charming, and so on. Michael says this to his team:
“I respect him, because he reminds me of somebody. Can anybody guess who that is?”
The staff takes their round of incorrect guesses, and Michael responds, “No, me. Right? Sorta like, a little younger version of me?”
In his eyes, he and the new guy were very similar, but Oscar replies, “It’s hard to judge ourselves accurately isn’t it.”
Oscar sees Michael through a completely different lens than Michael sees himself. And if you’ve seen the show, Oscar’s perspective is dead on.
It’s difficult to get pure, honest feedback free of bias and fluff, but by asking our friends, family, and coworkers for 360-degree feedback, we can gain a new perspective about ourselves that would be challenging to get on our own.
If you want to become truly self-aware, seek feedback from those you know and trust. The insights may surprise you, but the new perspective will be incredibly valuable.
6. Live and Breathe Personal Development
The last strategy I’ll leave you with for increasing your self-awareness is to consume as much personal development content as you can.
I love to listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos, read books and blogs about leadership, mentorship, goal setting, high performance, building good habits, and so on. The more I dive into personal development, the more I learn about myself.
A year ago, I didn’t know about scarcity mindset or risk aversion, let alone that I suffered from both. Now that I know I suffer from these things, I can work towards overcoming them in my life.
The more you learn about the world around you, the better you can begin to understand yourself, and that’s why self-awareness is so incredibly critical to success.
The impact that self awareness has on success is undeniable, but mastering self-awareness going to take some effort from you. Are you up for it? I think you are!
You’ve got this!
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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com