Harness the power of self-awareness
Words / Nikki Williamson
Self-awareness is something you naturally begin to develop around your first birthday. But it isn’t a completely automatic process; rather, it’s something you need to consciously address the older you get. Busy lives, distractions and fear are often at the heart of why we neglect self-awareness — yet it’s really the only way forward if you want to build better relationships, achieve your goals and lead a contented life. Self-awareness is about understanding who you are in a practical sense.
That is, why do you do the things you do? Why do you behave in certain ways? Do you struggle to begin the process of meeting your health or professional goals? How can some people influence your moods so easily?
The answers lie within you and are based on a combination of genetics and environment — that is, the traits and vulnerabilities you’ve inherited as well as your experiences. No one is the same as you. As such, you cannot look for explanations and solutions to who you are anywhere else. You are your best source of information — as long as you know how to look for it.
The science of knowing self
According to psychologists, self-awareness is a psychological state in which individuals are aware of their traits, feelings and behaviour. To achieve this state of mind, then, you must look at what you do, your motives, what you think, how you react to certain events, people and situations and whether or not that needs managing or refining to allow you to achieve what you want from life. You must look at yourself from a perspective of distance, a perspective where you don’t view yourself through rose-coloured glasses but with honesty and a willingness to see yourself wholly — warts and all.
How do you achieve this?
Take your cue from mindfulness, a process that allows you to view yourself objectively and without judgement or defensiveness. Once you begin to become self-aware, you can then use other tools to manage what you find.
It’s important to remember that the process isn’t about passing judgement. Nor is it about labels of good or bad. It’s simply about becoming aware. It’s about ensuring that what you do aligns with your values and ambitions; that you’re on the same page, internally and externally. If you don’t attend to this discrepancy, you live a half-life where you feel uncomfortable in your skin; where guilt, frustration, grief and emotional pain can too easily overwhelm you.
It’s also about opening a path toward practical achievements such as a better career, financial security, fitness and weight loss. Self-awareness affects every aspect of life so its importance is high — despite the fact most people operate on autopilot most of the time.
4 ways to grow your self-awareness:
- Know your story and how it affects you.
- Make peace with it.
- Know your beliefs, emotions and behaviour patterns.
- Identify your relationship patterns
So how can you make the necessary changes toward introspection?
A therapist or life coach can help you to face your truths and deal with them in a carefully managed way but you can also take steps on your own. The most difficult aspect of self-awareness is that it exposes you — completely.
What do you need to know to begin? Let’s dig deeper.
How to uncover your blind spots
Everyone has blind spots: behaviours and attitudes that you fail to acknowledge, things about yourself that are known to others but not usually to you. For example, you may become defensive when criticised on any level; or judgemental in your observations of others. Perhaps you may imagine you’re being thoughtful and helpful while others may see the behaviour as manipulative. Maybe you think of yourself as passionate while others see you as narrow-minded.
These and other unhelpful traits are things people are often unaware of in themselves yet may harm that individual’s reputation, relationships and opportunities to achieve their goals and desires.
You can also be blind to your strengths — again, things that are obvious to others but not to you. These are traits and skills that would see you achieve more if you harnessed them.
For example, it may be that you can put people automatically at ease, that you’re perceptive or resilient. Perhaps you’re a quick thinker, able to problem solve effectively and efficiently, or maybe you’re patient and good at detail.
The “vanity block”
Author and psychologist Cordelia Fine has dubbed the “vain brain” that part of your thinking that protects you from the truth of yourself. She describes it as a defensive mechanism that the brain uses without conscious effort to shield individuals from their failings.
It’s a self-serving bias that — despite evidence to the contrary — allows you to believe you’re not responsible for your mistakes or bad behaviour. It offers excuses that keep you from having to examine your motives, emotions and behaviours. In order to defeat these mechanisms, you need to know them, so here they are:
- Pretending you haven’t said, done or felt something that you have.
- Blocking unacceptable thoughts and feelings or memories of things you’ve done or said when they arise.
- When you attempt to put a thought, behaviour or feeling in a different light or try to justify it in some way.
How do you learn to switch off these automatic defenses in order to get a clear unfettered view of your worst and best self? Knowledge, as they say, is the surest way to learn about others and, crucially, yourself.
Observing your emotional responses
Thoughts and behaviours should be the main target of any attempts at self-awareness; however, it’s your understanding of the emotion that triggers your thoughts and behaviours that will give you a firm foundation to act upon.
How to become more emotionally aware:
- Practice observing how you feel.
- Observe your behaviour, both general and context-specific.
- Practice responding instead of reacting.
- Question your feelings without judgement. Ask: why do I feel like this, in this place or with this person?
Gaining this important state of mind will free you from the bonds of guilt, frustration, hopelessness, ignorance and anguish. So aim to consciously choose how you proceed in any given situation to get the best outcome for yourself and others.