We live with ourselves 24/7 so you would think that we know ourselves really well, right? Surprisingly though, most of us are terrible at gauging how we come across to others and often evaluate ourselves based on internal filters that are simply inaccurate. Why is this? I did some research to find out.
Examining negative aspects of ourselves, as well as offering constructive, but negative feedback to others is not easy and it makes everyone uncomfortable. Our society also promotes self-esteem over self reflection which can lead to an inflated sense of self worth and diminished self awareness.
My initial response to this was, ouch. However, after taking some time to let this information completely sink in, I realized it is true.
I’m looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned and thankfully there are many steps we can take to become more self aware. Let’s dive in.
What Does it Mean to Be Self Aware?
“knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources, and intuitions.” ~ Daniel Goleman on self-awareness
The term and theory of self-awareness was first used back in 1972 by psychologist Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund in a psychological study. They concluded that unique components such as our thoughts, experiences, and abilities make up our self-being and identity. Our awareness of our self-being and personal evaluation of our behavior, internal standards, and values make us self aware.
In a nutshell, their initial definition concluded that self-awareness is a form of self control.
However, a more modern and popular interpretation comes from Daniel Goleman in his book “Emotional Intelligence” where he refers to self-awareness as “knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources, and intuitions.”
Most psychologists take both of these definitions into account and believe being self-aware involves what we notice about ourselves and also how we govern our inner selves. Examining negative qualities without beating ourselves up is where self-awareness can get tricky. It’s important to recognize that making mistakes and having areas of oneself that need improvement is all part of being human. It’s important to be non-judgmental when practicing self reflection.
We can all agree this is much easier said than done.
When we start becoming judgemental experts encourage us to remember mistakes others have made that we have learned from. Also, we should question if there is anything we’ve acknowledged about our self that we can use to learn and grow. Over time they believe we can use self-awareness to free ourselves from personal judgment and learn to be less reactive in the future.
Why is Self Awareness so Difficult?
In her book “No One Understands You And What To Do About It” by Heidi Halverson, she explains that most people don’t see us the way we see ourselves. She believes this is the biggest reason self-awareness so difficult and she attributes this to the following factors:
Our attempt to maintain a positive self view
She believes our attempt to maintain a positive self view affects our ability to receive critical feedback from others. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to receive negative feedback so we tend to avoid seeking it out. Rather than focus on things we don’t like about ourselves, we focus on the positive.
This sounds counterintuitive because focusing on the positive is a good thing, right? Self-awareness and personal growth sometimes require confronting things that make us uncomfortable, or things don’t feel so good. She says this is the key to self-improvement.
We need to be willing to ask ourselves, “What can I do better?”, “What are some of the worst things about myself?”, and be willing to listen to the answers and grow from them.
Others difficulty with sharing critical feedback
It’s also difficult for others to share negative or critical feedback. Even when it is constructive and could be really helpful, it’s an uncomfortable thing to do.
She suggests that we ease the bridge by reaching out and asking others for their feedback. Suggesting they combine the negative with something positive is a way to make it less uncomfortable. For example, you might ask, “What do you think are my biggest strengths and what are one or two opportunities for development?”
Our society’s preoccupation with self esteem
Lastly, she says the current self-help movement landscape promotes self-esteem and doesn’t encourage self-knowledge or self-awareness.
People are urged to ignore negative thoughts. She believes this paradigm of feel-good psychology fosters narcissism which has made people more reluctant to accept that they may not be as great as they think they are.
Benefits of Self Awareness
The biggest benefit of self-awareness is being able to utilize your self-knowledge to evaluate your life and make better choices regarding your work, relationships, and life goals.
It gives you the ability to be proactive instead of reactive. Knowing your strengths and your weaknesses prepares you for handling life situations with grace and ease instead of flying off the handle or having a breakdown when issues or conflicts arise.
You’re able to be more honest with yourself and you are open to others being honest with you. This goes a long way to helping you not take things so personal because you are aware of your strengths, your flaws, and your weaknesses and you don’t take it personal when someone tries to point them out to you.
You’re able to view your weaknesses as well as your mistakes as opportunities for growth and you are more intentional with your decisions. You have a better understanding of what you are working towards and the steps you need to take in order to get there.
When you’re more self-aware you also don’t dwell in the past. You’re more accepting of the mistakes and flaws of others because you realize we are all human. You’re able to let go and forgive and set healthy boundaries and live in the present moment.
So, How Do You Become More Self Aware?
Self-awareness at its core is all about self-reflection. So, engage in activities that require you to observe yourself and reflect on what you observed. Also, engage in activities that allow and require others to observe you and give you feedback on what they observed. The more you open yourself up to these kinds of activities the more self aware you will become.
Below are a few activities to get you started.
Ask yourself the tough questions
The first step to becoming more self-aware is being willing to ask yourself the tough questions, “What are my strengths and what are my weaknesses?”
It may be easiest to start by listing out your strengths and recognizing what you are good at. Try to be holistic with this process and don’t just focus on obvious skills or talents. Dig deeper and think about your relationships, the way you communicate, how you are motivated, etc.
Same goes for your weaknesses, dig deep.
Ask others to answer the tough questions about you
This step is definitely more uncomfortable. However you can use the suggestion from earlier – whomever you reach out to for feedback encourage them to offer some positives along with the negatives.
Asking for criticism isn’t easy, but it can be really useful and empowering. Remember, how others view us is often not how we view ourselves. Honest feedback from others is invaluable for helping you on your self-development journey both personally and professionally.
Understand your emotional triggers
Do you know what your triggers are? Are there certain things that people can do or say that just really set you off? These are your emotional triggers and understanding what they are can help you improve yourself.
Understanding them allows you to be proactive versus reactive.
Simply having this awareness can help you recognize when you’re starting to react so you can shift your emotional state and think through the situation vs. react to it.
Take personality tests
Personality tests can help you become more self-aware because they help you understand your interests as well as how you interact with others. They can also help you understand some of the behaviors you are predisposed to display naturally.
Myers-Briggs is a very well known test that can shed a lot of light on the nature of your character, your personality, your interests, and your strengths and weaknesses.
While not technically a personality test, knowing the core numbers in your numerology chart can also be a very useful tool for understanding how you relate to others and the world.
Most of us have areas in our lives where there is room for improvement and growth. Becoming more self aware is a great tool and will help guide you on your life path.
How self aware are you right now? Are there areas of your life where you feel you could be more self aware?
Taking the steps to become more self aware shares a lot in common with uncovering your limiting beliefs and finding your purpose. Check out some of my other articles to learn more: