Know Thyself: How To Be Self-Aware

by | Dec 5, 2019 | Emotional Health, Self Awareness

Part 2: Know Thyself

Read Part 1: How Can I Be the Me I Want To Be? here!

Self-awareness is the conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires. It’s the foundation of self-improvement and personal growth and it requires the ability to determine how your actions, thoughts, or emotions do or don’t align with your values and beliefs. 

If you are self-aware, you generally understand yourself, can evaluate your thoughts and behaviours objectively, and align your actions with your values and beliefs. 

You effectively manage your emotions and understand correctly how others perceive you.

High self-awareness requires regular and objective self-reflection. This involves analyzing your thoughts, feelings, behaviours, strengths, and weaknesses.

Here is an example of being when we’re self-aware:

Rachel is going to a wedding with her boyfriend, Jack. It’s Jack’s cousin’s wedding and Rachel hasn’t met any of Jack’s family yet as they don’t live in the same city. Rachel is very anxious about meeting Jack’s family and going to a wedding where she’ll only know one person.

Rachel is quite introverted and knows from past experience that when she is uncomfortable and trying to fit in, she resorts to sarcastic jokes at the expense of others, especially after she’s had a few drinks. The last time this happened, she joked about a woman’s apparent “plastic surgeon on speed dial” to someone that it clearly landed flat with, ugh. She left that party early in remorse and later learned that the person she joked with was her target’s sister.

Rachel is actually a very kind and caring person. She doesn’t understand where this comes from and has no intention of allowing a repeat. This time she’s showing up with a short list of fun, positive, and funny topics in her head – the stuff she actually talks to her friends about – for those lulls in conversation that she’s too nervous to think about spontaneously in a crowd of strangers. 

Here’s an example of being when we’re not self-aware:

Lars, your co-worker, walks into the lunch room and all goes quiet. You were all involved in an enthusiastic discussion of driving vacations – where to go, what to do. Now everyone just shuts down. Why? Because Lars will insert himself in the conversation by criticizing every idea. Aggressively. 

Like this: Oh, don’t bother going to Canmore, too expensive. Don’t go to Banff, too expensive and too many people. Don’t go to Jasper, too out of the way and not enough people. He’s like this about everything. A know-it-all and a downer. Does he know this about himself? Unlikely or he wouldn’t keep doing it. 

A high level of self-awareness is a predictor of success in life. 

When we’re self-aware, we make better decisions, we communicate better, and we have better relationships. 

How far will Lars go in life? Well, since all conversations with Lars go like that, he doesn’t have many. His coworkers avoid working with him, his girlfriends never last long and his only “friends” are on the hockey team he plays with that essentially tolerate him as he’s their only goalie. At work, he may have gone as far as he’s able to because the next step for him would require him to manage others and his boss can see how abrasive he is.

How to be self-aware

How can we possibly not be self-aware?

For most of us, our minds are so busy with our daily self-talk, our to-do list and our problems that we go through much of our day on auto-pilot. We’re not necessarily planning our next interaction, our next conversation or our next move. 

We often find, if we’re not self-aware, that our response to these situations when someone calls us on it is to deny, get defensive, make excuses, or blame circumstances. Usually, we don’t reflect at all and simply deflect.

In extreme cases, people who aren’t self-aware may have an inflated opinion of themselves and generally can’t empathize with others or even consider their perspectives. They don’t think to tailor their message to their audience and they don’t seem to be aware of, or care about, other people’s responses to them.

You can see how this is not conducive to seeing how we really show up in the world and it doesn’t develop our emotional regulation.

Why it matters

With a better ability to control our emotions, an understanding of how others see us and a better alignment with our beliefs and values, we fare better in life. If we act according to what’s important to us, we can create a life that we’re more connected with and really, actually, like.

A little deeper

As we’ve described in the examples above, there are two types of self-awareness; internal and external. Internal self-awareness means you objectively understand you. 

For example: You have a coworker that you find so frustrating. You often have to work on projects together and she is such a late starter that you worry whether you will meet the prescribed deadline. But you always do. What’s making you so anxious? You know that you’re an early starter and it’s an irrational fear and the need for control that’s driving this. So you shut down the dictator in your head and roll with it. You trust!

Researcher and psychologist, Tasha Eurich, talks also about external self-awareness. This is the ability to understand how others see you. For example: Though you previously believed that your mom lives to serve, you can see that she is getting tired of being your maid. You think your mom might occasionally be starting to see you as lazy and entitled. Time to clean up!

Having one type of self-awareness does not automatically mean that you’ll have the other. To do this effectively, pay attention here please, this is very important. Ask what, not why. Tasha Eurich’s research shows that “when we ask why, we just don’t have access to the unconscious thoughts, feelings and motives we’re searching for.” So what is the better question.

How to develop self-awareness

Make sure you check out part one of this blog series; How To Be The Me I Want To Be, where we look at your values, interests, and abilities and how they intersect. This will help you develop your internal self-awareness.

The next stage of this is the what. When you analyze the what, you look at a specific negative situation or interaction and ask yourself what. So that’s not “Why did X result in Y”.  What could I have done to create a different outcome and therefore what can I do in the future to ensure this doesn’t happen again. What have I learned about myself here? This is great for both internal and external self-awareness.

For example, your best friend just became your ex-best friend. You know you had a role in it, you must have because she said you did. You know her well enough that you know that she wouldn’t just throw that out there. Is there any benefit to asking why this happened? Do you really fully understand why this happened? Or her version of why this happened? Highly unlikely. But can you figure out what happened?

personal growth

I think you can. Ask yourself not only what happened but what you did to contribute to it and what you can do in future friendships so this doesn’t happen again.

Some things you may have learned:

  1. She always initiated contact
  2. You often backed out of plans
  3. She found out about something you told another friend about her
  4. You’ve made it clear you don’t like her boyfriend

Does this inform how you should have a relationship you want to keep going forward? I think so.

While you’re waiting for these teachable moments to show up in your life, a much different way to enhance your understanding of yourself is through personality tests and self-awareness tests.  The iNLP has a quick, free self-awareness test that will surely start you thinking and give you some insight. 

Another great way to understand yourself better is with a personality test. I recommend the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This is one of the most studied and therefore most validated personality inventories available. This will help you identify your preferences – the way you prefer to gather information, get your energy, make decisions, and organize your world. This can really up-level your internal self-awareness and has the bonus of helping you understand how you interact with others and how others may see you.

You can find free tests online but these aren’t as comprehensive or as accurate as the full test.  It’s a good start though. If you’d like to do the full test, contact us to request a test to be emailed to you. Toni is a certified MBTI practitioner and she can do both the testing and the interpretation with you.

Psst- Intrigued by this topic? It’s one of our favourites, too. In fact, we love it so much we’ve written two whole Thinkbooks on the topic of internal and external self-awareness. And what are Thinkbooks, you ask? Think online courses, but FUN. Think self-reflection and self-assessments, journal prompts, and interactive learning in a way that’s 100% your own, but never alone. Learn more about our Thinkbooks here!

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