Self-awareness is linked to greater well-being, and anyone can improve it with the right techniques. Here’s how to get started.
Being aware of ourselves, our thoughts, emotions and actions are the foundation of mental wellness
Sometime between the ages of 1 and 3, human babies begin to develop a sense of self-awareness. They begin to see themselves as separate from their parents, to recognize their own name, and to use pronouns such as “I” and “me.”
Self-awareness – the ability to focus attention on ourselves and self-evaluate – continues to develop and advance throughout our lives. Ultimately, it allows us to understand ourselves and connect with the world around us.
Many of us could do with knowing ourselves a little better, even when we think we know all there is to know. In fact, we can continue to develop self-awareness throughout our lives.
Self-awareness allows us to see ourselves more clearly, to better understand how others see us, and to appreciate our connection to others and how we fit into this world.
why is it important to be self-aware?
Self-awareness involves the ability to see ourselves clearly, recognize how others see us, and understand how we fit into society and the world.
A 2017 study found that people who were self-reflective and had high self-awareness tended to have a more positive self-image and a deeper understanding of others. This can often lead to greater empathy.
Those with higher self-awareness also tend to be more proactive in a work environment and display better communication skills.
According to a 2016 study, increasing the positive traits that come from high self-awareness can lead to greater well-being.
How to develop self-awareness
Anyone can develop greater self-awareness. All it takes is willingness and a little practice.
Here are seven tips that can help you get started:
Keeping a journal can help you better understand your own perceptions and opinions emotions and encourage regular reflection. At the end of each day, try writing down any memorable events.
You can start by answering the following questions:
- what happened today?
- what was the most significant part of my day?
- what have been the best and worst moments of my day?
- what were my dominant emotions today?
- did I experience any conflicts today?
- what could I have done better today?
- how do I think I made someone feel today?
In addition to writing in your journal, it may also be helpful to read your previous journal entries from time to time, so you can see how you have changed and evolved.
Seek feedback from others
Find a trusted friend or family member and ask them to give you honest feedback.
You can tell them that you are trying to develop a better understanding of yourself and would welcome honest answers to your questions (not answers that just make you feel better).
You can ask your partner questions like
- what is my greatest strength?
- what could I improve?
- what dynamics do I bring to a social situation?
- am I a person you often turn to for advice or comfort?
- when am I at my best?
- what are my values in my relationships and at work?
- do I have strengths in one context that may be a weakness in another (and vice versa)?
Remember: The key to making this conversation productive is to try to avoid getting defensive. As much as possible, listen to what they tell you and try to absorb this new information.
You can also consider how their answers match what you think of yourself.
Be clear about your personal values
One of the most important elements of self-awareness is understanding why you do what you do.
Understanding the root of your behaviors and actions requires knowing your personal values. If you find that your choices are not in line with your values, that may be a sign of a lack of self-awareness.
In other words, self-awareness means living an intentional and reflective life. Identifying your personal values plays an important role in achieving this goal. To discover your values, you may want to
- Make a list of all your values and then try to categorize them and narrow them down to those that are most important to you.
- Reflect on the values you consistently follow and the ones you sometimes abandon.
- Look for philosophies and quotes that are familiar to you.
- Consider what you focus your energy on and whether there are aspects of your life that you want to focus more (or less) energy on.
Reading fiction allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of others, which can help us develop empathy and social skills. A 2006 study found that people who read literary fiction score higher on tests of empathy and social acumen.
Next time you have some free time, consider picking up a popular novel
Every morning, think of one thing in your life that you are grateful for.
It can be a specific person, your health, a job, a pet, trees, or anything that is special to you. Think of that person or thing and take a moment to feel gratitude in your heart. You can also keep a list of the things you are grateful for in a journal.
Practicing gratitude can help you develop a deeper awareness of your connection to the world around you. It is also helpful in understanding what is most important to you.
Examine your instinctive reactions
If something suddenly makes you angry or upset, instead of reacting, take a deep breath and allow yourself to consider what might be underneath your emotional response.
Consider what is causing you to react and what you can do to help the situation rather than aggravate it.
In addition, when you are in a more relaxed state, try to reflect on whether
- There are specific situations that make you feel particularly emotional
- There are people with whom you are in constant conflict (do you know why?)
- You can identify your emotional triggers
- You feel safe regulating your emotions before reacting
- You consider other people’s perspectives in addition to your own
Mindfulness meditation, which has its roots in Buddhist philosophy, can help you stay in the present moment and perceive yourself in a healthier way.
Mindfulness meditation involves two aspects, mindfulness and acceptance:
- Mindfulness allows you to stay in the present moment and direct your awareness to the breath or other sensations in the body.
- Acceptance involves observing any feeling, thought or sensation without judgment.
Research conducted in 2012 shows that mindfulness helps us develop self-awareness, self-regulation and a positive relationship with ourselves and others. This connection extends beyond our self-centered needs and enhances our empathy.
what causes a lack of self-awareness?
Evidence suggests that only a small minority of people are sufficiently self-aware.
For example, researcher and organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich found in her 2018 study on self-awareness that, of people who identify as self-aware, only 10 to 15 percent meet the criteria for self-awareness.
Eurich breaks down the criteria for self-awareness into two distinct categories: internal and external self-awareness.
Internal self-awareness means that one is clear about who one is and what one’s values are. This sense of self is consistent with how one thinks, reacts and treats others.
In contrast, external self-awareness is when you have a clear idea of how others perceive you. If you lack self-awareness, you may focus on your appearance to the point of ignoring what really matters to you in order to maintain that image.
In contrast, having both internal and external self-awareness includes
- Knowing who you are and what you want to achieve
- Understanding the impact of your behavior on others.
- Seeking out opinions different from your own
- Self-awareness is one of the basic components of emotional intelligence. People with low emotional intelligence often have difficulty understanding their own emotions. They may have frequent emotional outbursts or be unable to identify how they feel.
Here are some of the main signs of lack of self-awareness:
- Lack of responsibility. You may praise yourself when things go well, but tend to make excuses or blame others when things go wrong.
- Belittling others. You may dismiss others when they question your beliefs. A 2018 study found that people with more radical beliefs showed less insight into the correctness of their ideas and disregarded any contrary evidence.
- Having difficulty regulating emotions. You may struggle to identify and manage your emotions.
- Not thinking through actions. You may not be able to explain the reasons for your actions and often act impulsively.
- Feeling apathetic. You may find it difficult to empathize with others and listen to other people’s experiences.
- Judging others. You may judge others without knowing the facts, based on your own perceptions and opinions.