Self-awareness: what’s all the fuss about?
While self-awareness can be a confusing and seemingly complicated philosophical and psychological jungle, it also can be and should be a simple fun, yes fun, building blocks type exercise. Self-awareness is simply knowing oneself better. Knowing oneself better is vital for personal growth, a stronger self-esteem and a healthy self-confidence. So how does one venture into this self-awareness jungle and come out on the other side the stronger for it? Two basic steps are needed:
1. A little Sherlock Holmes detective work
“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” – Arthur Conan Doyle, Silver Blaze
2. Some good old thinking time
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.” – Henry Ford
So put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and get thinking. Grab a notebook and collect as much information along the way as you can. Don’t worry about neatness or order; there will come a sweet spot moment where you will easily pull it all together. To start, I highlight three important definitions that will serve you as a type of compass. All are taken from the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Self-discovery: the act or process of gaining knowledge or understanding of your abilities, character, and feelings.
Introspection: a reflective looking inward: an examination of one’s own thoughts and feelings.
Self-awareness: knowledge and awareness of your own personality or character; an awareness of one’s own personality or individuality.
Self-awareness is knowledge – true knowledge about oneself.
Keeping those three definitions in mind, I suggest you start with the exercise of going down memory lane and pay attention to moments in your life where you experienced contentment, joy, exhilaration, a sense of adventure and even empowerment. Lean into those moments and explore what were the key defining ingredients. Ask yourself questions as simple as when, where, who and why? Pick up the vibes and pay attention to nuances as much as possible. When I explore my memory lane, I notice one recurring factor: I enjoyed the outdoors. This doesn’t mean I will change my career path and work as a park or forest ranger for the rest of my life, but it does mean spending time in nature will have a positive nurturing effect for me.
Note to self: I need to take time to enjoy being outdoor and in nature.
Another exercise to explore is how well you do in any given social context. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you need your alone time? Or do you get energized when spending time with friends as in a group activity? Would you prefer a one on one experience? With regards to your work do you thrive in a teamwork setting or alone in your own mind space?
Note to self: while I enjoy team experiences, I do best when in my own space and creative bubble.
Based on these two examples you can see how a little detective work which translates to self-discovery leads to introspection and these two lead to self-awareness. So now repeat the exercise with topics such as: family events, restaurant outings, vacation trips, shopping experiences, purchasing a big ticket item, (are you an impulsive or calculated buyer?) What about new conversations with strangers, new technology, choosing which movie to see, saying no or yes to an invitation, avoiding conflict or stepping into it to find resolution?
Again to give examples of my own personal detective work, I know for sure the outdoors energizes me, I prefer my creative bubble over team work, family events in small doses, quietness more than noise, one on one more than group outings, simple rather than extravagant, walking and floor exercises rather than the gym, calculated shopping over impulsive, adventurous when it comes to vacation trips, resolving conflict rather than avoiding it, comfortable declining an invitation without guilt (hmmm, most of the time.)
These truths about me are facts that contribute to my self-awareness and help me navigate through life. Because I know these I make better choices. I am still a very flexible person and can adapt easily, but knowing my preferences helps me live my best with integrity.
Self-awareness is NOT self-judgement or narcissism. On the contrary! Self-awareness is knowing oneself and fully accepting the person I am. Healthy self-awareness helps me deal with my emotions and helps me connect them to my preferences and as a result I can manage stressful situations a lot better. In fact the author Daniel Goleman states in his book “Emotional Intelligence” that self-awareness is one of the pillars to Emotional Intelligence. Plus self-awareness not only gives you a greater understanding of your strengths, your weaknesses, and your limits it can give you vision to foster steady personal growth.
Once you have gathered as much facts as possible in your notebook, which I recommend should be a process of two weeks or more, then the time will be right to make sense of your findings. Divide the info into four columns: strengths column, weaknesses column, I thrive column, do not thrive so well column. Some of your facts might fit in more than one column or might not seem to quite fit anywhere. Again like building blocks or a puzzle, just play with it a bit and be creative. Doing this exercise with a friend or partner can most definitely increase the fun, the creative thinking and clearly the final outcome.
Your end result should produce a healthy self-awareness. It should also inspire you to strengthen your strengths, start tweaking your weaknesses, do more of the activities in which you thrive and pick up some tools to help you do better in those situations where you do not thrive so well. This is not a recipe for extreme changes but simply a framework to challenge you in making small changes in all four columns. You can now brainstorm a little to see what those small changes could look like. Write them all down and then chose the more realistic ones and draft a simple plan of action. You will be a stronger more centered person as a result and self-awareness will no longer feel like a crazy jungle!