“Self-awareness means having a deep understanding of one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs and drives….. People who have a high degree of self-awareness recognise how their feelings can hurt them, hurt other people and hurt their job performance”.
Daniel Goleman, What Makes a Leader
Self-understanding and insight into what is pulling at our attention is crucial if we are to master self-awareness. When we are unable to do this, we are at the mercy of our emotions. This causes us to react, even over-react to situations. We jump to conclusions and we live from a place that can be judgemental and harsh towards both ourselves and others.
People with greater clarity about their feelings are better pilots of their lives. They have a more definite sense of how they really feel and how to tune into and listen to their gut reactions about personal decisions. When you can see emotion and choose a more effective response to it, you cultivate a greater level of self-awareness and increase your emotional intelligence.
Self-awareness helps us identify when our physical, mental, and emotional bandwidth is at capacity. We know, that when we are managing life simply fine, we still need to pause and recharge. We don’t wait for the signs of burn out to show or until we are unable to function effectively to take care of ourselves.
Increasing our self-awareness and cultivating a mindfulness habit shows us our internal state, habits and resources. This allows us to deliberately choose a more effective response to what we feel is thrown at us.
With the heightened sense of uncertainty in the world right now, we can feel helpless in how we can respond and change. When we develop the skill of self-awareness, we make a conscious choice of agency, autonomy and empowerment. This leads to increased resilience and contentment.
According to Daniel Goleman, intuition and gut-reaction lie at the heart of self-awareness, and self-awareness is the vital foundational skill for three emotional competencies:
The recognition of how our emotions affect our performance
A candid sense of our personal strengths and limits, a clear vision of where we need to improve, and the ability to be open to learning from our experiences
The courage that comes from certainty about our capabilities, values, and goals.
Most people think they know themselves pretty well but if you find yourself easily offended, judgemental, and argumentative. Chances are, your self-awareness isn’t as sharp as you think it is.
In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Behavioural Economist Daniel Kahneman, shows that despite our confidence in our self-knowledge, we are usually wrong. The good news is that Emotional Intelligence is highly trainable, we can increase it when we work at it, and to work at it, we need to go within, not outside for the answers.
Ways to develop your Self-Awareness
The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear – Rumi
A Mindfulness Practice
A regular mindfulness practice is scientifically proven to help participants avoid feeling overwhelmed and remain in control of their emotional responses even when the outside world seems to be in havoc.
Morning Pages are three A4 pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done soon after waking up. They are a part of Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages.
According to John Whitmore, a pioneer in the coaching industry, “Building awareness, responsibility, and self-belief is the goal of a good coach”. A primary way a coach helps clients is by giving feedback. If you don’t work with a coach, start with the Reflected Best Self Exercise.
Listen to yourself. What’s going on in your mind? Are you looking on the bright side or are you deep in a negative, gossip, and judgmental fueled conversation with yourself that could win a prize for fiction? Next time you’re brushing your teeth, look into your eyes and listen.
What comes up?
“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are”
Learning and developing our self-awareness lets us understand the sophistication of our emotional lives. We can ride out an emotion without judgment or blame. Personal boundaries and autonomy strengthen, and psychological health improves. Mindfulness helps manage and understand emotions and the triggers that can offset them.
John Mayer, the co-formulator of Emotional Intelligence described it as being aware of both our mood and our thoughts about the mood. It can radically change how you experience your life. In a time of such volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, this isn’t a bad idea.