The concept of ‘self-awareness’ is fairly recent in the study of human behaviour and psychology. It wasn’t until 1972 when Duval and Wicklund wrote “A Theory of Objective Self-Awareness” that it got on our collective radar. Since that time, it’s developed into an important topic of discussion and exploration, and one that we’ll dive into in more detail throughout this month’s blog series.

What exactly is self-awareness?

Self-awareness is closely related to emotional intelligence. It’s our capacity to monitor our thoughts, beliefs, emotions and behaviour and gain a better understanding of ourselves. Daniel Goleman (who propelled the study of emotional intelligence into popular culture) defines self-awareness as “knowing one’s internal states, preference, resources, and intuitions.” Some people are quite self-aware from a young age, and for others it may be gained through building up life experiences. Interestingly, our self-awareness isn’t always constant…certain situations or unexpected events can throw us off balance. Unlike self-confidence and self-assurance, self-awareness encompasses introspection, personal development, and social aptitudes to name a few.

How does it benefit us?

Having a strong sense of self-awareness means we don’t just have a deeper understanding of ourselves, our purpose and our goals, but we are also better equipped to navigate the world around us. For example, when we have a solid grasp of our own strengths and weaknesses, we can work to leverage those to our advantage. Think of how we draft a résumé. We know to list our skills, talents and accomplishments yet minimize our weaknesses in order to align best with the job we are seeking. This is essentially what we do on a daily basis! We learn what we’re interested in and attracted to, and then work to better accommodate those things based on our personal assets and resources. We also try to avoid things we aren’t good at or don’t enjoy. The trouble is knowing what it is we want or what our strengths and weaknesses are so that we can make the most of what we’ve got!

Self-awareness is also helpful to help identify the types of things or situations that either energize or drain us; helping us better manage life’s busy balancing act. Ploughing through life on autopilot without inner reflection doesn’t help us learn who we are at our core.

Tips for increasing self-awareness

Becoming more self-aware is very achievable, but be prepared to undertake some honest, no-nonsense inner reflection along the way regarding both positive and negative traits. We all have a few undesirable qualities that we may not care to admit openly, but until we identify and accept them, we can’t work on improving them.

Here are 6 key ways to build self-awareness:

  • Be mindful. It’s a crazy, busy world, which is why it’s more important than ever to take time every day to consciously reflect and breathe. Revelations or simple observations about ourselves can appear when we’re more focused and introspective.
  • Seek feedback from others both at work and with friends and family. It’s OK to be vulnerable. The constructive criticism we receive from trusted sources may reinforce things we already knew about ourselves or highlight areas where we can self-correct. The key is to really listen and not to dismiss the things that make us uncomfortable.
  • Write it all down. Keep a journal or diary; whether it’s about your goals, fears, hurt feelings, dreams or your day-to-day routine, it can reveal things that may have otherwise been hidden or unnoticed.
  • Be open minded. The saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know” holds true to our own self-awareness, and by experiencing new things with new people and learning about the world around us, we become more enlightened about ourselves in the process.
  • Practice self care. It’s hard to be mindful and self-reflective when we’re worn down and exhausted. Going for a hike in the woods, spending time with loved-ones, getting a good-night’s sleep, or simply enjoying a soak in the hot tub will help promote good health and well-being.
  • Resist the urge to be overly critical – of ourselves and others. When we recognize that our negative energy or anger can be just as easily replaced with compassion and understanding, we immediately see positive results.

When we think of people we know who possess confidence, courage and integrity, it’s likely that having a strong sense of self-awareness was the key to getting them there. Until we truly know who we are and what makes us tick, how can we pursue our goals with any conviction?

“By becoming self aware, you gain ownership of reality; in becoming real, you become the master of both inner and outer life.” – Deepak Chopra