What is Self-Awareness?
One morning, I was driving to work happily listening to a history podcast when a truck cut me off and stopped in front of me. To make things worse, the driver stuck his hand out of the window and gave me the finger.
Heat immediately surged through my body reaching the top of my temple. I was about to react when I remembered how much time and energy I had wasted the last time I did so. I took a deep breath and drove away.
At work, Tim was one of my direct reports. At the end of each quarter, he would struggle to create a self-evaluation report detailing his performance. I had felt that he was a dynamic performer but, with nothing to support his work, I wasn’t sure.
One afternoon, he walked into my office explaining that he had no trouble doing the work but he struggled with writing a report up cohesively and clearly. He asked for help, and if it was possible, he received training for completing reports to include all relevant information.
I was so impressed with his attitude and the fact that he had recognized his weakness and wanted help. He reflected on the obstacle to his presenting a report, suggested a solution, and was ready to learn to become a better worker.
Self-awareness is, first, observing the thoughts, feelings and desires that often appear in our minds. Second, it is recognizing that we can pause for a second, not allowing that thought, feeling or desire to defeat us.
Self-awareness is becoming emotionally mature to widen the gap between what our first impulse is and what we do or say. In that gap, we can decide that we will not allow an amygdala hijack to take place. Rather, we choose the most appropriate response.
In doing so, we recognize to focus on our strengths and identify how we can improve our weaknesses. The way that Tim did so impressively.
In taking more time to reflect, we also learn that there is a range of emotions that we can feel. We notice what is specifically going inside of us by naming the feeling. Is it disappointment, fear, anger, shame or rejection? Each one will warrant a different response.
Sometimes the gap needed could be a second, minute, day or even one month. The more complex the thought concept, the longer the period of reflection is required.
Self-awareness is merely recognizing that we are separate from our thoughts and emotions. We are instead the observer who sits behind and watches these thoughts and feelings appear randomly. As we grow and understand that we do not have to identify with any negative emotions, we start to catch ourselves while expressing them.
How can we become more self-aware?
Imagine you are walking around with whipped cream on your nose. Until you see your face in a mirror or someone taps you on the shoulder, you won’t notice the cream.
We often need help to see what is stopping us from acting in our best interests.
These are three practical ways to do so:
1. Speaking to a therapist or a good objective friend
When we speak to someone we trust, we can bring out deep issues that are buried within us in a safe environment. Without the fear of judgement, we excavate our insecurities and bring them to the fore. We suddenly notice them, and now we can decide what to do about them.
If something has troubled me during the day, I long to journal it. Early the next morning, I put on my noise-cancelling headphones, face the rising sun, drink my espresso and start writing.
I pour out my heart and express every thought and emotion that passed through me in the past 24 hours. I write fearlessly and vulnerably, knowing that no one will ever read my journal.
I have said it before, and I will repeat it. Journaling has been my greatest savior — the best of all the tools cultivated in my endless journey of self-discovery. Repeatedly, recording my thoughts, fears and dreams has had a remarkable effect on my growth.
I am not a Buddhist Monk or a meditation expert, but I can tell you that meditation has helped me and is slowly but surely guiding me in my journey.
Meditation has given me an inner peace that acts as hidden support, which I didn’t appreciate until now. That is probably because meditation’s effectiveness is hard to measure as its results are not immediate and not very apparent like something you see with diets or exercise.
Meditation is all about quieting our inner voice (the one that doesn’t shut up) for approximately 20–30 minutes a day. In training the mind, we reduce our stress levels and get into a more relaxed state instead of our minds’ fight-or-flight response mode.
The power of speaking to a therapist or journaling is that they help us express our thoughts and feelings. Meanwhile, meditation teaches us to observe our thoughts and feelings as though they are separate from ourselves.
These three tools help us grow in awareness as they make the inciting thought, idea, or event lose its power over us.
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