Blog Short #159: Why Self-Awareness is Important and How to Boost It
Photo by Sean Anthony Eddy, Courtesy of iStock Photo
You hear about self-awareness and the importance of it all the time, and it is important. But it’s helpful to know why it’s of value and what you gain from making it a habit.
Today, I’ll give you a quick sketch of what it is, a little about the theory behind it, and how you can use it to increase your well-being.
What is Self-Awareness?
My favorite definition of self-awareness comes from Courtney E. Ackerman, MA, who writes for Positive Psychology. She states:
Self-awareness is the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively through reflection and introspection.
The whole notion of self-awareness assumes that we’re more than our thoughts. We’re the observer and the one who experiences. In other words, we can stand outside ourselves and watch and evaluate what we’re thinking, feeling, and doing.
The Purpose of Self-Awareness
By being able to observe and evaluate yourself, you’re able to see if your thoughts, feelings, and behavior align with your standards and values.
This means that self-awareness lets you know when you’re not operating or acting according to what you believe is right and what you value.
When you see a discrepancy between those two, you can make corrections and change your behavior accordingly.
Self-awareness is an exceptional capacity we have that other animals don’t have. However, there are degrees of it, meaning some people are highly self-aware and take advantage of this ability, and some fall on the other end of the continuum and have little self-awareness. They cruise through each day, acting and reacting without observing or evaluating their behavior, thoughts, and emotions.
That can be very problematic because it means you have little control or insight into your life and how you live it.
Here’s a list of benefits that you get when you’re self-aware but miss out on when you’re not.
This list is not exhaustive, but it captures the most critical capacities we need to evolve and thrive as human beings. All of these are enhanced and made possible by being self-aware.
- Develop and maintain your conscience
- Be able to empathize with others
- Learn from history and avoid making the same mistakes over and over
- Monitor, direct, and control your behavior
- Create, plan, and reach goals
- Engage in and sustain healthy relationships
- Understand social cues
- Take proper care of your body and health
- Manage your emotions and moods
- Find meaning that sustains you
- Make well-thought-out decisions
- Work with groups collaboratively
- Increase emotional intelligence
Now, let’s look at how you can increase your self-awareness.
Practices to Enhance Self-Awareness
I put this at the top of the list because the very act of meditation is an exercise in self-awareness. Regardless of the type of meditation you do, you’ll be involved in the practice of watching yourself. You might be watching your breath or a repetitive mantra, observing your body sensations or other stimuli, or visualizing an image. You’ll be actively involved in becoming more self-aware.
People who meditate regularly eventually become more aligned with the one watching than the one experiencing, and the results are greater calm, peace, emotional stability, acceptance, and compassion.
Mindfulness is both a type of meditation and an exercise that you can use at any time. It entails noticing your thoughts, feelings, or sensory sensations as they arise without reacting to them. You’re like a curious bystander watching from the sidelines. The reward is that you get some space to choose whether or not to respond and how to do so.
If you’re angry, you can step back and observe yourself having that feeling, which allows you to think about how you want to react. It’s a little like a director freezing a scene temporarily while filming a movie to think about where he wants it to go before continuing.
Mindfulness practices allow you to become the writer, director, and actor simultaneously.
Journaling has long been used to process thoughts and feelings. It’s a method of getting more clarification and insight that you can use to make better decisions. When you put thoughts and feelings in writing, you crystalize them in a way that gives you a clearer picture of them.
If you’ve ever needed reading glasses, it works a little like that. When you read without them, the words are blurred and run together, but when you put them on or you hold the book far enough back so you can focus, everything is clear and concise. You know exactly what you’re looking at.
Journaling is a great and easy way to get that kind of mental clarity.
We talk a lot. We like to express ourselves. But listening is an indispensable method of becoming both self-aware and other-aware. When you listen, you learn and gain insight. By listening, I mean listening to:
- Someone else speak or to conversations that are going on around you
- Your own thoughts and body sensations
- Sounds in the environment you wouldn’t necessarily hear unless you purposefully tune in, like birds singing or a car whizzing down the road
To truly listen, you have to be quiet and attentive. You have to remove distractions like tech devices or screens of any kind. When you stop, get quiet, and listen, you hear things that typically fly under your radar. You gain insights and a broader perspective, so you have more information.
The more you listen to both your inner self and outer environment, the more you know. And knowledge is power.
5. Talking therapy
Therapy is, or should be, about increasing self-awareness and gaining insight into how you see the world, yourself, and others. Some therapies focus on particular problems, such as anxiety or depression, which is fine, but self-awareness is always a key part of the work.
Talking with someone you’re very close to and trust is also a good avenue for increasing your self-awareness. You get feedback and different perspectives, as well as validation.
All these activities are helpful, and you don’t have to do them all. Choose one and try it for a while to see what you learn about yourself that you didn’t know. It’s an ongoing process, and the more you do it, the more you know.
The Right Mindset
You can become too self-aware. That happens when you get perfectionistic in your pursuit of knowing every minuscule thought or feeling that pops up, or you become overly self-conscious. You’re watching yourself with a judging eye and likely not measuring up.
Self-awareness is valuable when used without judgment. That doesn’t mean without evaluation, but without assigning good/bad appraisals to yourself.
The idea is to watch anything that arises in your mind or that you feel and evaluate how it fits your values and standards. It’s a process of being curious and learning, not being obsessive.
As soon as you begin to censor or punish yourself, you lose that open awareness and close it down. Then, you might start repressing, suppressing, and denying what you don’t want to see. That’s the opposite of self-awareness.
This experience I’ve had might help a little.
When I first started meditating years ago, and even now, I was horrified at times by the thoughts that popped up in my mind during meditation. Meditation loosens your subconscious and knocks down the dam holding all that stuff back.
Over time, it became easier to watch the flood come and go without reacting while also gaining insight into myself.
That’s the whole point.
To become self-aware is to become more compassionate – with yourself and with others.
It’s hard to be a human being, isn’t it? Yes, but knowing yourself is far better than not knowing. Again, knowledge is power.
I’ll close on that note today.
Have a fabulous week!!!
All my best,