Blog Short #26: The Observing Ego and Self-Awareness
Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!
Self-awareness refers to our ability to monitor our thoughts and feelings as we have them, and choose how to respond most appropriately based on what we see. The more self-aware we are, the better we can direct our thoughts and control our emotions.
It’s a meta ability that uses both:
- Meta-cognition which is to be aware of thought processes as they occur, and
- Meta-mood which is to be aware of moods as they occur.
Meta just means having dual awareness. Have you ever been dreaming and been aware that you’re dreaming at the same time? That would be called meta-dreaming. You’re both in it and outside observing it simultaneously.
Self-awareness is like that. It requires a “you” that’s thinking and feeling, and another “you” that’s watching the thinking and feeling while it’s happening.
The name of that second you in this process is referred to in psychology as the “observing ego.”
This term comes out of the psychoanalytic tradition, and although Freud didn’t coin the phrase, he referred to this idea as an “evenly hovering attention” that watched from a neutral position the workings of the ego. In “mindfulness” circles, it’s sometimes referred to as the “witness.”
The Purpose of the Observing Ego
The primary purpose of the observing ego is to increase self-awareness. By doing so, you gain:
- A greater “sense of agency” which means you have more control in directing your moods and thoughts deliberately toward a desired outcome, rather than just acting them out. Knowledge is power in this sense.
- Greater understanding of yourself and appreciation of your unique gifts. You become more aware of your strengths and weaknesses and can use this knowledge for personal and psychological growth.
- Increased ability to perceive others with accuracy, and to connect and empathize. This ups your potential for satisfying relationships and social interactions.
How to Make Best Use of Your Observing Ego
#1 Label your feelings.
We’re language-based beings meaning that we define our thoughts and feelings symbolically through words. Even when thinking to ourselves, we use words and phrases to provide meaning.
You can increase your self-awareness by expanding your emotional vocabulary. The way to do that is to become more specific in labeling your feelings with greater accuracy and specificity.
What I suggest is that you Google “positive emotions” and “negative emotions,” and find a good list of each. Download or print it. You’ll be amazed at how many words there are on those lists.
Next, practice labeling your emotions as they occur. Using the lists, find the most accurate words for each feeling that you have. Get really picky about it. Sometimes more than one word applies. Use as many words as fit the situation.
What’s surprising about doing this is you realize how narrow your use of language has been in thinking about how you feel. By opening that up and increasing your word options, your self-awareness meter starts to go up, and your observing ego is sharpening and becoming more useful.
The exercise itself requires you to use metacognition and metamood, and hones your observing ego skills. As you label your feelings, you create some distance from them and aren’t swept away or overwhelmed by them. This allows you some control over them, and the emotional room to modify or change them to your liking.
#2 Journal it.
If you like to write, spend some time journaling with the specific goal of exploring and reviewing your thoughts and feelings. This can be focused on something you’re working on emotionally, or it can be free-floating meaning just write whatever comes to mind.
In either case, you can reread, review, apply better labeling, and gain some distance so you can see what’s actually there. Again, this allows you to modify or change what you feel.
#3 Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a more formal method of tapping into your observing ego to improve your self-awareness. It’s the practice of watching your thoughts and feelings arise, acknowledging them, and then letting them go.
You do this much like watching a train of cars coming into view, getting closer and closer, and then passing by and receding out of view.
The idea is to not get caught up in your thoughts, but to see them with impartiality. You acknowledge them and let them pass by, without holding on or being swept away by them.
There are other mindfulness practices such as body relaxation, breathing exercises, and meditation. All of these help to increase self-awareness because they calm your mind enough to get just below the noise of thoughts and feelings, and allow you to experience them from a distance.
3 Things to Remember When Practicing Self-Awareness
- Don’t censor your feelings. We can’t help how we feel and there’s no right or wrong to feelings we have. The right or wrong comes in when we act on them. To do that well, you first need to know what’s there so you can make decisions based on all the information, not just some of it. What you censor or suppress just goes underground and affects you anyway, only without your direction. So let them surface, observe them, and then act.
- You’re more than what you think and feel. You have thousands of thoughts and feelings in a single day, and some of these come up from inside you while others are snatches of things or events you’ve been exposed to outside of you. For example, if you watch the news all day about mass shootings, you may have many more thoughts that contain violent content. That doesn’t mean you’re violent. It just means you’ve been inundated with that content. Thoughts and feelings have many sources. Don’t use them as measures of who you are, but more as information you can use to be more directive about where you put your attention.
- To not have an observing ego is to lack control over yourself and your life. It condemns you to repeating the same mistakes over and over. It’s living by instincts without using your thinking brain to help you order your life and guide it’s trajectory.
Having an active observing ego in good working order is making the most of what we’ve been gifted as human beings. We have the tools to self-actualize, evolve, connect, and feel comfortable with ourselves. It’s the tool that allows us to have a fully developed conscience. So use it!
That’s all for today. Hope you have a great week!
All my best,