What is Self Awareness?
Self Awareness is a word that most of us have all heard of before, but what does it actually mean? As defined by the Oxford Dictionary, it is the conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.
By practicing self-awareness, you’re able to analyze your emotions instead of blindly reacting to them. You can look at the deeper reasoning for why you do certain things and change the behavior if its unhealthy. The benefits don’t just stop there though, as people with high levels of self awareness are shown to also have better relationships, competence, communication skills (Sutton, Williams, & Allinson, 2015) , and fulfillment in their lives.
Unfortunately, this is a relatively rare skill that people possess. Research has shown that while an astounding 95% of people think they’re self-aware, in reality, only 10-15% really were (according to a study done by organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich) . To put that in perspective, that means only roughly 1 in 7 people are truly self aware. Luckily though, this can be a learned behavior.
What is Self Awareness Theory?
Self-awareness theory is based on the idea that you are not your thoughts, but are instead observing them; you are the thinker, separate and apart from your thoughts. We exist separately from them, and can live through days without paying attention to our “inner selves”. When we do choose to pay attention to our “inner self,” we compare ourselves to our standards of correctness. According to the theory, there are two primary outcomes of comparing ourselves against our standards of correctness:
We either “pass,” finding alignment between ourselves and our standards or “fail,” by finding a discrepancy between ourselves and our standards (Silvia & Duval, 2001).
When we find a discrepancy between the two, we find ourselves with two choices: to work toward reducing it, or avoid it entirely. When faced with a significant discrepancy that will take a lot of consistent and focused work, we often avoid the extra effort and simply don’t bother, refusing self-evaluation. This is because we evaluate the feasibility of changing our standards before doing them.
If we believe there is a low chance of success, we tend to blame external factors, essentially using it as an excuse to not to self-evaluate. A major step towards learning self awareness is becoming conscious of this thought process, as you need to overcome it in order to experience any sort of meaningful changes to yourself.
What Does Self-Awareness Look Like?
Just recently I was faced with a situation which forced me to take a really hard look at myself. I was rejected from every college I applied to. There’s few things more humbling than getting rejected by eight colleges back to back, even your safety school. I had never thought of any world where I didn’t go to college that coming fall. I understood it was a possibility, but I always thought “It would never happen to me.”
Yeah, well, it happened to me. I felt like a massive failure, embarrassed every time someone would ask me “So what college are you going to?” With that question, I would then spiral into a feedback loop of telling myself I was a fraud, my life wasn’t going to go anywhere if I didn’t have a degree, and a whole bunch of other negative stuff. I receded into myself for months, depressed and embarrassed.
One day during that summer, I had a sudden realization: I have always had a very traditional definition of success, and that’s what has been holding me back. I’ve never really considered rejection because my family approached the concept of me getting in to a good college as a definite, unshakable fact. So when it happened, the first thought in my head wasn’t, “Oh well, I can just apply for Spring,” it was a panicked, “How could this have happened?!”
Now, I understand that I am not as invincible or as exceptional as I originally believed, and I’m alright with that. In situations where rejection is a possibility, like at a tryout or application, I now take a moment to remind myself that it is possible for me to fail, it will happen every now and then, and that’s just a part of life.
That One Friend
I get that college isn’t for everyone, so that example may not click with some people. But you know what will? Seeing self-awareness exercised in a relationship. I couldn’t find a quotable statistic in my 30 seconds of research on relationship statistics, but I think we all know at least one person who couldn’t keep a partner to save their life. Let’s say this person is named Jenny.
Jenny has a hard time sticking with the same person. She always feels like her boyfriend does not put as much effort into their relationship as she does. When she gets this feeling, instead of communicating, she starts arguments to get them to break up with her.
The night she started the argument that nearly ended in her breakup, she gets a text. He says, “If you push away everyone that cares about you, you’re going to end up alone. ” This made her take a step back for a second, but then she realized he was right. Jenny thought about why she acts this way, and recognizes that she does it because she saw her parents arguing like that before they divorced. She didn’t know any other way to act, so she imitated the only example she saw.
Now that she’s much older, she realizes that their relationship was dysfunctional long before they separated, and she needs to avoid replicating those behaviors. She spends time talking to her partner when there is an issue, as opposed to immediately reacting based on her emotions. These conversations allow both of them to understand how they affect one another, and give them a solid idea of where they can improve in the relationship. Jenny and her boyfriend are well on the pathway towards building something much more long-term.
The “Reasons” Guy
Similar to our friend Jenny, I’m sure most people know someone who really needs to make a change they just seem to refuse to make. You know, that guy that always talks about building a business but always has an excuse as to why it can’t happen yet? “Yeah man I lost all my savings for the business investing in dogecoin, so it’ll be a while before I can afford to get it started.” Bummer, what a perfect way to put that business off for a while longer though. Or perhaps a friend that just won’t dump that abusive partner, “What if I hurt their feelings? But I love them!” Do you really care about those things? Or is being alone what you’re really afraid of? Both of these people have one main thing in common:
They don’t want to leave their comfort zone.
The Reasons Guy always has an excuse to stick to their routine. Let’s call this person Bob.
Bob works at an office for some big company worth a bunch of money. He hates the job, often daydreaming about quitting and opening his own flower store. The salary he earns is more enough to afford the startup costs of a small business, however, Bob spends years at this cubicle job. He knows he could go to the bank and start applying for the loan he needs to get is tarted, but there’s just so much paperwork, he’d need to find time after work, he’s never written a business plan, and eventually he would need to quit. This just seemed like too much for him, so Bob resolved that he would only pursue his goal once once he was ‘ready.’
It wasn’t until his midlife crisis that Bob understood his problem. With the help of some self- awareness techniques, he recognized that he is scared to face unemployment if his business fails, so he made up reasons to keep himself from taking that final step.
Bob understands that obstacles are not an excuse to stop pursuing your goals. Whenever he feels himself trying to make an excuse, Bob directs his thoughts of “It isn’t the right time” towards making it the “right time.” The only way he could accomplish his dream is if he makes the uncomfortable choices necessary. He understands that there is never a perfect moment, we have to create our own opportunities. Bob accepts these risks and puts in his two weeks, now focusing on turning the flower shop into a reality.
Hopefully that made it a little easier to understand what self-awareness looks like in some fairly common situations. I know these three examples didn’t cover every way self-awareness can be used, but I did my best to convey the powerful effect it can have on self-improvement. Without this skill, I would have probably become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as my low sense of self worth would lead to me settling for a subpar life. Jenny would still be caught in a cycle of failed relationships for much of her foreseeable future, and Bob would be spending the rest of his life in white-collar purgatory.
How Can I Increase My Own Self-Awareness?
Well you’ve come to the right place my friend. With a PhD in ‘Googling It’, I can gladly assist. Activities like yoga and meditation are shown to have resulted in a range of improvements, including less stress, greater mindfulness, enhanced resilience, and even greater job satisfaction (Trent et al., 2019).
For those of you who like to look up “Best ways to…” I regret to inform you there is no objective “best” way to work on your self awareness. Choose an activity that you enjoy though, as mindfulness practices aren’t something you just do once and then forget about. Like any other skill, learning self-awareness takes commitment and discipline.
Overcoming bias and an unwillingness to receive feedback are two things that also need to be worked on in order to improve. This can be achieved by asking for honest opinions on your character by those around you. This step cannot be done alone, as it is impossible for us to evaluate ourselves without some form of cognitive bias.
Don’t mistake their opinions for facts though, just try to understand what the common threads are between each person’s opinion of you. At the end of the day , how you feel about yourself is most important. Nobody has to live in your head except you, making you a uniquely qualified expert. I mean, have you ever heard a doctor listen to medical advice from a toddler? Of course not, so just take what they say with a grain of salt. You’re the professional here.
Now that you have a rough idea of what self-awareness is, what it looks like, and how you can cultivate it, the next step is to implement it. I wish you guys luck, wherever you are on your self-awareness journey.
Hopefully you found the information in this article useful.
What was the first major time when you practiced self-awareness? Let me know in the comments, I (and future readers) appreciate it!