Self-awareness is, as the name implies, the ability to look at oneself.
What is one looking at? Usually, emotional and thought processes, including beliefs, motivation, strengths, and weaknesses. Self-awareness also permits one to look at how others perceive them.
The ability to monitor ourselves from moment to moment is the key to understanding who we are and our relative place in the world. Moreover, self-awareness is an essential component of happiness and wellbeing.
Daniel Goleman associates self-awareness as a cornerstone of emotional intelligence. Goleman’s research and theories on the critical nature of self-awareness are widely accepted as a means of improving one’s awareness of self.
In this article, we are going to examine self-awareness form a standpoint of naivete. As such, we will discuss further the notion and theories of self-awareness, how to measure one’s aptitude in this vital life area, and the five things habits of individuals with high self-awareness.
“Research suggests that when we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and more creative. We make sounder decisions, build strong relationships, and communicate more effectively.” ~ Harvard Business Review (Source)
Again, self-awareness is the capacity to become one’s object of attention. When we’re attentive to ourselves and how we operate in the world, we’re better able to identify, process, and store information about ourselves. With this knowledge, we can then improve on these things.
Two Types of Self-Awareness
It’s important to know that there are two types of self-awareness – internal and external.
Internal self-awareness involves precisely observing our behaviors, thoughts, feelings, strengths, and weaknesses. Internal self-awareness also includes our aspirations, passions, values, and environmental fit. High levels 0f internal self-awareness is linked to higher relationship and job satisfaction, an enhanced sense of self-control, and feelings of happiness. It is inversely related to emotional and psychological distress.
External self-awareness involves seeing how others see us. This skill consists of the ability to step outside of one’s shoes and look at ourselves from a third-person perspective. On an interpersonal level, individuals with high external self-awareness may be more empathetic, polite, and harmonious. Research demonstrates a direct correlation between self-awareness and relationship satisfaction.
Per Harvard Business Review, self-awareness is linked to multiple personality characteristics and aptitudes, including creativity, confidence, communication ability, personal efficiency, leadership ability, and even career progression.
5 Habits of People With High Self-Awareness
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” ~ Stephen Covey
They practice active listening
The reality is that when most of us listen to someone, we’re thinking about our reply before the individual finishes. Or, worse, there’s something that we’re just so itching to say that we completely interrupt the person.
We’ve all done it. It’s become a habit for most of us. According to Edgar Dale, author of Cone of Experience, we forget 50 to 75 percent of what we hear. In other words, when we discuss something with our customers, boss, children, or spouse for 10 minutes, we’ve only listened to about 2.5 to 5 of those minutes.
Here’s another thing: we can’t possibly build self-awareness if we don’t take an interest in what others have to say. We can’t build self-awareness if we don’t practice active listening. It’s an essential skill to cultivate for this and many other reasons.
We should want to cultivate active listening. Why? Because it helps us to empathize, understand, obtain information, learn, and even to enjoy ourselves.
Active listening means this: concentrating, understanding, responding, and in turn remembering what someone says. Let’s look at each one of these.
Concentrate: You must direct and hold your attention to what’s being said.
Understand: If you concentrated well through the conversation, you should understand it well. However, you may still have questions. If so, ask them.
Respond: If you followed the ‘concentrate’ and ‘understand’ elements, you are well-equipped to respond.
Remember: If you’ve engaged wholly in active listening throughout the conversation, recall shouldn’t be too much trouble.
They get curious about how their minds work
Self-awareness requires paying attention to what’s going on between our ears. We must understand how our brains work before any type of tinkering to awareness can happen.
As such, a highly self-aware person knows the inner-workings of their minds. They know how it acts and reacts, as well as its strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, this is the quintessential function of self-awareness.
How to do this?
First, you must be completely honest with yourself. Our ego has entrenched and often subtle defense mechanisms that require bypassing. We accomplish this by objectively observing ourselves.
Here’s a basic framework for mind investigation:
– What are my predominant mental and emotional states? Which ones are positive? Negative?
– How do I feel when accomplishing something? How can I get into that state of mind?
– What things do I do that make me feel better? Worse? How can I get into those states where I feel better?
They solicit feedback – and welcome it all
One sign of outstanding self-awareness is seeking feedback. The problem: so many of us are far too sensitive, proud, or fearful, to willingly ask someone for their honest assessment. We’re scared of what they might say.
The thing is that feedback is critical in any endeavor, including the betterment of our self-awareness
Do you remember that jittery feeling in school before getting back the examination results? How about right before a job evaluation? Of course, you do! That’s fearfulness (some call it anxiety, but that’s another word for fear.)
It may be comforting to know that we all – to a greater or lesser degree – fear the feedback of others. But that doesn’t stop the self-aware from seeking it out.
There’s also the fact that the person you’re seeking feedback from will admire your courage and willingness to improve. Imagine what that shift in perspective can do for you, both personally and professionally!
They’re reflective and thoughtful towards themselves and others
You can’t be self-aware if you’re not attentive. The ability to look at yourself – your feelings and behaviors– is essential to self-awareness.
It’s not only about being reflective and thoughtful towards yourself. It’s also about extending these qualities to others. You do this mostly through communicating, interacting with, and responding to people.
Here’s an example. You receive a harshly-worded, borderline-inappropriate email from a client about your job performance. You can feel yourself become angry, and your thinking clouded. At the moment, there’s nothing you want to do more than giving a piece of your mind to the ungrateful urchin that is your customer. Do you follow through?
Notice that, with a couple of tweaks, the above scenario applies to pretty much any situation, anywhere. Maybe it’s your kids, your spouse, your co-workers. Perhaps it’s not an email, but a text message, a passing conversation, or a slight remark. Instead of critiquing professional understanding, it’s the scrutinization of your social etiquette.
Regardless of the context, the premise is the same: you’re being told something that you don’t want to hear. Now, instead of blowing a fuse, do the hard thing and reflect on the situation.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Is the underlying message (minus the perceived aggression, vitriol, etcetera) in any way justifiable?
- Is this how the person feels about me?
- Have I done anything – intentional or unintentional – that may have led, or even contributed, to this encounter?
While this is a hard thing to do, asking yourself these questions – and taking the appropriate actions – will contribute to your personal development in ways unimaginable.
They don’t “do” self-awareness, they are self-aware
This last point is critical if a bit subtle.
In the beginning phases of any endeavor, there’s some effort involved. This includes the practice of self-awareness. There’s a specific “doing” of self-awareness that happens as one acclimates to “being” self-aware.
It’s important to know that, after a certain point, there’s no conscious “doing” of self-awareness. As long as there’s continuous exertion, the skill of self-awareness continues to develop. More importantly, it demonstrates that there’s critical work still to be done.
Self-aware people are often, ironically, less aware of their innate awareness. (Hahaha!)
Joking aside, don’t settle for being a student of self-awareness. Graduate and enter the full-time occupation of it. Embody self-awareness – and transform how you both see yourself and how others see you.
Just as some people are naturally better at any skill, some people are more adept at being self-aware.
The fact that you’re actively engaging in self-awareness practice already says a ton about your character and drive for self-improvement!