What is self-awareness?
Self-awareness is the ability to observe ourselves, to take notice of and pay attention to patterns within our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It is being able to understand our own emotions and moods. Instead of trying to avoid or ‘fix’ how we feel, we can observe and stay curious about our feelings, even the difficult and uncomfortable ones.
Self-awareness means paying attention to how we tend to act and behave in certain situations, what our default reaction and response is, what our habits and tendencies are. For example:
Are there parts of your life or personality that you just can’t seem to understand?
Are there certain behaviours, tendencies or situations that seem to pop up over and over again despite leading to negative outcomes?
Self-awareness helps to make sense of this and helps us understand why we do what we do, why we react the way we do, why we feel what we do.
The benefits of self-awareness
Being more self-aware is one of the most important things we can do for not only our own happiness and wellbeing, but also for those around us. Below are some of the key benefits:
Better relationships – it allows us to communicate what we want and need in a relationship, that’s every relationship – partner, family, friends, work etc. It also prevents us from getting defensive or entering into negative patterns, which have perhaps become our ‘go-to’ in certain situations.
Improved moods – how we feel is largely dependent on how we think and behave. When we improve our awareness and understanding of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours it becomes easier to regulate our mood and emotions.
Clearer thinking and better decision-making – we often have a confused mind and make poor decisions when we have strong emotional reactions to certain things and when we don’t understand. Becoming more aware of what is going on in our mind can help us find a greater sense of calm. This helps us differentiate between short term impulses and our long term values and goals.
Increased productivity – poor productivity isn’t a lack of effort or commitment, it’s interference from our own minds. When we struggle to get down to work, it’s usually because on some level our own thoughts, emotions or habits are getting in the way. Improving self-awareness can help eliminate many of these hidden obstacles to productivity.
How to build self-awareness
Self-awareness provides us perspective by enabling us to step back from ourselves. This can be really challenging to do that when we live inside our own heads. However, it is an essential skill that anyone can learn and improve with the right exercises and habits.
1. Create time and space – this can be difficult to do in a world where we feel like we are on the go from the moment we get up, to the moment our head hits the pillow. But finding some space in our day and our minds will give us the opportunity to slow down a little and start to observe what is going on in our mind, to try to recognise patterns, feelings or behaviours that occur with certain events or triggers. Tips to try:
Go for a walk on your own, without music, podcast or any distraction – even better if you can leave your phone at home.
Go for a coffee by yourself, sit in and drink it, nothing to read and leave your phone behind or in your bag.
2. Practice mindfulness – mindfulness is being present in the moment, paying attention to our self and our surroundings rather than getting lost in thought or ruminating or daydreaming. It helps us detach from our thoughts and just observe them. Tips to try:
Take your shoes and socks off and put your feet on the grass. Feel the grass on your feet and between your toes, concentrate on the sensations, try to name them.
Take three deep breaths, feel your chest and abdomen rise and fall, follow the breath into your lungs and back out again, connect to the sensations.
3. Journal – this is a great technique to help you recognise patterns in your feelings, thoughts and behaviours. It helps you discover what you want/don’t want, what you do value and what is not important to you. It doesn’t have to be anything more complicated than writing down what happened and how you felt or reacted. Tips to try:
At the end of the day write down three things that went well, and how you felt/behaved after each one happened, then write down three things that didn’t go so well and how you felt/behaved after each one of those.
Take a blank piece of paper and write at the top, “Today was…” set yourself a timer of five minutes and then just allow yourself to write, whatever comes out, don’t edit it or read it back until you have finished the five minutes.
Reflect back on what you have written, that day and after days/weeks/months, see if you can recognise any patterns.
4. Get feedback – getting feedback from people who know you well and trust, is a good way to improve your self-awareness. However, it is very important not to take any one person’s word as gospel; you need to talk to a variety of people to get a comprehensive view of yourself and reflect on what they say. Tips to try:
Ask a family member or close friends about what they think about you, ask them to describe you and see what rings true and what surprises you.
Always remember it is someone else’s opinion and it is your own self-belief and feeling which matter most.
If you don’t want to speak to your friends or family, then seeking a more formal approach like a psychologist, is also a great option.