Whether you want to improve a certain area of your life or you just want to improve the overall quality and depth of your experiences, self-awareness is at the centre of it all. Without self-awareness it’s difficult to understand ourselves or our feelings. If we can’t understand our feelings then decisions become difficult and you can end up feeling lost or dis-connected.
Relationships are difficult to navigate without self-awareness because in order to relate we need to have some sense of who we are and what we need. Relationships are central to our well-being so self-awareness is a pretty important thing to develop and keep working on. So, what contributes to self-awareness?
Self-awareness involves questioning everything that you do! This doesn’t mean questioning it in terms of things being right or wrong, but rather asking yourself why you responded the way that you did. In order to do this there needs to be an understanding that everything that you do, think and feel is just one of many options. We know this because different people often respond differently to the same situation. Therefore your emotional responses, behaviours and thoughts are all clues about yourself.
Self-awareness involves reflecting on why you felt, thought and responded in the way that you did. This isn’t the type of question that you necessarily get an answer to though. Asking why and doing the work required to try to find the answer is enough. The process itself is what is required to raise your self-awareness.
Asking why operates as a linear process alongside your usual day to day life. Adding in this ‘why layer’ involves reflection. Self-reflection; paused and considered thought about yourself and your reactions to your experiences. Reflection requires pausing and creating some space and stillness – preferably in a literal way – but if this isn’t possible then creating some internal stillness and psychological space will do too.
Self-awareness also involves trying to see yourself from the outside. Reflecting on how you interact with other people. In other words giving some consideration to how other people might experience you. This doesn’t mean trying to work out what people think of you though. How someone experiences you is different to what they think of you. Ask yourself how your friend or colleague might have experienced you during a recent conversation – could they have experienced you as cold, as irritated, as sympathetic or dis-interested?
This process is different to identifying what you were feeling or what your intentions were during the conversation. Sometimes what we intend to communicate and how we actually come across don’t match up! Trying to see yourself from the outside can be difficult. The more you ask why and the more time you give yourself to pause and reflect, the easier it will become.
Overall being self-aware requires you to try to see yourself from the outside whilst knowing yourself on the inside. It is an on-going process. No matter how many times I think I’ve done all the work I need to do on myself and think I’ve discovered all there is to know about myself, something happens that shows me that I’m only just getting started! We can never ‘crack it’ when it comes to being self-aware because we change, we are complex, and no-one can ever truly see themselves just as they are. When it comes to developing self-awareness the journey is more important than the destination!