S is for Self-awareness
What is self-awareness?
“Self awareness is the ability to take an honest look at your life without any attachment to it being right or wrong, good or bad.” Debbie Ford.
I think that I would expand this a bit by saying that self-awareness is the ability to look at yourself honestly and having the ability to see and understand your actions, responses and thoughts objectively but equally being able to distinguish whether they are helpful or not i.e. whether they align or don’t with your values and goals.
"Knowledge is a process, not a product." Ruth Nanda Anshen
Self-awareness serves little value if it is just about knowledge and information. Being self-aware is just the starting-point for any opportunities for improvement.
Unless self-awareness is put into practice we won’t experience transformation and self-improvement. When we can recognise who we are and can evaluate why and where we want to go from here then we can use that information to live our life more optimally.
What are the benefits of developing self-awareness?
Self-awareness helps us know the direction we want to direct our lives. It is important to spend time reflecting on our core beliefs; examining them then either reinforcing them or rejecting them; looking at our patterns of behaviour and seeing where we need to make changes, looking at new information and then assimilating and/or accommodating what is relevant.
Self awareness is a necessary key tool when evaluating our strengths and weaknesses; or when reflecting on our behaviour (without blame or denial) so we can learn to act in ways congruent with our own values and needs, even at the risk of criticism or rejection.
We are all born with different strengths and weaknesses, have different values and there is no single set of instructions or prescribed method for creating the best version of ourselves, but we are all born with the ability to create a better version of ourselves each day. We can do this in a balanced way; looking inwards, developing self-awareness and treating ourselves with unconditional love and acceptance on our journey of self-development. i.e. While it’s never a bad thing to seek different ways to improve oneself, we don’t need to “fix” ourselves before we are acceptable to ourselves or anyone else; we are worthy just as we are.
“Be what you are. This is the first step toward becoming better than you are.” Julius Charles Hare
Self-awareness is required for self-care. We practise self care with reflection and processing and facing head on what is causing us to want to become numb or avoid stuff and in so doing we create resilience and a growth mindset.
We develop our integrity from self-awareness and looking within. Integrity is the inner sense of 'wholeness' deriving from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character. It is vital to make time to reflect on what is important to us and why and then uphold those ideas, even when it is not convenient or to our benefit.
It is difficult to be whole or complete without first knowing who you really are. Our true self is often hidden under layers of personas, limiting beliefs and masks and it is only by investing time in ourselves and making an honest assessment and having introspection that we can access the core of our being and integrate all the different pieces of ‘us’ into one complete whole. This requires courage, because living in integrity means that we share the 'real us' with the world i.e. become a WYSIWYG person.
“Wisdom tends to grow in proportion to one’s awareness of one’s ignorance.”
Anthony de Mello
Self- awareness also helps us to develop our intuition, which in turn helps us navigate life more easily.
“In the light of calm and steady self-awareness, inner energies wake up and work miracles without any effort on your part.” Nisargadatta Maharaj
“There is a universal, intelligent, life force that exists within everyone and everything. It resides within each one of us as a deep wisdom, an inner knowing. We can access this wonderful source of knowledge and wisdom through our intuition, an inner sense that tells us what feels right and true for us at any given moment.” Shakti Gawain
It is sometimes difficult to explain why you have an intuition but the more you develop your self-awareness, the more you are normally confident of its validity.
“At times you have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover is yourself.” Alan Alda
“What is necessary to change a person, is to change his awareness of himself.”
We are unlikely to change if we are not self aware and can see a positive reason for change; a reason that will lead to us having a more fulfilled, happier, integrated life. But when we do,
It is impossible to change every unhelpful aspect of our character overnight but when we are able to focus our attention on a specific area and act consistently to change a habit or a response or an attitude then we will create new neural pathways and see a great benefit.
Our emotions play an important part in our lives but are not always the best thing to base our decisions on. By becoming aware of the power of our emotions and applying techniques like defusion we can respond not react.
“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
Self awareness gives us the power to make impartial decisions and influence outcomes. As we become more self confident, we become better decision-makers and communicate with increased clarity and intention. When we are aware that we have our own assumptions and biases it helps us to understand things from other perspectives.
So how can we develop self-awareness?
“To know yourself, you must sacrifice the illusion that you already do.” Vironika Tugaleva
Self awareness is a developable skill. In her book “Insight” (How to succeed by seeing yourself clearly) Tasha Eurich provides an actionable guide to surviving and thriving in an unaware world. Drawing on her 3 year study of people who have dramatically improved their self-awareness, organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich reveals why we don't know ourselves as well as we think and what strategies we can apply to change this.
Do you know who you really are?
Do you ever wonder how other people really see you?
Research shows that self-awareness—knowing who we are and how others see us—is the foundation for better work performance, smarter life choices, deeper, more meaningful relationships, and a more fulfilling career. The problem is that most people are confident that they know themselves, but in reality, they don’t see themselves quite as clearly as they could and can be poor judges of their own behaviour, performance and impact on others.
We need to be honest with ourselves if we are to develop self-awareness. We all have the capacity to improve ourselves but in order to do so effectively we need to know ourselves and know when we are not being honest with ourselves. This is not a one time action it is an ongoing process as we continually change and evolve. We also don’t become honest just because we aspire to it or as a benefit of ageing we have to earnestly seek, nurture and guard honesty at every turn; it is the ‘work’ required to live an authentic life.
We are all imperfect; some of our imperfections are part of who we are but other aspects can be unlearned and stand in the way of us becoming a better version of ourselves. It is a delicate balance that requires self- awareness to acknowledge and discern the difference between the helpful and unhelpful aspects of our character and to make continual progress and having the courage to apply the things we learn. When we are really honest with ourselves then we can use our mind creatively “as an artist rather than as a victim” Brad Blanton
We can develop self-awareness through our relationships with others – particularly those who we find ‘difficult’
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
Our words are important. Words not only have an effect on others and the relationships we have but our words to ourselves (self-talk) can also affect us too. Our internal conversations shape who we become. We affect our brains and our lives by where we place our focus so it is important to be be aware of the words we use as they literally create our lives.
“The most important conversations you’ll ever have are the ones you’ll have with yourself.” David Goggins
Some people find regular journaling a useful way to pay attention to their thoughts as it helps to spot patterns that either serve us or don’t. Regular reflections could include:
What did I do well today? How did that make me feel? How did I respond? How could I create more of this experience?
What did I find challenging today? How did that make me feel? How did I respond? How could I respond differently or reframe this experience another time?
What strengths did I use today that helped me towards being the best version of myself?
What do I want to achieve tomorrow? What do I need to be aware of tomorrow? How might I identify a potentially difficult experience and reframe it before it actually happens? What will give me joy and can I be grateful for tomorrow?
In order to develop our self awareness we need to spend time quietly, stilling the outer chaos and looking within. We can use breathing and mindfulness techniques to centre ourselves, ask questions and find answers. Mindfulness is a good practice to help you become more in tune with what's going on in your mind, body, the environment around you and help you identify and acknowledge your responses to your experiences.
“Your mind is like a gold mine, if you dig deep you will find something golden.”
Gift Gugu Mona
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
Self-awareness is sometimes divided into private and public awareness. Private self-awareness is about reflecting on our internal state and being aware about how our reactions affect us whereas public self-awareness is more concerned with how we appear to others and how our actions might influence others. People who are able to put themselves into the shoes of others and see themselves from the perspective of another viewpoint exhibit a greater degree of empathy . When we look inward it gives us the tools to look outward and interact with others more effectively
Self-awareness is an important tool because it allows us to not only assess our own development and affords us the insight and ability to evolve and change course when necessary but it also gives us the opportunity to encompass multiple perspectives and different viewpoints thereby creating a richer, diversity in our lives and the chance to form more open and meaningful relationships.