‘How well do you really know yourself?’ A hugely significant 95% of us think that we’re self-aware, but the reality bears a stark contrast with 10% to 15% actually knowing who we really are (Eurich 2017). Although we believe that we know the image we see starting back at us from the mirror, the way we position our story on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, what our co-workers and friends think of us, in reality we spend very little time actually reflecting on who we are or asking people for honest opinions about the impact we’re having on them.
Self-awareness isn’t a new concept – another faddy notion claiming to be the route of all happiness. Plato said, ‘Know thyself’ more than two thousand years ago. Today, the understanding that knowing ourselves is the cornerstone to realising our potential is backed by the experience of generations and robust scientific evidence. In fact, as psychologists we even believe that this skill is the foundation of human survival and advancement (Eurich 2017 – for our podcast interview go to Dot-to-Dot).
Why Does Self-Awareness Matter?
The lack in self-insight that most of us unwittingly have, means we are wandering around with an equivalent of a blindfold on. We may be making it from one place to another but along the way we’re bumping into things, stumbling over obstacles and taking a really inefficient route to our destination. When it comes to behaviour that means unintentionally annoying people and making a myriad of unnecessary mistakes along the way. On the other hand taking that blind fold off would enable us to:
- Work out what we actually want from life – without working out what we want there is no way of getting closer to it.
- Understand our strengths in order to start-making proper use of them.
- Work on our weaknesses and at the very least mitigate the negative impact they have.
Having better self-insight also improves our social skills, decision making capabilities, ability to deal with pressure, resolve conflict and deal with stress.
Given all of this it’s unsurprising that knowing ourselves allows us to fulfil our potential. Indeed, eminent Psychologist Daniel Goleman explains that self-awareness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence and success. In his book Emotional Intelligence, Goleman explains how in an organisational setting, once someone has an IQ of 120 or above, it’s emotional intelligence that becomes the most significant predictor of successful leaders.
And it’s not just soft skills that benefit, Dr. Richard Boyatzis a Professor of Organisational Behaviour looked at the profits produced by partners in a number of financial services companies measuring the 4 areas of emotional intelligence defined by Goleman. He found three of the facets had a massively significant effect on bottom line results with good self-awareness adding 78 per cent to incremental profit.
Most importantly of all having good self-awareness allows us to thrive. Knowing how to operate at our optimum but also being tuned into our mental and physical needs allows us to know when we need to refuel our body and our mind – leading to better physical and mental health.
How Can You Improve Your Self-Awareness?
Knowing how your brain works – it’s useful to first understand a bit more about how our brain works before delving into introspection. What’s normal and what’s not but also what’s helpful and what’s not. For example if you approach self-reflection in a way that’s hyper vigilant of everything that runs through your mind it will become counter-productive. When it comes to the brain analysis literally is paralysis. Instead try to be curious about yourself and your story but try not to ‘judge’, just observe.
Knowing about the world around you – a core component of self-awareness is understanding how our actions impact the world around us, not just looking inward. This is known as ‘external self-awareness’ and can be developed by:
Being curious – observing how your actions change and impact things. Also take note of how other people alter interpersonal dynamics. This is critical because external self-awareness is as important as internal self-awareness.
Knowing what you don’t know – approaching a situation accepting of your own inexperience. Not presuming you know the answer, rather asking questions with an open mind and really considering the answers.
Asking people what they think – ask for feedback from people who know you well and who you trust. Ask them to help you think through ‘What is really important to me? What am I really good at? What makes me unique?’
Knowing about you – it may seem a bit counterintuitive to put this one last but self-awareness is not pursely about self-absorption, it is about knowing about our passions and feelings but in terms of how they influence and are influenced by the context of the world we exist in. Ways in which to improve ‘internal self awareness’ include:
Writing lists or brainstorming – your strengths, weaknesses, what motivates you, what you stand for, what makes you happiest, what makes you mad.
Keeping a journal – not only does the process of writing itself allow the time and space for reflection, but also the capability to look back and learn from mistakes, at patterns of behaviour and their outcomes, to capture what makes you happy and what takes that away.
Making reflection a habit – this could be in the form of a journal or it could be meditation, mindfulness, going for a walk or a run, saying a prayer – whatever gives you the space to focus on what you’re feeling, how you are, what’s going on for you. Having the space to reflect on what makes us who we are, our own personal life story, is crucial to raising self-awareness.
Self awareness and learning about who we are is a continual journey – although the very core of us remains stable throughout life, our preferences, strengths, goals and passions modify and change as we grow and add to our story. If you make the effort to pay attention to that journey it can and will lead you to a far more fulfilled life.