How to develop Self Awareness
Updated: Jul 31, 2020
I used to think I didn't have choices in certain things - in fact I too often regretted my reactions to people or circumstances, after the fact. When I began to deliberately practice self awareness, I became aware of the choices and possibilities open to me. I also developed a growth mindset and of course with that came the much desired change. Self awareness is an important first step in any attempt at self development. Calling it a step doesn’t do it justice because it's a continuous process - a way of life.
Let’s look at some benefits of self awareness, common barriers in practicing it and some ways in which to develop self awareness.
Self awareness is the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively (this includes your thoughts, feelings and beliefs). It is a complex idea because humans are not naturally objective. It also involves measuring ourselves against feelings and actions against some standards of correctness which are really values and beliefs. It's a cyclical process because the values feed into the awareness and increased awareness can lead to an adjustment of values. Values are basically what is important to us e.g. love, respect, honesty or financial security.
Benefits of self awareness
1. Emotional intelligence - a better understanding of what triggers certain thoughts, feelings and actions in oneself as well as the effect of one’s actions on others. For example, you may be particularly irritable at a certain time of day or with certain individuals. Self awareness can help you explore the reasons why.
2. Proactive self development - recognising one’s strengths and weaknesses helps identify areas for improvement. With that comes increased motivation to achieve personal or professional goals and a sense of fulfilment.
3. Decisiveness - knowing what is important is crucial in making decisions. Values influence our decisions and these get refined with increased self awareness. Choosing a career path or a relationship? These choices are affected by our level of self awareness, our understanding of ourselves and our values.
So what gets in our way?
Shame and fear. Sometimes the shame and fear of what we uncover causes us to avoid the process altogether.
“Busyness”. Multi-tasking, problem solving and even day dreaming are some reasons why we are not fully present either in conversations, our interactions with loved ones and even in ordinary activities like eating.
Confirmation bias. Accepting only information that confirms our beliefs and values and dismissing those that don't. Trying something and failing and having a response of “see I told you I wasn’t good at it” rather than looking for the lessons.
Difficulty accepting feedback especially if it is perceived as negative.
How to develop self awareness:
1. Make time for reflection
As modern women, we are busy serving others, running homes, careers and managing the diaries of every member of your family that we hardly have time for reflection. Scheduling reflection time into your day and prioritising it ensures that it happens. Quiet time is a very familiar concept to Christians and is a really helpful reminder of values by which to measure oneself. To do this actively, note taking or recording in some way is important. For those with young children, some creativity is required to get this time for yourself.
2. Be curious and ask yourself questions
Big questions can be overwhelming but smaller ones can help get you closer to the big ideas. Try asking questions like:
What is the most important thing in my life?
Who are the most important people in my life?
What am I good at?
What am I average at?
What am I bad at?
What makes me tired?
Again to do this actively, note taking is important.
3. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is a popular word which simply means paying attention on purpose in the present and without judgement. Paying attention on purpose in all that you do helps to increase self awareness. It will help show up your thoughts and feelings about that activity and then you can ask further questions.
4. Accept feedback
I once received feedback from my husband about my mood in the mornings. I used to wake up grumpy but I always assumed that it was because my sleep was interrupted. I felt like I had little choice in my reaction because of what was happening to me. By accepting this feedback and asking myself questions made me realise that it was actually because I wasn’t getting anytime to myself before launching into the day. I wasn’t planning anything but just reacting from the moment I opened my eyes. This is what put me in a foul mood when I woke up. So I worked on getting this time for myself and this helped change my mood drastically.
5. Take personality tests
While we understand that these tests may not be completely accurate, a lot of them do provide us with some insight into who we are and how we act. There are so many free tests out there, explore a few suggested here.
Lastly, self acceptance and self compassion has to be practiced with self awareness. Be kind to yourself not in that excuse making way but in the way you would be to a child who you are genuinely trying to teach or a friend you are rooting for.