Without self-awareness and the ability to manage our emotions, we often unknowingly lead from hurt, not heart. Not only is this a huge energy suck for us and the people around us, it creates distrust, disengagement, and an eggshell culture. – Brene Brown
Throughout the years, when I have taken personality tests, I consistently test high for self-awareness. I suspect it is because I have many conversations in my head. Sometimes they don’t stop! I am also overly critical of myself, often obsessing on my failures.
Self-awareness is tricky because not only is it important to be self-aware and understand how you are contributing to different issues, but it needs some sense of accuracy and constructive criticism. In other words, it’s not enough to only be self-aware. It’s the action that comes after the awareness.
Let me illustrate with a simple example.
Last year, I had spent a good six months accusing my husband of shrinking my clothes in the wash. He was an easy but illogical target because a) he is truly bad at doing laundry, but b) he didn’t wash my clothes that often. However, I had convinced myself that he was the reason none of my jeans fit. I was in denial. At some point, I begrudgingly hopped on the scale and sadly discovered that I had gained 25 pounds.
So much for blaming him.
Miraculously, after taking a good hard look at my diet and making some changes, I am happy to say my jeans once again fit. Turns out giant bowls of ice cream every night contributed more to my weight gain than his poor laundry skills.
The point is, it was easy for me to tell myself a story that he was ruining my wardrobe. I appreciate that he allowed me to blame him until I came to my own self-discovery. He’s good like that. But where does that spill over into other aspects of our thinking? Weight gain is a very provable deniability. Other areas of our lives or personality are not as easily exposed because there is so much gray area.
Allow me to break down this analogy to be clearer. My small-but-consistent behaviors resulted in a negative, unwanted outcome. I initially did not recognize those behaviors as the culprit but rather unfairly displaced the blame onto my husband. It felt very legitimate to me. I was doing many things right, like working out a lot and eating my vegetables, but It took me a long time to recognize my responsibility to the unwanted outcome.
Once I recognized I (me, myself) needed to make the changes, I was able to move forward in a productive way. Had I not taken accountability and admitted my responsibility for the problem, things would’ve not changed and very likely gotten worse (i.e.; additional weight gain).
The natural ups and downs of life can either generate personal growth or create personal fears. Which of these dominate is completely dependent on how we view change. – Michael A Singer
So much of how we deal with situations depends on how we view circumstances and, specifically, how we see ourselves within the scenario. For me, it was much easier to criticize my husband’s ability to do laundry than it was to be accountable for my caloric intact.
Work issues are often the same. Relationships at work can be challenging. When you are in a leadership position, it is inevitable that you will be faced with an onslaught of criticism.
If you have high self-awareness, you may be hyper-aware of what you are doing but maybe not as in tune with how people interpret your actions. That can be dangerous, especially if we are thinking about it from our own perspective and unable to see the other side. We also at times, hope that the person figures out their damaging behavior on their own. Unfortunately, this can waste a lot of time and make the matter worse by not addressing it.
Very seldom are people being difficult simply for the sake of being difficult. Time and time again, I see this and nearly always the person in question is unaware of damaging behavior. Or, they see it very differently. And moreover, the hurt feelings are unintentional.
The book “The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself” digs deeply into self-awareness and has guided me in a better understanding of what it means to refine this concept.
Consider this passage:
Here I am. Here I always was. It’s like you have been on the couch watching TV, but you were so immersed in the show that you forgot where you were. Someone shook you, and now you’re back to the awareness that you’re sitting watching TV. Nothing else changed. You simply stopped projecting your sense of self onto that particular object of consciousness. You woke up…As you pull back into consciousness, this world ceases to be a problem. It’s just something you are watching. It keeps changing but there is no sense of that being a problem.
Bringing an issue or behavior to someone’s attention may be similar to the scenario above. By having the difficult discussion, you may be awakening the person to an unconscious behavior or action that was unintentional on their part.
We all get so engrossed in our own worlds we can’t see how that impacts others. And we must not be so obsessed with being right that we inhibit our own growth simply because we refuse to take a step back and broaden our own responsibility in the situation.
There are many good tools to help you understand your level of self-awareness.
Tips for Strengthening Self-Awareness
- Take this self-awareness test.
- Read the book The Untethered Soul by Michael A Singer.
- It’s not enough to be self-aware. You need to practice using the information. You also need to be open to how others are interpreting your actions.
- Have the difficult discussion with the person that is causing your anxiety or frustration. Be open to understanding their perspective.
- Don’t play the victim. Be the impetus for change.
None of us is perfect. And all of us tell ourselves stories. Versions of the truth are true to all of us.
I will conclude with this:
There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing you are not the voice of the mind – you are the one who hears it. – Michael A Singer.