Self-awareness is a hot topic today. Everyone’s talking about it, from people in business to people in the arts, from child psychologists to experts in productivity.
Why is self-awareness so important? Simply put, it’s the key to emotional intelligence. The ability to monitor your emotions and thoughts from moment to moment is vital to understanding your own needs, desires, failings, habits, and everything else that makes you tick. The more you know about yourself, the better you are at adapting to life changes.
In addition, self-aware people tend to act consciously rather than react passively, to be in good psychological health and to have a positive outlook on life. They also have greater depth of life experience and are more likely to be compassionate people.
Self-awareness is a skill
Tasha Eurich, a psychologist and author of Insight, the Power of Self-Awareness in a Self-deluded World, describes self-awareness as “the meta-skill of the 21st century.” Not knowing ourselves can lead us to make bad career decisions, to be overconfident, and to miss learning opportunities. Self-awareness, by contrast, shows us our true motives, how we can improve, gives us the chance to address or own up to our weaknesses, and ultimately makes us better decision makers, colleagues, and leaders (not to mention friends and companions).
Unfortunately, without making the effort to become self-aware, most of us are vulnerable to self-ignorance, both in terms of what we know about ourselves and how other people see us.
One surprising result of an American Psychological Association study of thousands of professionals from various fields demonstrated that participants who were less competent or capable were more likely to overestimate their knowledge or abilities in their areas of specialization, a phenomenon dubbed the Dunning-Kruger effect after the psychologists who discovered it. In one dramatic example, convicted prisoners rated themselves as more “kind and trustworthy” than average!
It’s important to remember that a lack of self-insight frequently goes hand in hand with weaker performance. This can be a fatal flaw, especially as you follow your career path.
Ways to improve self-awareness
To learn more about ourselves, the obvious thing to do is to spend time deep in introspection or to keep a daily diary. But research shows that people who spend too much time reflecting about the self tend to suffer from more anxiety (in part because it’s all too easy to slip into rumination, self-blame and the search for absolute truths that simply don’t exist).
Here are some exercises you can try to enhance your self-awareness without stress:
- Create some space for yourself: Set aside some time and space for yourself every day – perhaps first thing in the morning or half an hour before sleep – when you stay away from digital distractions and spend time alone – reading, writing, meditating, and simply connecting with yourself.
- Practice being a good listener: Listening isn’t the same as hearing. Listening means being present and paying attention to other people’s emotions and body language. It’s about showing empathy and understanding without constantly evaluating or judging. When you become a good listener, you’ll also be better at listening to your own inner voice.
- Gain different perspectives: Ask for feedback. Sometimes we can be afraid to ask what others think of us. And sometimes we might get biased feedback, but as you learn more about yourself and others, you’ll be able to differentiate the bad from the good feedback. We all have blind spots, so it’s important to gain different perspectives in order to obtain a more complete picture of ourselves.
- Perform a self-review:The self-review is one of those annoying little things we all do at work, but it can be beneficial if you think of it more as a thought experiment. Rather than thinking about how you should improve yourself, try to imagine what your boss or your colleagues would say you should improve.
- Write your own manifesto: The purpose of self-awareness is self-improvement, so it makes sense that you need to have goals. If you’re struggling with that part, writing a manifesto is a good way to clarify your thoughts and figure out what you want.