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5 Ways to Be More Self-Aware

Self-awareness is the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively through reflection and introspection.

While it may not be possible to attain total objectivity about oneself (that’s a debate that has continued to rage throughout the history of philosophy), there are certainly degrees of self-awareness. It exists on a spectrum.

Although everyone has a fundamental idea of what self-awareness is, we don’t know exactly where it comes from, what its precursors are, or why some of us seem to have more or less than others.

This is where the self-awareness theory comes in, offering some potential answers to questions like these.

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What Is Self-Awareness Theory?

Self-awareness theory is based on the idea that you are not your thoughts, but the entity observing your thoughts; you are the thinker, separate and apart from your thoughts (Duval & Wicklund, 1972).

We can go about our day without giving our inner self any extra thought, merely thinking and feeling and acting as we will; however, we also can focus our attention on that inner self, an ability that Duval and Wicklund (1972) termed “self-evaluation.”

When we engage in self-evaluation, we can give some thought to whether we are thinking and feeling and acting as we “should” or following our standards and values. This is referred to as comparing against our standards of correctness. We do this daily, using these standards as a way to judge the rightness of our thoughts and behaviors.

Using these standards is a major component of practicing self-control, as we evaluate and determine whether we are making the right choices to achieve our goals.

Research on the Topic

This theory has been around for several decades, giving researchers plenty of time to test its soundness. The depth of knowledge on self-awareness, its correlates, and its benefits can provide us with a healthy foundation for enhancing self-awareness in ourselves and others.

According to the theory, there are two primary outcomes of comparing ourselves against our standards of correctness:

  1. We “pass,” or find alignment between ourselves and our standards.
  2. We “fail,” or find a discrepancy between ourselves and our standards (Silvia & Duval, 2001).

When we find a discrepancy between the two, we find ourselves with two choices: to work toward reducing the discrepancy or avoid it entirely.

Self-awareness theory (and subsequent research) suggests that there are a couple of different factors that influence how we choose to respond. Basically, it comes down to how we think it will turn out. If we believe there’s little chance of actually changing this discrepancy, we tend to avoid it. If we believe it’s likely that we can improve our alignment with our standards of correctness, we take action.

Our actions will also depend on how much time and effort we believe that realignment will take; the slower progress will be, the less likely we are to take on the realignment efforts, especially if the perceived discrepancy between ourselves and our standards is large (Silvia & Duval, 2001).

Essentially, this means that when faced with a significant discrepancy that will take a lot of consistent and focused work, we often simply don’t bother and stick to avoiding self-evaluation on this particular discrepancy.

Further, our level of self-awareness interacts with the likelihood of success in realigning ourselves and our standards to determine how we think about the outcome. When we are self-aware and believe there is a high chance of success, we are generally quick to attribute that success or failure to our efforts.

Conversely, when we are self-aware but believe there is a low chance of success, we tend to think that the outcome is more influenced by external factors than our efforts (Silvia & Duval, 2001). Of course, sometimes our success in realignment with our standards is driven in part by external factors, but we always have a role to play in our successes and failures.

Interestingly, we also have some control over our standards, such that we may alter our standards if we find that we don’t measure up to them (Dana, Lalwani, & Duval, 1997).

This is more likely to happen if we’re focused more on the standards than on ourselves; if we fail when we are focused on the standards more than our performance, we are more likely to blame the standards and alter them to fit our performance (Dana et al., 1997).

Although it may sound like merely shifting the blame to standards and, therefore, letting yourself off the hook for a real discrepancy, there are many situations in which the standards are overly strict. Therapists’ offices are filled with people who hold themselves to impossibly high standards, effectively giving themselves no chance of success when comparing themselves to their internal standards.

It’s clear from the research on self-awareness that it is an important factor in how we think, feel, act, and react to our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

4 Proven Benefits of Self-Awareness

Now, let’s shift our attention to research on the outcomes of being self-aware.

As you might imagine, there are many benefits to practicing self-awareness:

  • It can make us more proactive, boost our acceptance, and encourage positive self-development (Sutton, 2016).
  • Self-awareness allows us to see things from the perspective of others, practice self-control, work creatively and productively, and experience pride in ourselves and our work as well as general self-esteem (Silvia & O’Brien, 2004).
  • It leads to better decision making (Ridley, Schutz, Glanz, & Weinstein, 1992).
  • It can make us better at our jobs, better communicators in the workplace, and enhance our self-confidence and job-related wellbeing (Sutton, Williams, & Allinson, 2015).

These benefits are reason enough to work on improving self-awareness, but this list is by no means exhaustive. Self-awareness has the potential to enhance virtually every experience you have, as it’s a tool and a practice that can be used anywhere, anytime, to ground yourself in the moment, realistically evaluate yourself and the situation, and help you make good choices.

3 Examples of Self-Awareness Skills

So we know that self-awareness is good, but what does it look like? How does one practice self-awareness?

Below are three examples of someone practicing self-awareness skills:

Kwame  at work Scenario

Kwame struggles with creating a quarterly report at work, and he frequently produces subpar results. He notices the discrepancy between his standards and performance and engages in self-evaluation to determine where it comes from and how to improve.

He asks himself what makes the task so hard for him, and he realizes that he never seems to have trouble doing the work that goes into the report, but rather, writing it up cohesively and clearly.

Kwame decides to fix the discrepancy by taking a course to improve his writing ability, having a colleague review his report before submitting it, and creating a reusable template for future reports so he is sure to include all relevant information.

Kiki at home Scenario

Kiki is having relationship problems with her boyfriend, Kojo. She thinks kojo takes her for granted and doesn’t tell her he loves her or share affection enough. They fight about this frequently.

Suddenly, she realizes that she may be contributing to the problem. She looks inward and sees that she doesn’t show Kojo appreciation very often, overlooking the nice things he does around the house for her and little physical touches that show his affection.

Kiki considers her thought processes when Kojo misses an opportunity to make her feel loved and notes that she assumes he purposely avoids doing things that she likes. She spends time thinking and talking with kojo about how they want to show and receive love, and they begin to work on improving their relationship.

Serwah on her own Scenario

Serwah struggles with low self-esteem, which causes depressive symptoms. She doesn’t feel good enough, and she doesn’t accept opportunities that come her way because of it. She begins working with a therapist to help her build self-awareness.

The next time an opportunity comes her way, she thinks she doesn’t want to do it and initially decides to turn it down. Later, with the help of some self-awareness techniques,

Serwah realizes that she is only telling herself she doesn’t want to do it because of her fear that she won’t be good enough.

Serwah reminds herself that she is good enough and redirects her thoughts to “what if I succeed?” instead of “what if I fail?” She accepts the opportunity and continues to use self-awareness and self-love to improve her chances of success.

These three stories exemplify what self-awareness can look like and what it can do for you when you tap into it. Without self-awareness, Kwame would have kept turning in bad reports, Kiki would have continued in an unsatisfying relationship or broken things off, and Serwah would never have taken the opportunity that helped her grow.

If you look for them, you can find these stories everywhere.

5 Ways to Increase Your Self-Awareness

1. Practice mindfulness and meditation
Mindfulness refers to being present in the moment and paying attention to yourself and your surroundings rather than getting lost in thought or ruminating or daydreaming.

Meditation is the practice of focusing your attention on one thing, such as your breath, a mantra, or a feeling, and letting your thoughts drift by instead of holding on to them.

Both practices can help you become more aware of your internal state and your reactions to things. They can also help you identify your thoughts and feelings and keep from getting so caught up in them that you lose your hold on your “self.”

2. Practice yoga
Yoga is a physical practice, but it’s just as much a mental practice. While your body is stretching and bending and flexing, your mind is learning discipline, self-acceptance, and awareness. You become more aware of your body and all the feelings that manifest, and you become more aware of your mind and the thoughts that crop up.

You can even pair yoga with mindfulness or meditation to boost your self-awareness.

3. Make time to reflect
Reflecting can be done in multiple ways (including journaling; see the next tip) and is customizable to the person reflecting, but the important thing is to go over your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to see where you met your standards, where you failed them, and where you could improve.

You can also reflect on your standards themselves to see if they are good ones for you to hold yourself to. You can try writing in a journal, talking out loud, or simply sitting quietly and thinking, whatever helps you to reflect on yourself.

4. Journal
The benefit of journaling is that it allows you to identify, clarify, and accept your thoughts and feelings. It helps you discover what you want, what you value, and what works for you. It can also help you find out what you don’t want, what is not important to you, and what doesn’t work for you.

Both are equally important to learn. Whether you like to write free-flowing entries, bulleted lists, or poems, writing down your thoughts and feelings helps you to become more aware and intentional.

5. Ask the people you love
It’s vital to feel we know ourselves from the inside, but external feedback helps too. Ask your family and close friends about what they think about you. Have them describe you and see what rings true with you and what surprises you.

Carefully consider what they say and think about it when you journal or otherwise reflect. Of course, don’t take any one person’s word as gospel; you need to talk to a variety of people to get a comprehensive view of yourself.

And remember that at the end of the day, it’s your self-beliefs and feelings that matter the most to you!

Source : positivepsychology,Courtney E. Ackerman, MA

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