What Self Awareness Is
Being self aware is understanding how our different beliefs, values, personalities, habits, thoughts, behaviours and feelings affect and influence us in our day-to-day lives. The more self aware we become, the better able we are to understand ourselves, improve the choices and decisions we make, experience more fulfilling relationships and ultimately lead happier lives.
We’ve all heard the term ‘emotional intelligence’ and how important it is to develop it if we want to be successful in life, especially in the area of relationships. It can be defined as our ability to identify and manage our own emotions, and use information about our own and other people’s emotions to guide our thinking and behaviour. It’s impossible to be emotionally intelligent without having self awareness; it’s like the foundation on which our emotional intelligence is built. So what can we do to get to know ourselves better?
Developing Self Awareness
Have you ever stopped to consider how your thoughts and the words you use influence the way you feel? Or how your feelings may unconsciously affect the way you behave? Or whether your beliefs about life might be negatively affecting your chance of having the job you want, or finding the right relationship?
Helping people develop their self-awareness is a large part of what counsellors and coaches do, and you may decide to invest in working with a professional to help you understand yourself better. But there is a lot you can do yourself, or with a trusted friend or two, to help you become more self-aware.
You could begin by starting to really pay attention to yourself – observe the way you handle things and how you feel in different situations, not just emotionally but also physically. Become familiar with your ‘gut’ reactions to things. Check in with yourself regularly by silently asking “How do I feel in this moment?” and see how your feelings change depending on the situations you experience throughout your day. Once you are clearer about how you feel about particular things, you can then start to consider why you feel that way? What might be influencing the feeling? Gradually you will find patterns emerging.
For example, you may have a pattern of pushing people away when they get too close (this could be because you have had your heart broken in the past and are sub-consciously afraid of allowing someone become too important in case they abandon you) or a pattern of ‘rescuing’ people or choosing needy partners (this could be due to unmet emotional needs within yourself).
As well as understanding our thoughts and feelings, we can also spend time finding out more about different aspects of ourselves. For example our likes and dislikes; strengths and weaknesses; fears and dreams. This can be a fun exercise: I remember one Christmas my daughter came up with a very creative idea for presents for all the females in the family. She gave us all a large screw top jar filled with tiny folded pieces of paper, together with a pretty notebook and pen. We were instructed to take out a piece of paper each day and answer the question that was printed on it – things like ‘My favourite band is/The happiest day of my life was/My most annoying habit is /My biggest regret is/My greatest fear is/ What dreams did I have as a child that I’ve given up on/ What’s missing to make my life perfect’ etc. The answers were to be written into the book, and then some months later we met up and took turns sharing them with each other. The activity taught us all a lot about ourselves, and sharing our answers was a very bonding experience.
You don’t have to share if you don’t want to, perhaps you could start keeping a journal to record your answers to similar questions privately. Take some time to really think about how you feel on a wide range of issues, and don’t censor or judge the answers you may arrive at, just observe the thoughts and feelings you have. You will discover loads of really valuable information about yourself! Things like your fears, passions, strengths, weaknesses, feelings about money, love, your work, your friends, and so much more.
The Impact on Your Relationships
Becoming more self-aware will have a profound effect on your relationships – whether these are with partners, friends, colleagues or acquaintances.
It is often said that until we form a close relationship with ourselves, and learn to love ourselves (warts and all!) no one else can really get close to us. A lack of connection can lead to problems relating to others, misunderstandings and breakdowns in communication.
When you know yourself better, and are clear about how you feel in any given situation, it will be much easier to communicate with others more openly and assertively. You will learn to take responsibility for yourself and your reactions to people, rather than blaming them. You will find conflict is greatly reduced, and you will become better able to see things from others’ points-of-view, and be willing to reach compromises. You may find it becomes clear you need to let go of some relationships as they are not really right for you, but those you choose to continue will feel more fulfilling. Either way, being in touch with your feelings and remaining true to them will bring great happiness and balance into your life.