The Blocks, Insights, and Strategies That Affect Self-Awareness
Read Time: 9 minutes, 6 seconds
When you are self-aware you understand:
- What is in your control and what isn’t, including your own and others’ well-being
- What is your responsibility and what isn’t, including the results of your own and others’ decisions
- What you want from life and what others want, including goals and priorities.
Self-awareness has a clear relationship to emotional intelligence. Self-awareness allows you to recognize not only that you exist but also that others exist separately from you. With that awareness, you are able to better lead and influence others, build satisfying relationships, and achieve your goals.
While a great deal of research has found that self-awareness is not lodged in any particular part of the brain, self-awareness does have a physical component. For example, a high self-awareness of one’s own physical state —hungry, tired, thirsty, relaxed—is associated with a more positive body image. Paying attention to your body allows you to recognize when your stress is high and your resilience is low.
Three Blocks to Self-Awareness
Your knowledge of your own character, limitations, strengths, feelings, motives, and desires may be blocked by both internal and external factors. The primary blocks to self-awareness are:
- Social exclusion and difference. According to recent research, the experience of social exclusion leads to an emotional state of numbness rather than distress, and excluded individuals will hide from themselves and their emotions rather than face the brutality of social exclusion. The same results were found if a person was told they differed from a group standard with no likelihood that they could ever improve. If people cannot meet a standard, rather than change themselves they will change the standard. Self-awareness is difficult to maintain if it requires accepting negative information about oneself.
- Fear. Fear causes people to cite outside reasons for their distress (the standard is wrong, by boss is unfair, and so on) rather than internal reasons (I need to study harder, I need to figure out what will make me a better team member). They block self-awareness because they fear to change themselves—what if they fail or lose sight of their core values or need to adapt to a new way of relating to people?
- Past experience. Self-awareness is more valued in some cultures, groups, and families than in others, and its expression differs. For example, the goal of self-awareness in Western cultures may be higher self-esteem and independence, while in Eastern cultures it may be saving face and fitting in. Culture shock can be defined as the necessity to revise one’s own behaviors and assumptions when confronted with another culture. Similarly, one child may be raised to be self-effacing, another to be considerate, and yet another to consider themselves privileged.
TIP: Self-awareness may save you from trying to always be the hero, always be right, and always be excused from bad behavior—if you pay attention to your motives as well as your actions. You may want to watch this video on the drama triangle.
Four Self-Examinations Related to Leadership
You will be a better leader if you examine your attitudes in the following areas:
- What bothers you about other people? You may find that you are treating someone in your company unfairly because they share a trait you dislike in others or remind you of someone you dislike. You may also favor a team member who displays traits that you favor, who makes your life easier, or who reminds you of yourself. You are looking for patterns so that you can start connecting to your team and peers as individuals.
- What triggers your stress or anger? We all have circumstances during which we feel out of our element, physically tired, or emotionally wrought. Before you blame another person on your team or your boss for triggering your reaction, take a deep breath, step back, and consider another approach. For example, it is counterproductive to your team’s well-being and trust if you react to anger with anger or assume other people are always in the wrong until proven otherwise. You are looking for your default responses so that you can modify them to the best SMaRT practices for motivating, mentoring, influencing, and true leadership.
- What do you like or dislike? Are you an introvert or extrovert? Do you prefer one-on-one meetings or large conferences, talking or texting, complete quiet while you work or your favorite music, drinking after work or going home? When you are aware of your own preferences, you are less likely to force them upon your team and better able to give team members the individual support they need to be productive and communicative.
- How well do you accept positive and negative feedback? If any feedback puts you immediately on the defense and if you have difficulty accepting either praise or blame, you may be refusing to acknowledge your own strengths and weaknesses as others see them. While not all feedback is helpful, you have to build up your team’s and boss’s confidence that you are willing to accept suggestions and debate fairly. Otherwise, you will cut off the support and perspectives you need to make the solid decisions and find the solutions expected of a leader.
TIP: These same insights will help you outside of work in your personal relationships with friends and family.
Five Techniques to Increase Self-Awareness
Self-awareness leads you to examine what you are doing, feeling, and missing in your life. At the same time, by examining what you are doing, feeling, and missing, you increase your self-awareness. The following techniques help you with that examination:
- Travel. Even local trips or reading about different cultures may open your mind to different viewpoints. When you are separated from the routines, foods, people, and activities that you are used to, you become more aware of your deepest held assumptions and your core values. You might ask: are there alternatives I haven’t considered?
- Write a Journal. By recording your day or reminiscing about your life in a journal, you begin to see patterns, both positive and negative. For example, you may see how changes in your sleep, nutrition, and exercise affect your leadership style and abilities; or you may see how certain words spark a desire to argue and defend yourself. Those patterns help make you the person you are. You might ask: are these patterns working for me and for those around me?
- Examine Your Goals. Your goals, priorities, intentions, and core values are important to you—but they do and should change over time. Periodically, you might ask: what am I hoping to achieve now, in this phase of my life, and what do I need to do to make it a reality?
- Talk to Someone New. When you team and life become more diversified—whether by generations, genders, races, religions, abilities—you begin to be aware of your prejudices and how they may be interfering with your ability to analyze risks and to handle or lead change. You might ask: Am I trying too hard to maintain my own well-being and comfort, without considering others?
- Practice Mindfulness and Listening. Mindfulness keeps you in the moment; it lets you truly connect to your internal life as you experience the external. Listening makes you aware of the needs, ideas, and desires of other people, enabling you to see them as separate from you and not extensions of your need for, say, power or reward. You might ask: am I hiding my true feelings from myself and others and are they hiding from me?
Your self-awareness saves you from many leadership mistakes, such as assuming that everyone shares your goals, priorities, and core values. Travel, self-examination, mindfulness, active listening, and other SMaRT strategies increase your self-awareness, both emotional and physical.