Episode 7: The Importance of Self-Awareness
Self-Awareness is the crucial first step in our personal development. Discover why it’s so critical and challenging to develop this skill. In this episode you’ll learn:
- How self-awareness is such a foundation for all growth and improvement
- How self-awareness issues show up in your life and impact you
- The benefits you’ll gain from increasing your level of self-awareness
- The “onion effect” and “unconscious biases”
The importance of Self Awareness
Have you ever been asked or thought about how self-aware you are? If so, what’s your answer?
The term self-awareness is used frequently these days; so much that it can appear to be the holy grail of success and happiness. Why’s it so important?
It’s so important because nothing exists to us until we become aware of it. Think about it. Whether it’s a person, place, thing or concept, It may exist in reality but not to us until we become aware of it. The same applies to our inner world of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We usually think, feel and do things in an automatic, unaware, state. Then someone says “were you aware that when you’re nervous, you pull on your earlobe?” Suddenly, something you’ve done since childhood is revealed. You may think “why didn’t I notice this?” We’re all blind to countless things that are right in front of us. In fact, the technical term for these things is“blind spots”.Lacking self-awareness is like walking around the house blindfolded, wondering why we keep crashing into things.
Why is self-awareness so difficult to develop? Our western culture puts a high value on things outside of ourselves. Examples include our physical appearance, material possessions, degrees, social status, etc. We’ve been conditioned to focus on these external factors from birth. Since our attention can only center on one thing at a time, it’s usually drawn away from our inner world.
Also, our culture tends to value extraverted action (moving, speaking, and doing) more than introverted action (sitting quietly, listening, contemplating). Self-awareness is an inherently introverted action that receives fewer social rewards than extraverted action. The combined forces of social conditioning and rewards exert a gravitational pull that must be overcome to develop greater self-awareness.
The problems with low self-awareness
When our level of self- awareness is low, we’re disconnected from our inner world. Just as we need to be aware of the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others to be connected to them, the same applies to ourselves. Our relationship with and understanding of ourselves begins with the awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Symptoms of low self-awareness
How do we know that self-awareness issues are negatively impacting us? When we experience the same unpleasant outcomes over a prolonged period, awareness issues are likely involved. If we’re aware of our part in these outcomes but continue the same actions and way of looking at things, there’s probably something we’re unaware of involved.
Sometimes the signs of self-awareness issues are vague. We may say or think things like: “I feel lost;” “something’s wrong, butI don’t know what it is,”or “things just aren’t working for me.”
Sometimes the signs are troubled personal relationships. We may say things that alienate others and not realize what we said or how we said it (tone, volume, choice of words, etc.). We may do things that offend people and not realize what we did or the way we did it (body language, facial expressions, a way of moving, etc.).
Other times, the evidence shows up as anxiety, depression, lack of motivation, poor focus /concentration, emotional reactivity, etc. These challenges limit our personal and professional effectiveness and satisfaction. Who isn’t familiar with some of these experiences? Who hasn’t said things like “I just can’t concentrate,” “I can’t get anything done,” or “I’m just not motivated” and not know the reasons why?
With greater self-awareness, we tend to prevent or correct the above issues. As a metaphor, let’s say you keep walking into the same brick wall because you’re blindfolded. When the blindfold’s removed, you gain awareness of the wall. At that moment, you could prevent future collisions with the wall by walking around or by removing it. None of these options would be available until you’re aware of the wall. So, it is with our self-awareness. It’s the starting place for our growth and success.
Benefits of greater self-awareness
Overcoming life’s obstacles is almost impossible without awareness of our contribution to these challenges and our potential options to overcome them. For example, I was divorced twice before meeting my third wife, the love of my life. I played a major role in the dysfunctions of all my previous relationships. Until I became aware of my beliefs, feelings, and actions that lead to my unhealthy relationships, I continuously repeated the same patterns and got the same results. The changes I made only became possible at the point of awareness.
The same applies to every area of our lives. Here are some common awareness challenges. Which ones do you relate to?
- Knowing what we want, don’t want, and why
- Knowing what we’re thinking, feeling and doing and why
- Knowing if we are living up to our values or not, and why
- Knowing if we have the skills and resources to do something now or need to acquire more
As our self-awareness provides these answers, we know ourselves better. We can then make better decisions, take more effective actions, and make appropriate adjustments to what we’re doing based on the outcomes of our actions. We spend more time in driver’s seat of our lives rather than the passenger seat of things around us.
The “onion effect”
Developing self-awareness is like peeling an onion- it’s layered. As soon as we uncover one layer, a new one always appears in a never-ending process of development. For example, I may know what I want and don’t want but not the reason why. When I discover the reason why, another layer has been peeled.
Another important area of self-awareness are “unconscious biases.” This is the tendency to interpret evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs. For example, if I believe that other drivers are rude, I will tend to selectively notice cases of rude driving and not notice examples of courteous driving. How often do you experience the phenomenon of unconscious biases?
In summary, people who prioritize developing greater self- awareness are in a better position to succeed in every area of their lives. And it can be a fascinating and fun journey.
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