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How to Gain Self-Awareness

Self-Awareness: conscious knowledge of one's own character, feelings, motives, and desires.

Self-awareness is integral to personal growth and change. It allows us to pause before reacting and engage in thoughts and actions that benefit our goals. When we are self-aware we can recognize both our strengths and weaknesses. We can see our areas of growth and that will help us better set and reach our goals. It gives us a chance to relate to others and deepen our relationships. So, being that self-awareness is so important to living a happy and productive life, what can we do to improve it?

Use Past Experiences

Think about a negative experience you had recently that you wish you had handled differently. What happened? What was your reaction? Okay, now go back to that moment between the event and the resulting reaction… was there a quick thought before you reacted? That is called an automatic thought and they tend to drive our reactions. Automatic thoughts aren’t driving by rational thought, they’re automatic. Most people don’t think to question them because they seem right, because that’s how our brains work. But, unless we look at what’s driving our reactions, we don’t have a shot at changing them. You can use this reflective tool to assess past experiences and figure out got right, and what you wish you would have done differently.

Pro-tip: In situations that involve another person, if we are having a hard time finding our part or how we negatively impacted a situation, it can be helpful to run our thoughts by a neutral third party (like a therapist or trusted friend). Most of the time, not always, we had a part in disagreements.

Focus on Something Positive

In a negative situation, it can be helpful to focus on something positive. If you find yourself seeing situations as all good or all bad, look for the balance. This doesn’t mean to wash the experience in toxic positivity. That’s not helpful. But not all situations are 100% bad. Maybe you applied to a ton of colleges and didn’t get into any of them. Okay, not what? Yes, it sucks. It’s not ideal. But, there are opportunities to grow and reassess. Remember, your feelings are valid, but finding balance and looking beyond them is to gain awareness and open the doors of your perception.

Become Aware of Your Body

Our bodies hold a wealth of knowledge. They can tell us when we are overwhelmed or stressed, excited, anxious, sad. Take 30 seconds each day to run a body scan. Where are you feeling tension in your body? How does your body tell you that your doing well or not so hot? For a lot of us, we feel tension in our neck and upper back. Breathe in and tighten those muscles, on your exhale, release the tension. Then check in again, did it help?

Ask Others

Write out two columns on a piece of paper. Column A: How I See Myself. Column B: How Others See Me. How do they compare? It doesn’t matter if they are totally the same or totally different. This is an exercise to raise awareness. Did you notice any themes on either side?

Pro-tip: Ask people who will be honest with you. We don’t need answers from “yes men” for this exercise.

Gaining self-awareness is a process. It won’t happen overnight or by doing one exercise. It’s about discovery and growth. Growth itself can be an uncomfortable process but it shouldn’t be painful. If you find that you are still struggling, reach out to a therapist. Therapy can help lift our blinders and show us areas for change that aren’t in our immediate view.

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