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Self-Awareness: Your Key to Personal Growth and Avoiding Life's Pitfalls

Think back to a time when you were given feedback about yourself. How did you take it? Did you mostly agree? Vehemently disagree? Nonchalantly dismissed it entirely? How you process and receive feedback can give you an idea of your level of self-awareness.


At its core, self-awareness is what allows you to understand your own thoughts, emotions, and actions in the larger context. It enables you to understand who you are and how you relate to the world around you.


In this article, we explore what self-awareness is and what it’s not. We’ll also share some of the benefits of having self-awareness and address the dangers that can arise from an absence of it. 


Mirror on grass reflecting clouds and birds
Photo: Jovis Aloor | Unsplash

What is self-awareness


Self-awareness is the ability to self-reflect and recognize your own thoughts, beliefs, motivations, and emotions. It involves observing your behavior objectively and understanding how it affects yourself and others. Self-awareness encompasses both internal self-reflection and external awareness of your impact on the world around you.


What self-awareness is NOT


While self-awareness encompasses internal self-reflection, the practice of self-awareness is not an exercise in self-absorption. It has nothing to do with being self-obsessed or self-centered. It’s not about being self-conscious or self-critical. 


It's quite the opposite. Self-awareness is simply the ability to recognize your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in relation to yourself and others. It's an exercise in getting to know yourself intimately enough to understand your own values while still having the flexibility to challenge them when necessary. It's about being able to see yourself and interpret how  others see you without it disrupting your sense of self.


The Benefits of Self-Awareness


Personal Growth and Development

Self-awareness is an exercise in understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. When you embrace self-awareness, you gain clarity about your areas of improvement and can actively work towards developing new skills or changing harmful habits. This ongoing self-reflection allows you to set meaningful goals and make progress towards them as you work toward continuous self-improvement.


Enhanced Decision-Making

With self-awareness, you make better decisions. When you understand your values, beliefs, and desires, you can align your choices with what truly matters to you. Self-awareness helps you recognize your biases and emotional influences that hinder rational decision-making. This clarity allows you to filter out external expectations, make objective assessments, and make choices that align with your sense of self.


Strengthened Relationships

When you’re self-aware, you can communicate your needs, emotions, and boundaries effectively. Your awareness of your impact on the world around you allows you to be more empathetic and understanding of others. This allows you to take a step back and assess whether or not your response is appropriate for the situation at hand. If it isn’t, then self-awareness can help you choose a different response that will be more effective in resolving conflict or improving communication.


Your relationship with yourself is also strengthened with self-awareness. You can better understand your own needs, desires, and motivations. This allows you to make choices that are in line with who you are and what you value. When you’re self-aware, you can also recognize when something is off or not working for you and take steps to change it.


Stress Management

Bombarded by constant demands and stressors, self-awareness becomes an anchor of stability. By recognizing personal stressors, beliefs, and coping mechanisms, you can manage stress more effectively. Your self-awareness aids you in identifying signs of burnout or overwhelm. You develop an understanding of how they show up in your body. Once identified you can decide to take necessary steps to prioritize self-care, and establish healthy boundaries. 


At its core, self-awareness is what allows you to understand your own thoughts, emotions, and actions in the larger context. It enables you to understand who you are and how you relate to the world around you.

The Dangers of Lacking Self-Awareness


Lack of Clarity

Without a clear understanding of our feelings and motivations, we might act impulsively, driven solely by external influences or societal expectations. This can lead to regrettable choices that are not in alignment with our values and long-term goals. Lack of self-awareness prevents you from making informed decisions and hampers your ability to learn from past mistakes.


Strained Relationships

Self-awareness allows us to understand how our words and actions impact others. It enables empathy and the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes. When you lack self-awareness, you may unintentionally hurt others, create misunderstandings, or fail to acknowledge the impact of our actions. This can lead to strained relationships, conflicts, and a sense of isolation.


Stagnant Growth

Without acknowledging our weaknesses and areas for improvement, we are unable to work on them effectively. Self-awareness acts as a mirror that helps identify patterns of behavior that limit your growth. It allows you to examine your challenges, seek feedback, and make changes to become the best version of yourself. By lacking self-awareness, you are more likely to stagnate and miss out on opportunities for personal development.


Mental and Emotional Distress

Without an understanding of our emotions and the ability to regulate them, we may be prone to chronic stress, anxiety, and other psychological issues. Self-awareness enables you to identify triggers, recognize negative patterns, and take steps to manage and improve your mental health. Ignoring your emotions and burying them deep within can lead to a buildup of unresolved issues, which may manifest in adverse ways in the long run.


The Practice of Self-Awareness

So how do you begin building self-awareness? First, it’s important to understand that self-awareness is a practice. It isn’t something you accomplish, it’s something you actively work toward constantly. It’s dynamic and it will look and feel different each time you engage in it. Simply put, it evolves with you.


Here are some ways you can start practicing self-awareness today:


Reframe your reflective questions

How you frame your reflective questions can make all the difference. In her book, Insight, Tasha Eurich (2017) offers a new approach to how we ask ourselves about our thoughts and emotions using her “What, Not Why Tool”. Eurich proposes rather than asking yourself why, ask yourself what instead. She suggests that asking why is unproductive. Asking why puts you in a position to defend or rationalize your emotions. You’re left explaining the reason the emotions exist. This is not helpful.


Instead, she recommends asking the more objective question of what. According to Eurich, when you ask yourself what, you’re putting yourself in a position to name the emotion rather than simply experiencing. And once named, you can then move on and take a more proactive stance and create a plan to address it.


Give it a try. The next time you make a mistake, replace your default question of “why did I do that” with “what do I need to do to move on from this”? From there, notice your response to your question.


Practice Mindfulness and Body Awareness

Engage in mindfulness practices such as deep breathing exercises, body scans, or yoga to become more attuned to your physical sensations and emotions. Cultivating this awareness helps you recognize the early signs of stress or discomfort and allows you to respond more effectively.


Practice Self-Compassion

Self-awareness goes hand in hand with self-compassion. As you practice self awareness, you will discover things that are not ideal about yourself. It’s important to remember that this is normal and part of being human. When you notice something about yourself that you don’t like, try to approach it with curiosity rather than judgment.


Be kind and gentle with yourself, acknowledging that everyone makes mistakes and has areas for improvement. Treat yourself with the same level of understanding and forgiveness that you would extend to a close friend.


Explore Personal Values and Beliefs

Take time to reflect on your core values and beliefs. Identify what is truly important to you, and align your actions with those values. This alignment promotes personal integrity and helps you make decisions that are in line with your authentic self.


Be Open to Outside Help

Your perspective is limited. Seeking outside help can provide you with a fresh perspective on your situation. It’s important to remember that we all have blind spots, and sometimes it takes someone else pointing them out for us to see them clearly.


Therapy can be a helpful tool for self-awareness. A therapist can help you explore your thoughts and feelings, identify patterns in your behavior, and develop new ways of thinking about yourself and others. Therapy can be a helpful tool for self-awareness. A therapist can help you explore your thoughts and feelings, identify patterns in your behavior, and develop new ways of thinking about yourself and others.


Self-awareness is a transformative practice that allows you to navigate life with clarity, authenticity, and intention. By embracing self-awareness, you empower yourself to evolve, create meaningful connections, and live a life aligned with your values and aspirations.



 

Eurich, T. (2017). Insight. Why We're Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life. Currency.

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