There are destinations we never reach, though we persevere on the journey. And there are books that are never finished, though the author continues to outline and edit. But what about the self – that perpetual, cradle-to-coffin quest that remains ever elusive? Can we consciously “build” on it? And, if so, how can self-awareness be developed?
The irony of self-awareness is that it exceeds mere awareness.
At some point early in life, the child looks in the mirror and connects his reflection with the physical being standing before the glass.
This objective awareness is just that – objective. It doesn’t exude from an evaluative processing or contemplation of experience. It has no moral relevance, no inspiration for behavioral modification.
And yet, awareness of the objective self is foundational to what comes after: the subjective self.
It’s here, where the mirror reflects inward, that self-awareness steps out on a lifetime journey. And, though there may be looking back, there can never be turning back.
Roy Baumeister describes the concept of self-awareness as:
Anticipating how others perceive you, evaluating yourself and your actions according to collective beliefs and values, and caring about how others evaluate you.
Even within the quiet containment of the individual self, self-awareness has profound social relevance. So much so that, as Carl Jung said, “There is no cure and no improving of the world that does not begin with the individual himself.”
We can easily vouch for the ongoing human effort to improve (or, in some cases, destroy) the world. It’s that intentional application of consciousness that separates us from creatures of pure instinct.
But not every “self” has the same level of awareness or the same merit of intention. The often glaring disparity is the maddening undercurrent of broken relationships and even wars.
If we are to have a better world – within ourselves, within our families, within our communities – we must ask and answer for ourselves this question: How can self-awareness be developed?
Here are a handful of tips to get you started on this most worthwhile journey.
· Look at yourself objectively.
Once you have launched your lifetime journey of the subjective self, looking at yourself objectively can feel unnatural, even risky.
It means stepping back from yourself enough that you can be “aware of your awareness.”
It means detaching from your ego – its insecurities, its fears, its pride – so you can observe and evaluate your thoughts and behaviors.
What’s working well? What’s not? Where and why are you succeeding, and where and why is your progress stalled?
What kinds of reactions and responses do you get from others? And how do you react and respond to others?
This ability to self-evaluate without sheltering your ego is an essential building block to integrity and leadership.
· Clear your brain space by journaling.
There’s something about writing things down that is both liberating and edifying.
By dumping your thoughts and musings onto paper, you free yourself of the need to keep them circulating in your active memory.
Also, if a thought, feeling, fear, idea, or goal makes it from your brain to your pen, it’s important enough to reflect on. Sometimes you need your unconscious mind to help your conscious mind stand up and take notice.
The other benefit of keeping a journal is that you free up that mental logjam so fresh thoughts and ideas can come in. Think of it as a process of getting unstuck and creating mental movement.
Change, after all, is just a form of movement. And how can self-awareness be developed without change?
· Practice daily reflection.
This practice is really the heart of all self-awareness work. It’s only by that journey inward that self-awareness evolves.
It’s easier said than done, obviously, especially in a fast-paced, demanding world. But start small and work your way up.
Create space for yourself to be reflective – a quiet room, a walk in nature.
Think about recent events and encounters in your life. What triggered you, inspired you, delighted you, upset you? How did you respond?
Did you respond out of your old, conditioned self or out of your evolving self?
Think about your goals. What have you settled for and why?
As you can see, reflection can take any number of paths.
And that’s the point – to bravely try the various paths and decide which you should tread again on your journey.
· Make a bucket list.
Dreaming and planning are essential elements of a vital life. They keep you connected to both purpose and possibility.
Having bucket-list goals can give you reason to get up in the morning. It can also indirectly shape your behaviors because the goals are your own, and therefore you are the only one who can work toward them.
Something as simple as planning a mini-vacation can be a revealing process of growth in self-awareness.
Perhaps you haven’t been conscious of saving money, but now you need money for your vacation. Suddenly you are in the position of having to examine your own habits and how they have held you back.
Creating a bucket list not only gives you experiences to anticipate, but connects you to the thoughts and behaviors necessary to manifest them.
· Ask for and welcome feedback.
How can self-awareness be developed without a sense of who you are in relation to others?
Everything in life is about relationship – with yourself, with others, with nature, with God/the Universe/your higher Self. And it’s in this context that every “self” has the boundless opportunity to grow and ascend to new heights of being.
But this is also the context that puts the mirror right in front of your face.
The key to living a healthy social dynamic is being aware of your contributions to that dynamic and the nature of their influence.
Some of that awareness can and should be self-generated. But it takes great courage and a commitment to personal growth to seek out the perspectives and feedback of others.
Sometimes it’s the thoughtfully, genuinely communicated feedback of others that most effectively cuts through the veil of self-delusion, denial, and avoidance.
Like the unconscious mind dumping its thoughts into a journal like a cry for acknowledgment, honest feedback from others can be profoundly influencing.
The commitment to developing your self-awareness will have its natural ebbs and flows. But, once you realize how self-awareness can help you, you’ll begin to see it as the key to unlocking your best life.
And remember, self-awareness, like all the intangible treasures of life, is not a destination. It is, as Thoreau describes, an ongoing search, an ever-new acquaintance:
“Let me forever go in search of myself; never for a moment think that I have found myself; be as a stranger to myself, never a familiar, seeking acquaintance still.”Henry David Thoreau
I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation for support in cultivating greater self-awareness and becoming more you.
Looking for more information about how you can cultivate your self-awareness? You’ll find what you’re looking for in How To Be More Self-Aware.
The effort to get ahead, enjoy your life, and be happy can, at times, feel like being trapped on a destinationless hamster wheel. When it comes to that simple quest, we’re all pretty much the same.
And yet, for all those years of self-help books and Oprah-in-the-afternoons, happiness can still seem frustratingly elusive.
The Dalai Lama makes it all sound so simple, so matter of fact: The purpose of our lives is to be happy.
Well, isn’t that special? your mind may quip with an eye roll. I have ten children, three mortgages, two jobs, and no car. When do I have time to enjoy my life?
Everyone comes with a story. And everyone can be rendered miserable or unconditionally happy because – and regardless – of that story.
Joy is your birthright. It’s the unburdened, uncorrupted state of your being when you enter this world. You have no attachment to malice or the seemingly insurmountable requisites of living a responsible, adult life.
But life has its ways, doesn’t it? It delivers unavoidable disappointments, exhaustive demands, no-win choices, and inevitable loss.
How, then, are you supposed to enjoy your life and be happy? Is it even possible to be genuinely happy in this life?
The answer to the second question, of course, is yes, however distant the delight in life may seem.
Sometimes you simply need to step back and tap into all those highlighted lines in your self-help library. We are all guilty of making things more difficult than they need to be and seeing our lives as “never enough.”
You didn’t win Powerball last week?
But you might be surprised at how easy it can be to better enjoy your life and be happy.
Here are 6 tips to get you off to an uplifting start.
Turn off the news.Unless you have a cable package that includes a “Good News Only” channel, don’t steep yourself in the endless woes of the news.
There was a time when the news preceded or followed dinner and was over in an hour. But now it’s 24/7, just like the doom and gloom it reports.
Chances are, if the world is coming to an end, you’re going to hear about it. You don’t have to put your head into the sand to simply put some boundaries around what you listen to.
Practice compassion.We’ve all heard the adage that one of the best ways to enjoy your life and be happy is to get outside yourself. Help someone else. Elevate someone else’s spirits and life.
We’ve all heard the adage that one of the best ways to enjoy your life and be happy is to get outside yourself. Help someone else. Elevate someone else’s spirits and life.
There is a direct correlation between the ability to experience others’ feelings with a desire to help and the happiness you feel within yourself.
By shifting your focus away from your own issues in order to help someone else, your stress levels decrease. You feel happier while seeking someone else’s happiness.
And, as a result, you make healthier choices for yourself, thereby keeping the positive cycle in motion.
Acts of compassion require so little. Baking cookies today? Bake an extra dozen and take them to a lonely neighbor. Pay for someone’s coffee. Visit someone in a nursing home. Listen attentively to someone who is grieving and needs to talk.
Why is it that caring about someone else can make you feel so good within yourself?
Because compassion for others is your highest, purest calling. It comes from a place of unconditional love.
And it reminds your own spirit that you can do great things, even in small ways.
Declutter.Would you ever imagine that those piles of I’ll-get-to-it-later papers could negatively affect both your physical and mental health? Dishes left in the sink, clothes left around the bedroom, toys on the floor, unfinished craft projects.
You may not be the next case on Hoarders, but all that stuff-without-a-purpose-or-place taxes your brain in a similar way.
It increases your stress, reduces your sleep, and diminishes your cognition.
Clutter decreases your focus, and therefore your productivity.
It even leads to bad habits like mindless eating.
Want to better enjoy your life and be happy? Give your brain the order it craves, and watch your life open like a window on a spring day.
Create a happiness ritual.Instead of expecting happiness to land in your lap, invite it into your life. Be conscious of its importance in your life and be mindful of acknowledging it as you open and close your day.
What are you looking forward to today? What made you smile or laugh today? What caught you pleasantly by surprise? What happy experience are you penciling in for tomorrow?
Using rituals can be an effective way to rise out of complacency and be mindful of both what you have and what you can create.
Learn to play for fun and not to win.How many times have you avoided playing a game because you were afraid you weren’t good enough to perform well? I’ve never swung a bat before. What if I swing at the air and never hit the ball? Everyone here is so competitive. I don’t want to look clumsy or foolish.
Unless you’re training for the Olympics, give yourself the freedom to play...just to play.
Play is as important for adults as it is for children. It decreases stress, releases feel-good endorphins, generates brain cell development, and builds friendships and social skills.
Whether you’re sleuthing with Mrs. Peacock and Colonel Mustard in a game of Clue or playing kickball with the neighborhood kids, just play.
What better way to enjoy your life and be happy than to embrace the child within?
Practice gratitude.One of the secrets that all happy people know about being genuinely happy is that gratitude changes everything.
Instead of needing more and more to be happy, focus on being happy with what you have.
Counting your blessings will make you feel loved by life. It will help diminish your stress over doing and having more because you will realize you have all you need.
Gratitude also helps you stay grounded in the present because you’re not regretting the past or worrying about the future.
How do you practice gratitude? Slow down enough to be aware of small things that make you feel good, valued, happy.
Start a gratitude journal and write down at least five things a day for which you are grateful.
Make it a point to say thank you as often as possible. Find reasons to thank people. You’ll be surprised how much your awareness deepens as you practice that powerful statement.
You’ll also be surprised by how people – and life – respond.
Want some more easy tips for living a happy life? Click here.
Learning to better enjoy your life and be happy isn’t a quest that needs to take you far from home. It can be as simple as clicking your heels together three times and telling yourself that you’ve always had the key.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation for support in putting together the pieces so you can experience both success and happiness.
Looking for more information about how you can have a happier life? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Building A Happy Life.
Funny thing about self-awareness. You need a certain amount of awareness in order to pursue it. A little chicken-and-egg quest for your best self…and a cyclical reminder that being self-aware is a practice, not a destination.
Self-awareness is a component of emotional intelligence. And, like the intelligence we associate with academics, there is no end point – only layering and refining.
The more you know, the more you learn. The more you learn, the more you know. And ‘round and ‘round we go.
And so it is with being self-aware. A little light cast into a dark corner not only reveals what needs to be cleaned, but inspires the possibilities when light floods the whole room.
The foundation for this ever-emerging quality of self-awareness begins in infancy, when there is little more than physical awareness. An empty stomach signals a wailing to be fed. A loud noise startles a peaceful sleep.
The child is immersed in sensory stimulation. The experience is “objective,” “external,” survival-driven…until the sun rises over the horizon and reveals an inner response to the experience.
A thought, a feeling, a curiosity attaches to the experience. This “outer” life is working its way inside.
And so the “sense of self” is born.
At some point there is not only awareness, but awareness of the awareness. And then awareness of accountability for that awareness.
And therein lies the cornerstone of a building that is never complete.
Here are 5 reasons that being self-aware is a practice and not a destination.
Self-awareness brings you face-to-face with your own core beliefs.Do you ever wonder how you became the person you are?
When you articulate your beliefs and values, do you hear your parents’ voices coming out of your mouth?
Have you ever challenged those beliefs – religious, political, social, financial?
History is a tough nut to crack. What you inherit during your formative years is as tough to undo as language and feeding yourself.
In that regard, the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Unless you’re encouraged from a young age to challenge beliefs before owning them, you may have no idea how you got here.
You may stereotype certain people based on race, gender, religion, or income. You may believe one political party has the only answers and refuse to consider another viewpoint.
Then one day you come face-to-face with a person or experience that challenges everything you say you believe. Things aren’t as neatly packaged as you had been led to believe.
And suddenly you must make choices. Do you do the hard work of examining why you believe what you believe? Or do you walk away from the opportunity to expand your life and deepen its meaning?
That nudge, that stopping in your tracks, that discomfort – all are essential to being self-aware.
And the reshaping of your beliefs won’t happen in an instant. Personal enlightenment is a process of choosing better ways one thought, one experience, one challenge at a time.
Self-awareness brings you face-to-face with your strengths.Self-awareness isn’t all about fessing up to your faults. It is equally about recognizing your strengths and gifts.
Why would anyone need to work on recognizing his or her strengths? you may be asking.
While some people are self-aggrandizing and misguided in terms of their strengths, others don’t acknowledge theirs.
And there could be any number of reasons. Competition. Fear. Parental disparagement during childhood. Disappointments in life. Even the deep-seated sense of responsibility for using those strengths for a greater good and the resistance to that effort.
Being self-aware will ask you if you are being all you can be. It will ask you to examine how the world responds to you.
Do others trust you, admire you, seek you out for the consistency of specific gifts?
And self-awareness will reawaken the connection between your dreams and the gifts you have been given to manifest them. That alone makes the commitment worthwhile!
Self-awareness brings you face-to-face with your weaknesses.Every coin has two sides. And any truth serum that brings your strengths to the fore will do the same for your weaknesses.
While it’s far easier to bask in the kudos of all your merits, the fearless examination of your flaws can be life changing.
That uncomfortable look at what begs for improvement is one of the biggest reasons that emotional self-awareness is difficult for some people to attain.
Again, not an overnight process. Looking at the thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, and weaknesses that harm your relationships and limit your life takes courage.
And courage, like all virtues and worthy pursuits, is practiced.
Deepening self-awareness requires peace of mind, time, and attention.Auto-pilot may have its conveniences, but it can also be dangerous.
It can lead to the dismissal of any accountability for where you’re going and how you’re getting there. You get too comfortable. You stop “checking in.” You go from point A to point B with no awareness of how you got there.
The busy-ness and chaos of life in a fast-paced, competitive world force you to choose the pursuit of peacefulness. Time isn’t going to pause. Quiet and calm aren’t going to magically consume you.
And yet, the process of being self-aware and increasing self-awareness requires dedicated time, attention, and mindfulness.
When you’re not necessarily looking forward to what your self-awareness work will reveal and ask of you, going into a contemplative or meditation mode can be difficult.
Again, practice. Today you may last two thoughts, tomorrow two minutes, next month two hours.
Being self-aware means being aware of how others see you.If you’re going to do all this self-awareness work, surely you want to know How can self-awareness help me?
While the benefits of self-awareness are endless, one of its greatest pay-offs is its effect on relationships.
As a matter of fact, self-awareness is essential to any healthy relationship. It’s at the heart of owning one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without blaming others.
And the avoidance of blame is integral to problem-solving and the development of intimacy.
Knowing how others perceive you, while it shouldn’t define your sense of self, will give you insight into the effectiveness of your self-expression.
Do people feel safe having difficult conversations with you, or do they feel they can’t get a word in edgewise? Are you perceived as kind, just, thoughtful, confident, capable? Or do people avoid you, distrust you, limit their contact with you?
These considerations will give you insight not only into yourself, but into your relationships, as well.
Is there truth to those perceptions, both positive and negative? What do those perceptions say about you?
And what do they say about those who have them? Are you making wise choices about where and with whom you spend your time?
How people see each other speaks volumes about both the observer and the observed.
How do you think the world sees you? How do you think those closest to you see you?
As you get further along in your self-awareness work, you may find the courage to ask…and to reflect upon the answer.
Many things in life are destination-driven. Get the football over the goal line, the golf ball into the hole, the million-dollar deal closed, the kids successfully launched.
And yet, the experience of every destination reached, whether a goal or a tropical island, is influenced by that which has no destination.
Being self-aware affects every aspect of your “being.” And, the more you practice it, the happier you will be…at every destination.