If you’ve ever sat on plastic-covered furniture — in shorts, during the summer, in a house with no air-conditioning — you’ll relate. And if you haven’t (you don’t know what you’re missing), run the image past someone a generation or two older than you. Beneath the chuckle and eye-roll, believe it or not, is an analogy for improving self-awareness.
For those too young to relate, think of Marie Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond. The only thing more outdated than her opinions and habits is her 70’s decor of harvest colors — including her plastic-covered sofa.
The absurdity and inappropriateness of her intrusiveness, self-righteousness, and shameless lack of boundaries are, of course, sitcom fodder. For Marie, the idea of improving self-awareness, even for the sake of improving her relationships, isn’t in her cosmos.
Tragically funny in sitcom life. Just plain tragic in real life.
And most of us know at least one person who seems devoid of all self-awareness — or at least complicit in their own arrested development.
Can you believe her? Does she honestly have no idea?
Does he ever look in the mirror?
I can’t believe he still says racist things.
Does she not realize how rude her comments are sometimes?
Do they not realize we’re in the 21st century now?
For all the reasons that pique your suspicion of others’ self-awareness, one curiosity matters far more. Are you doing the work of improving self-awareness?
Ironically, your answer to that question is its own expression of self-awareness. Are you busy holding other people to a high standard instead of focusing on the work within yourself?
Is it possible to be too self-aware? Only if your awareness leads you to a hyper-self-vigilance and chronic evaluation with unrealistic expectations.
Self-awareness isn’t about merciless self-scrutiny, but rather, recognition, learning, and growth.
Can you be objective about your subjective self? And can you gauge the impression others have of you?
Just as importantly, can you use that information, in conjunction with social norms and your own values and morals, to make constructive change when warranted?
Most of us could use some ongoing work in this area. And we could always benefit from helpful tips for improving self-awareness.
With that in mind, here are 7 to get you going.
Meditate.Self-reflection is at the heart of self-awareness, and you don’t have to go on a meditation retreat to practice it.
Meditation is really about mindfulness, which is all about being “present” to where you are — physically, emotionally, spiritually — in the moment. You can just as effectively accomplish that by gardening or spending time in nature as you can “ohming” in the Lotus position.
The point is to center yourself in the moment and empty your mind of distractions so you can receive.
If you meditate as part of your faith, you may quiet yourself in order to “hear” the voice of Wisdom.
If you do it as a way to become grounded for the day, you may quiet your mind in order to receive guidance and clarity.
Whatever inspires you to practice a reflective discipline, you will be drawn inward. And that’s exactly where all the answers lie.
Journal.You may feel so strapped for time that you can’t even make a grocery list, let alone write in a journal. But that can be your first (telling) journal entry: I always feel rushed and strapped for time.
Eight seemingly innocuous words that deliver a heavy dose of information.
What matters is that you create a discipline of “dumping” what’s whirling around backstage in your mind. Just write. Put your pen or keyboard on autopilot and corral the chaos of hidden feelings, racing thoughts, and observations.
Your subconscious mind is like “the great and mighty Oz.” It knows all. And it will happily tell all if you just ask it.
The other benefit of journaling is that it forges a positive habit through the discipline of self-examination and self-care.
Study The Twelve Steps.You don’t have to be an alcoholic, addict, or codependent to benefit from The Twelve Steps. As a matter of fact, the progressive nature of the steps — from awareness to admission to awakening — is all about improving self-awareness.
Making a “fearless inventory” of your wrongs, for example, isn’t easy. It takes inordinate courage and humility — two qualities that also show up in great leaders.
And the ability to make amends to those you have harmed throughout your life — again, the courage, humility, and fearless honesty!
Reaching the twelfth step is about recognizing your spiritual awakening and, from that awakening, helping others while continuing to apply the principles.
What could be a better testament to self-awareness as a practice and not a destination?
Make a sincere apology.Whether you call it an “amends” or an “apology,” the ability and willingness to acknowledge your wrongs with contrition takes extraordinary self-awareness.
There’s a reason this 9th step of The Twelve Steps is so important to the recovery process.
Genuine regret requires more than “sorry.” It expects that the penitent recognizes the harm done and empathetically acknowledges its impact on the life of the one harmed.
The catch? You don’t know if the person receiving the apology will even care or accept it.
You also don’t know if you will be on the receiving end of forgiveness or a cauldron of anger and ill-will.
Your commitment has to be to clean your side of the street, no matter what the other person says or does.
How does self-awareness play into the moment?
Genuine remorse requires self-accountability with specificity. “Sorry for all the times I hurt you” doesn’t cut it.
When you hurt someone, you hurt them “with details” — details that get relived and felt, over and over. Your willingness to acknowledge those details and their damage demonstrates self-control and the grueling self-examination you did to get here.
Another reason this exercise is good for improving self-awareness is that you will inevitably have a lot of emotional and physical feelings. Recognizing them as they occur is the first step toward accepting and controlling them.
And connecting those feelings to the context in which they occur will encourage you to change the behaviors that created that context in the first place. (This is the ultimate purpose of self-awareness: to use information gained to make positive change.)
As you grow in self-awareness, you will notice that you make amends more quickly. And you will start catching yourself before you do something to hurt someone.
The final step in this “drawing inward” is that you will change your thoughts, which will make apologies less necessary in the future. And that is the quintessential meaning of “cleaning up your act.”
Ask a trusted friend for honest feedback.This can be a very positive exercise, even if you don’t like everything you hear.
Sometimes we are our own worst enemies, and we don’t always see the good that others see in us.
Of course, the same can be said for our faults. A little bit of pride and ego-protection can fuel a lot of denial.
We can easily (though unintentionally) lose our objective awareness of how others see us.
When seeking honest feedback on both your strengths and weaknesses, reach out to those who know you best and truly love you.
You don’t need flattery, you need friendship. And true friends always want you to have your best life…and be your best self.
Do an inventory of your values and priorities.This isn’t a one-time exercise. It’s something you should do regularly — perhaps at New Year’s or on your birthday or even more frequently.
It’s also a wise thing to do when you have an experience that challenges the values you have always had. Life will do that. It’s constantly challenging us and keeping us in check. Do you really believe that? What about in this situation vs. that situation? What if it involves a stranger instead of someone you know and love? Why and how did you come to this conclusion?
Some people are afraid to give themselves permission to change their values or even “update” them. But growth is a form of change. And, as the saying goes, when you know better, you do better. Hopefully.
Revisit your goals…and set new ones.In the same way that your values can change, so can your goals.
Your moral-compass values may undergo more “refinement” than all-out change. And the same can be said for your goals.
So why bother making a new list if it’s going to be “generally the same”?
Because setting goals is really an expression of what matters to you. And what matters to you is an expression of your character — who you are at your core.
Revisiting your goals and even setting new ones require you to do an honest appraisal of how you want to spend your time. And how you spend your time is a statement of your values and character.
It’s realistic to expect that your goals will change as you age, for example. Physical and financial ambitions may gently surrender to less competitive and more altruistic desires. Even where you decide to travel can be a reflection of evolving and improving self-awareness.
There are countless ways to start improving self-awareness. By “being aware that you want to be more aware,” you will aware of the myriad opportunities and inspirations for growth that surround you every day.
And that’s an evolution — and journey — that should continue for your entire life.
(Just be sure to take the plastic off the furniture.)
I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation for support in increasing your self-awareness (and maybe get a few more journal prompts for increasing self-awareness) so you can become more you.