Self-awareness has become pretty popular since the ’70s and has only shot through the stratosphere ever since on the train of popularity. And there are some pretty good reasons for that.
It has been hailed as one of the many grounding techniques that assist us in living a good life as a decent human being.
The question is, how do you raise your self-awareness especially when you don’t know how unaware you are?
It’s tricky because the big squidgy sponges in our heads are notoriously good at helping us live in a way that optimizes our energy.
A lot of our actions, behaviors, and thought processes work on autopilot. This means that we don’t actually have to do a whole lot of thinking and save ourselves some much-needed brain power.
We don’t think about what we say or act most of the time, we just DO. Much like habits, we become so accustomed to the routine that they become ingrained in our subconscious. You don’t have to think about putting shoes on before leaving the house, do you?
Breaking BAD habits is a great example. In order to break them, you have to recognize that there is a bad habit to tackle in the first place. Then you can go on to understand the motivating factors behind them in order to swap them for a new, healthy habit.
Similarly, self-awareness is about interrupting the autopilot and saying, ‘Hang on, let me just think about this for a hot minute.’
You need to be aware of your lack of awareness in order to raise your self-awareness. (Try saying that ten times over super-fast!)
And this is a problem for most.
Self-awareness or lack thereof lives in our blind spot. It’s an imaginary friend that we can make as big or as small as we like to appease what we hope to be true. For the most part, people tend to believe they have a lot more of this stored away than they actually do.
Like so many other things we go around fooling ourselves, ‘Oh yeah bro, I’m so self-aware. Like, I don’t think it’s possible to know myself better. You know?’
Or we all have that friend, you know the exact one I’m talking about here, who casually drop into conversation over a lunchtime catch up, ‘…It’s just that I do everything for everyone else. I’m so self-less and even though I’m brilliant at keeping on top of my super busy schedule, by keeping organized, I will always make time for others because I’m just a good person like that.’
Your friend may well be lovely. Perhaps they genuinely have a heart of gold.
But you know full well that they are in fact fairly self-involved, not particularly busy but simply fill their days with fluff and make time for others only as a way for them to get some much-needed attention for themselves.
Yes, you don’t have to say the name out loud. But I know you’ve got someone in mind.
I recently wrote an article that covered the necessity to improve emotional intelligence. It’s worth a read if I do say so myself.
One of the traits of an emotionally intelligent person is self-awareness.
And, just how you can raise your emotional intelligence you can also raise self-awareness.
So fear not!
Discovering how ‘unaware’ you actually are isn’t easy, it’s scary quite frankly. Why? Uh, hello! It could mean finally understanding that you’re not such a stand-up person. It means facing all of those ugly truths about yourself.
And it’s much easier to live in denial about these things. It’s easier to distract our minds with nonsense like Netflix or social media than challenge our beliefs about ourselves. But to raise your self-awareness you do need to recognize if your awareness needs raising in the first place.
So let’s figure out if you are in need of a self-awareness boost, shall we?
People with low self-awareness might:
Have friendships fraught with tension
Be unable to go one day without an argument with their partner
Feel discontent with every decision that they make
Place a higher value on whether they can afford a private jet rather than whether they treat people with kindness
Are quick to be offended
Feel lost in their career
Don’t sleep well, don’t take care of their body, and feel stressed and anxious more easily
Are quick to be distracted
Struggle to find the motivation to achieve their goals
Or perhaps a better way to look at it is to re-phrase and ask yourself:
Do your friendships feel forced and unfulfilling?
Do you argue with your partner constantly and can’t quite figure out why?
Do you feel lost and unsure every time you head into work?
Do you get the recommended 8 Hours of sleep each night?
When you do sleep do you wake up feeling well rested?
Do you place a high value on materialistic things, associating them with your self-worth?
Do you appreciate the good qualities about yourself or fixate on the negative?
Do you spend too much time scrolling on your phone or flicking through the TV?
Do you avoid things that are difficult even when you know they could help you make progress?
A lot of people would have answered yes to these questions. And if they didn’t answer yes then they most likely thought, ‘Not exactly but I do something similar’.
You are not alone in this.
We’ve already discussed how hard it is to come face to face with yourself and take a good hard look at what is in front of you.
Hell, I lived in complete ignorant bliss of who I was as a person for the best part of a decade.
I didn’t want to understand why I felt emotionally crippled in social situations. I didn’t want to address why I felt so stupid even though I had all of the evidence pointing to the contrary.
I had absolutely no motivation to improve my emotional intelligence because I didn’t have the stomach to face my insecurities and weaknesses.
But above all else, I didn’t have the self-confidence to acknowledge all of the positive attributes that I possessed which actually suggested that I’m probably at least a half-decent human being.
What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It) is an excellent in-depth article from Harvard Business Review worth a browse for some worthwhile information on what self-awareness really is.
HOW TO RAISE SELF-AWARENESS
According to Mark Manson, there are Three Levels of Self-Awareness. I have dissected this with other helpful information from the likes of Very Well Mind to create the 5 following ways to raise self-awareness.
You can raise your self-awareness just like you can improve your emotional intelligence.
By doing this you can mitigate long-lasting anxiety. It is perhaps one of the greatest forms of anxiety relief you could allow yourself because it means working on yourself at a level that most hope to avoid. Because it’s hard. But it will be worth it.
You need to look at the following and be flexible with what I have to offer here.
There is no quick fix to this and it is not necessarily a solver of all problems like many hope it will be. There are too many factors involved in living a positive existence, too many elements influenced by the external and the internal for you to expect a solution to all in 5 bullet points.
But, raising your self-awareness can provide a strong foundation for everything else. You can stop wasting your life on the unimportant and start living.
With that said each point below will overview some key ways in which you can raise your self-awareness. Be warned – it takes hard work and can be painful. Self-awareness for those who are at the start of their journey could be the most painful and most uplifting of experiences.
Remember, nothing worth fighting for comes without pain and struggle.
And gaining a greater understanding of who you are is certainly worth the fight.
1. REMOVE DISTRACTIONS FROM YOUR LIFE
Life makes it really easy for us to IGNORE the IMPORTANT and DISTRACT ourselves with the UNIMPORTANT.
Because the unimportant is easy to deal with and holds no value.
Take for example the person who decides at 7.30 pm on a Wednesday to bake a chocolate cake. They don’t even have the ingredients. They have to leave the house and get the goods before even starting on the chocolatey goodness.
If they do this they won’t finish completely until 11 pm but they do it anyway. They do it despite the fact that they live alone so there is no-one to share this cake with AND chocolate cake is actually their least favorite cake.
This person does this because the distraction of making a cake is easier for them to tackle than the presentation they must create for work that is due in 2 days.
The cake holds no value. It has no meaning. There are no real consequences to the failure of this cake.
But if the presentation is a complete flop then this could impact their credibility and their relationship with their boss.
Likewise, why might someone spend endless hours flicking through ‘FAIL’ videos on Youtube when they’ve seen so many that nothing is even funny anymore? (Ok, they are still funny).
Might it be that the alternative is to sit with their partner and have a difficult conversation about where the relationship is going?
With the access to so many different distractions, society makes it super easy for us to ignore the important stuff and overwhelm ourselves with nonsense in a bid to forget about reality.
We want a nice easy life and we want to avoid the hard work and pain but among the pain is where the success lies.
To sit still with yourself for even 15 minutes of every day to self-reflect and work on those aspects of yourself that you just don’t like isn’t very appealing.
But once those 15 minutes are up you might be one step closer to becoming a person that you enjoy, that you can be proud of. So the pain is worth it.
If instead, you chose to scroll through the thread of doom on Facebook or anything else (seriously, pick a social media platform. It’s all the same) No progress has been made.
Your life has not been enriched for the better. You’ve experienced no pain but you haven’t gained a single thing otherwise. All you’ve done is lose time.
Raise your awareness of when you choose to distract yourself and ask yourself what it is you’re trying to avoid? What are you worried about? What is really stopping you from doing that one thing that should be your top priority right now?
Be conscious of when and why you chose to distract yourself.
To this end, you may actively decide to step away from whatever is causing you emotional distress but you can do it with purpose. Do not let yourself be mindlessly veered away from the important.
Understand, it’s not necessarily about removing the distractions entirely; it’s about being aware of them so that you choose your distractions instead of allowing them to choose you.
In this way distractions can be healthy and used for temporary relief before you muster up the stamina to tackle the hard stuff. The worth while stuff.
2. RECONNECT WITH THE DRIVING FACTORS BEHIND EVERYTHING YOU DO
Your core values and beliefs are behind everything you do and yet very few people take the time to sit down and ask, ‘Hm, what is it I believe in?’
‘What actually are my core values?’
Your values and beliefs are the underlying driving forces behind every decision and every action that you make. But I implore you to ask a handful of people who you are close to, ‘So what are your core values that help guide you through life?’
Don’t even prep them just throw it straight into the middle of a conversation. And I bet that most will take their sweet ass time to reply.
I’d imagine you’d get hit with a few of the obvious, you know –
‘Well, you know Stan, things like being a good person. Being successful at something. Treating the people I love with care and respect. You know, the usual.’
This is not a terrible answer and to be honest with you, it’s not an easy question to tackle!
Values and beliefs are invisible forces that are integrated into the very foundation of who we are.
We don’t think to address them because they are a part of us. They can’t be seen or heard. But they can be felt.
When our actions don’t align with our values and beliefs we feel it as friction in our bodies.
We can feel stressed or anxious. We become irrationally angry and avoidant. Generally, we feel uneasy, like we’re living in someone else’s skin and it’s a bit tight around the elbows (or crotch if you happen to be so endowed).
Most of us float through life trying to find our purpose with no idea where to start or what we’re supposed to be doing! And that’s really OK. What you do need to know is whether or not your day to day behaviors align with your values and beliefs.
(Struggling to find your purpose and bring meaning to your life? Grab the FREE E-book to help you begin…)
By reflecting on your values you can distinguish whether they are good or poor. It goes without saying that you want to be guided by good values.
Good values derive from being motivated by the internal whereas poor values tend to place emphasis and desire on the external.
The problem with poor external values is that generally, you are relying on things that are outside of your control.
When you do this you set yourself up for disappointment. Imagine having the value of wanting to be liked by others. You rely on what other people think of you for happiness.
You rely on the responses of others to make you feel good but these will never be in your control.
Jan next door might decide she dislikes you for no reason other than you have a smaller waist than her. Is it worth feeling bad about yourself because Jan doesn’t like you when THAT is her reason?
What is in your control however would be re-framing this and transforming it into an internal, worthwhile value: Be the best you can be.
With this you are driven by how you feel about yourself.
You are able to change and adapt and your likability factor is something you have power over.
With this you can be disliked by Jan content in the knowledge that you feel good about yourself. You’re proud of who you are and if Jan isn’t on board with that then Jan can go get stuffed.
Make sure to live in accordance with good values.
Giving these values and beliefs your time and focus will help you understand the reasons behind why you do what you do and why sometimes you just can’t help feeling a little…off.
When you feel this way often it is because you are not living in alignment with these values.
You might be driven by the value of honesty, honesty with yourself and others. So you feel in disarray when you find yourself constantly lying to your partner of parents.
If you value being the best person you can be but know that you are not trying to learn, grow or develop then you might feel lost and angry without understanding why.
Figure out your values, make sure they are good ones, and heighten your awareness to recognize when you aren’t living by them and when you aren’t. Then adjust your actions accordingly.
This is a great way to raise your self-awareness.
3. LEARN TO UNDERSTAND YOUR FEELINGS AND SEPARATE THEM FROM WHO YOU ARE
Sitting with our emotions sucks. It really does.
They are painful, reveal harsh truths about ourselves and can cause us to fixate on the negative.
There’s a reason people want to find some magic off button to stop all of their feelings sloshing through their minds – it’s because they are painful to deal with sometimes.
But emotions are there to assist you. They can guide you through difficulties.
Emotions can help you recognize when a relationship is toxic or you’ve done something wrong that needs to be apologized for. Whatever you may feel about your emotions, you have more control over them than you think.
The hardest thing to do is allow yourself to feel them.
Ignoring them and denying yourself the understanding of why you feel the way you feel is detrimental to your personal development. It hinders your chances of responding to any given situation in a way that is appropriate.
Denying your emotional motivators to avoid feeling the ‘bad emotions’ is something most of us are guilty of.
We don’t want to admit why we acted out in rage toward our best friend’s partner. That might mean admitting it was because we have feelings for them.
We don’t want to acknowledge that the reason we were spiteful toward our sister is that we feel inferior to their successes even though they worked hard for what they achieved.
But understand this; until you understand your emotions, the catalysts behind them, and what they are trying to tell you then self-awareness is going to be difficult to manifest.
Because it all comes down to truly knowing yourself.
Experiencing your emotions without judgement, criticism, blame or dismissal but simply allowing them to be present before stepping back and questioning them.
The trick here is to couple your emotional responses with logical thinking.
You instinctively respond to a situation in any given way. You can’t control this; it is simply how you feel. So allow yourself to feel it and then filter how you feel through logical thinking (the cognitive brain).
Are you justified in how you feel? What evidence do you have? Have you looked at it from every possible angle? What else could it mean? Feeling your emotions is a tough one to stomach but they do not warrant any self-loathing unless you act upon them rashly.
To raise your self-awareness you must understand your emotions and people struggle to navigate this.
Our emotions surprise us. Sometimes we think we know exactly why we feel the way we feel but on deeper inspection something flies at us from out of the blue, catching us completely off guard.
We use the distractions in point number 1 as a way to avoid having to confront ourselves.
Instead, you must put the phones away and sit with your thoughts and feelings. Some emotions will be of no use to you and that is OK. But others are trying to tell you something really important.
So you must listen.
Journaling is an excellent way of helping you understand why you feel the way you feel. Writing it down on paper gets it out of your head and onto the page in front of you.
You are physically able to look at it and objectively discover patterns that are worth your attention.
It’s not fun everybody, but the capability to live in comfort with your emotions could enhance your life tremendously.
4. ASK ‘WHAT’ INSTEAD OF ‘WHY’
It has now been proven that asking the question WHY is actually not incredibly helpful when it comes to understanding our emotions and behaviors. Instead, you should be asking yourself WHAT?
The questions ‘what?’ opens our eyes to solutions.
Did you ever have that game when you were younger that was really super annoying and was a literal ender of friendships called ‘Why Bird Stop’?
I can’t remember the exact rules for this game, where it came from, or the correct phrases (so why use it as an example? Good point) but the gist of it was quite simple.
Some annoying child would interact with another child who was completely none the wiser and constantly ask ‘why?’ This was the response to anything that the poor victim of this irritating game would give.
Why? Why? Why?..WHY?….WHY???
And unless you knew how to stop them, by saying those precious words ‘WHY BIRD STOP’, they would keep going until you pulled all of your hair out with rage. The point is that ‘why’ does not always reach a solution.
You can keep asking why forever until the end of time and still not know how to address the emotions. Before you know it you’ve asked yourself so many questions that where you end up has literally nothing to do with the original thought process.
Asking ‘what?’ however, allows you to find solutions.
‘What could I do to….’
‘What could they do…’
‘What do I need from…’
‘What could I ask that…’
‘What changes could I make that would…’
Asking ‘what’ provides results and can actually help you understand your needs far better than ‘why’ ever could.
And this is important because if you want to raise your self-awareness you have to know ‘WHAT YOU NEED’. You have to know ‘what’ has caused this reaction and ‘what’ is needed to resolve it.
5. UNDERSTAND YOUR IRRATIONAL TRIGGERS
Sometimes you will react to things in a way that you shouldn’t.
There will be certain things that trigger intense rage or extreme jealousy or explosive agitation. We all have these things but how we manage them and how we self-regulate allows us to stay in control.
To raise your self-awareness you must take a look at your irrational responses that you know full darn well are things that you need to work on. It’s not for others to pussyfoot around you, you know.
An example I use often is how my ‘stupidity complex’ makes me feel when someone uses the word – obviously. When plonked on the end of a sentence I instantly feel my blood boil, my face turns red, my heart almost explodes and I have to refrain from stabbing them in the arm with a fork.
It’s an entirely unreasonable reaction.
A ridiculous response to something that I haven’t given enough time to understanding and overcoming. Because I have this fixation about being viewed as stupid, this little word is a button that friends know not to push.
This little (shitty) word, obviously, makes me feel dumb. ‘Ok, so I should have known that apparently because it’s so darn obvious, SHOULD I?’. This would be an example of a trigger that needs to be made aware of.
The problem with this is that it is MY problem.
Sometimes people are being purposefully patronizing, they know it and they don’t care. But a lot of the time no-one even actively realizes that they’ve thrown the ‘o’ word on the end of their sentence. It’s a turn of phrase and says absolutely nothing about what they think concerning my intelligence.
So understand when you have triggers like this that make you want to blow up from the inside out because more often than not they only make you behave like an asshole.
To raise your self-awareness you must be able to distinguish when you are behaving irrationally and when you are not.
BONUS – FINAL COUNTER INTUITIVE SUGGESTION
Self-awareness is not the be all and end all.
It isn’t the cure to all your problems and, in a strange twist of irony, it isn’t all about you. Self-awareness is cultivated through laying the foundations to understanding yourself, your emotions, and your responses better.
But, it is also about understanding everybody else.
By working on the foundations of self-awareness and focusing your attention inwards you are in turn making it so that you are in a better emotional position to connect and understand the people around you.
Self-awareness cannot be developed without empathy for others.
So, whilst it’s imperative that you work on yourself first and foremost, the end goal here is to gain awareness for yourself and everyone else. An ability to look beyond your own existence wants and needs creates the building blocks for great relationships and long-lasting friendships.
The reason many people struggle with this is because an ability to empathize and connect with others is seriously difficult when we are disconnected from ourselves.
How can we express ourselves authentically if we don’t know we are?
How can we expect to be liked by others if we don’t like ourselves?
Making false connections is easy, just like allowing ourselves to be distracted from doing what’s important is easy. We all have dishonest connections. They make up most of our interactions.
Think shallow conversations, questions without truthful answers or playing the fool for a few cheap laughs.
There is nothing deeper beyond this because we don’t have the emotional intelligence or the self-awareness to express ourselves authentically.
Luckily, both can be enhanced and no-one is incapable of raising their self-awareness.
Empathize for others by listening to what they are saying. Process the information and respond accordingly. Ask loads of questions, be curious. Offer support and guidance without expecting anything in return. Be open to new knowledge and experiences. Be willing to be proven wrong and be grateful when someone imparts you with their wisdom. Understand when someone has hurt you unintentionally and accept the apology.
These are all ways to improve your empathy skills and raise your self-awareness. Remember it’s not all about you.
High emphasis is placed on self-awareness, as it should. But the discovery of your true self should not be shrouded in pressure, guilt, or worry about who you are.
It’s a journey.
You change throughout life.
The likelihood is that you’ll need to check in on yourself often. Because you will change and people change.
But as you raise your understanding of what self-awareness is and why it is important, these changes become far easier to spot and manage.
MOVE ON TO THE NEXT LESSON IN THIS GUIDE TO LIVING A GOOD LIFE: HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE (AND WHY!)