Most people believe they are self-aware. After all, not being self-aware almost sounds like you don’t know who you are or what you are, and that seems ridiculous. But genuine self-awareness goes above and beyond merely knowing yourself on the surface. Self-awareness implies a deep understanding of your traits, values, beliefs and a clear appreciation of how they translate into behaviors and attitudes. It involves shining a light on yourself, accepting what you see, and understand why it might look that way. Knowing this, would you still claim you have self-awareness? I’m going to guess you’re hesitant because the concept now sounds a lot broader and more elusive. Let’s see why.
Would you say that the real you is the way you see yourself, the way others see you, or somewhere in between? Let’s say you are a person who makes jokes all the time, but people rarely laugh at them. In that case, are you a funny person whose humor is not understood, or are you simply not funny at all?
Self-awareness encapsulates two critical dimensions—perspective and gap. The perspective comes from the person who is judging—either you or someone else. The gap is the space between reality and desire. We can map them like this:
- How I see myself (or how I believe I am)
- How I actually am
- The way I believe others see me (or how I wish they perceive me)
- The way they actually perceive me
Which one do you think is the hardest one to pinpoint?
The first one is relatively easy because everybody has some idea about what they are. Note that it doesn’t matter if that image represents reality or not. It’s often a combination of your life vision and the sum of all your life experiences and how they translate into your self-image and level of self-esteem.
The third one—how you believe people see you—is highly influenced by the first one. That’s because we all like to think we are fully transparent and authentic, so the way we believe we are mirrors how others see us.
Sometimes, though, we get feedback from those around us and see a glimpse of the gap—that’s the fourth point above. It doesn’t matter what you believe about yourself; there will come a time when other people will directly tell you how they perceive you. Often, the new information might be at odds with your beliefs, or, other times, it might be along the same lines.
Regardless of what it is, you can choose to ignore the gap and pretend it’s not accurate or take some actions to work on those traits that generate the gap if you believe that’s the right course of action.
That leaves point number two—how you actually are. When you learn how to answer that and see the gap for what it is, you’ve hit the sweet spot of self-awareness.
Why Should You Cultivate Your Self-Awareness?
That begs the next logical question: So what? It’s an interesting question because it brings forth a paradox: self-awareness implies your ability to see yourself clearly and objectively. But every day, you do just that, one way or another. How do you know you see the right things?
In other words, how do you develop self-awareness to know if you are self-aware?
Yeah, that’s a mind-bender.
However, there are a few keys to unlock this secret. Revealing them will make it clear why cultivating your self-awareness is critical.
Think about how every day you are suspended in the middle of life. Things happen around you, and you react. Other times, you have a thought, and you either act on it or don’t. Your actions and behaviors throughout the day are defined and driven by many variables. The point is that, no matter what, eventually, you do something (or do nothing). It’s a decision that you take either instinctively or as a result of a thoughtful idea.
How do you know which one it is?
Well, at the end of a tumultuous day or week, you might stop and ask yourself, how did I perform against my values, beliefs, passions, desires, and needs? Have I worked toward them, in harmony with them, or against them?
That is the beginning of self-awareness—questioning your actions and thoughts and wondering why you have acted or behaved a certain way or why you had a specific attitude. If you move through life without asking those questions, you invite an existence buried by obliviousness.
The essential thing to understand here is that you will try to reflect your actions and behavior against a particular standard or expectation. One is reality; the other is your vision about who you are or who you want to be.
So, to even have self-awareness, you must first have something to be self-aware about.
That concept is known as internal self-awareness. When you allocate time for introspection and begin to see the gap between reality and your vision of reality, you begin to identify places in your life where you need to make changes.
Without that introspection, you’d be blind. You would be unable to make any changes or improvements in your life because you would not know what to improve or change. Even worse, you might wind up changing things that don’t need changing or spend energy “improving” something for no benefit.
That is why cultivating and improving self-awareness is an essential skill in your self-growth and personal improvement journey.
How To Improve Self-Awareness?
Now that you believe (I hope) that self-awareness is a critical skill to develop at any stage in life let’s look at a few proven techniques that you can use today to sharpen yours. These are not in any particular order, and they can be applied together or separately.
Each helps deepen a specific aspect of your self-awareness, so I recommend dabbing into each one over time slowly. With consistency and focus, you’ll soon start to see the results.
As I said above: self-awareness is elusive because you need self-awareness to know that you are self-aware. The exciting thing is that once you become self-aware, your prior lack of self-awareness becomes madly obvious. It’s as if somebody replaced your pair of broken eyeglasses and with a brand-new one, and now you can see.
Self-reflection is the most important technique you can learn to sharpen your self-awareness. But be aware that self-reflection is not judgment. You are not looking to take stock of your life and chastise yourself for the wrong things or pat yourself on the back for the good stuff.
This process is designed to recognize and tap into your curiosity. It’s a technique that forces you to admit that there’s a high chance that you’ve traversed a day, week, month, or even your whole life in a state of unawareness.
It all starts with acceptance and not letting a day go by without asking yourself where you were.
Think about one of those days when someone asked you how your day was, and you were stumped for a moment because you couldn’t remember what you’ve done. That means you’ve lived that day disconnected.
That’s why it’s a great idea to pause and ask yourself one or all of these questions:
- What have I done today?
- How have I felt?
- How did I make the people around me feel?
- What was my attitude?
- What bothered me today and why?
- Did anything made me happy today, and why?
- Was there anything I could’ve done differently?
Through these and other similar questions, you are not only forcing yourself to become more aware, but you are also improving your knowledge about yourself.
Over time, these questions will begin to reveal patterns that you’ve been unaware of for a long time. Those patterns will allow you to understand better how you work and integrate into your current environment, and understand why you do things a certain way.
That curiosity without judgment is a paramount prerequisite to having strong self-awareness. If you introduce judgment, you’ll soon start dreading the process, which is the opposite of what you’re trying to do. Instead, open your mind and simply look within you.
I recommend doing a deep weekly session of self-reflection and a shorter one daily. The more you do it, the better you’ll become at living your day with intention and awareness versus simply existing through time and space.
If there’s anything that dominates the lives of our generation is speed. Productivity. Multitasking. It’s all about doing more, faster, easier. Effectiveness and efficiency are at an all-time high, and technology and science make leaps almost daily, and we need to keep up with them.
In this whirlwind of craziness, we forget to stop and take a breath. We don’t allow our brains to slow down, and when we try to slow ourselves down, we do it by numbing ourselves with an avalanche of distractions. Otherwise, anxiety crawls through our skin and gives us the jitters.
Forget about self-awareness; in this madness, you can barely be aware of all the external stimuli constantly flying at you like rockets.
That’s where mindfulness comes in.
Mindfulness forces you to focus intensely on how you feel in the moment and what kind of sensations are coursing through your body. Again, much like self-reflection, this is not an exercise in judgment or even understanding. It’s merely an exercise of becoming aware of those feelings and emotions.
Whether it’s your body, mind, or even the manifestation of your soul, becoming aware of those elements is a critical step in becoming more self-aware. To do so, you need to shut down all the external stimuli for a few moments and turn your eye and mind inward. This kind of practice will teach you how to listen to yourself.
Another essential thing is that throughout our lives, we constantly think about the past and the future. Neither one of those actions is a bad thing. Your past is an excellent teacher and a magnificent source of information and analysis. Having a vision and looking into the future is also a great thing to do if you want to grow and feel accomplished.
But there’s a danger in basking too much in the past or the future. In the end, the only place you are in is right now. When your focus is on the past or the future, you lose the connection with who you are in the present. You’re either worried about who you were or who you will be. When you practice mindfulness meditation, you forgo the past and the future and become more aware of the present.
By recognizing your emotions rather than numbing them and becoming okay with their presence, you learn how to control them and limit their influence on your behavior. This is a critical part of self-awareness and probably one of the hardest ones to master.
Document Your Thoughts
Something common among most people is the constant accumulation of thoughts. With thoughts come feelings and emotions, which we all pack into metaphorical boxes and stockpile in imaginary closets. Some of those thoughts refuse to go into boxes, and they continue to linger in your brain all day long. Sometimes, you stifle them with your work and the kids and grocery shopping.
But those thoughts never disappear. They’re there, and the more you try hard not to listen to them, the more they’ll build up like an over-inflated tire.
That’s why another way to develop your self-awareness is to document those thoughts in a journal or diary. The act of writing your thoughts down has the same effect as opening the valve to that inflated tire. It releases the air from those thoughts, but most importantly, it forces you to recognize them and accept them for what they are.
Much like Julia Cameron proved with her simple Morning Pages technique, writing down your thoughts regardless of what they are will actually reveal them.
It’s crazy to think that you are not aware of your thoughts, but it’s true. Much like I had no idea that the sentence I am writing right now will come to me, neither do you until you start to document those thoughts and feelings.
In time, you can develop a routine where you combine your sessions of self-reflection with journaling. For example, you can start with a session of free-flow writing where you simply allow everything that is on your mind to get on paper.
Then, you can become more intentional by asking your self-reflection questions and writing down the answers. Over the course of time, you’ll find this process getting more manageable and flowier. That’s because you are becoming more and more self-aware.
Get A Different Perspective
There’s a danger of not knowing who you are or why you do certain things. However, there’s also a danger of being so sure that you know the answer to those questions that you are unwilling to accept any other possible explanation.
Self-awareness is not the same as being arrogant. When you think you know too much about yourself and you develop a sense of certainty that seems to be unwavering, it’s time to ask yourself: are you genuinely self-aware? That perfect certainty should be a red flag.
That’s the time when you must be open-minded enough to look for a different perspective.
The same is true if you notice that your self-reflection sessions seem to be going in circles, and you feel stuck. When you start from no awareness, it’s challenging to get the momentum and leap out of it. In addition, you’ll also not feel confident enough about your discoveries. You’ll question everything and doubt your epiphanies to the point where you might reject them and get back to being stuck.
Once again, that’s the perfect time to look for a different perspective.
That’s why it’s imperative to have your own “tribe.” By tribe, I mean a group of people (or even one person) that you trust implicitly, and you know that they have good intentions. They are also in the arena, which means they are people you perceive as having higher self-awareness than you.
Those are the people that you can approach with a few questions:
- How do I behave?
- How do I seem to you as a person?
- What are some things I do that are annoying?
- Do I seem different to you lately?
No matter what question you ask, you don’t ask it to get into an argument. You’re not looking for an answer to be followed by your counter-argument. You are simply listening with an open mind and an open heart because you know that the other person has good intentions. You also understand that they have their own biases and life experiences that have shaped their interpretation, values, and beliefs.
Therefore, what they say is not supposed to be either taken at face value and applied immediately or debated and argued ad nauseam. It’s simply a different perspective.
Sometimes, those different perspectives will turn into epiphanies. Other times, they’ll be meaningless. The important thing is for you to be open enough to hear those different perspectives and analyze them through your personal lens.
As your self-awareness improves, these conversations will be more effortless and less emotional. You’ll be able to understand the answers and process them easier and with more context. Once again, your self-awareness keeps growing.
Keep Improving Your Self-Awareness Every Day
You can never know enough about yourself. That’s because you are not static; instead, you mold and change and adapt. You evolve and grow, and so do your thoughts, feelings, and awareness. With every step, you’re changing, regardless if you are doing it consciously and with intent or leaving yourself at the mercy of life.
That’s why maintaining self-awareness and putting dedicated effort into improving it over time is paramount for your growth and development. The more you do it, the better you’ll know yourself and the better you’ll understand how to navigate life.
Everything from your vision and mission in life, goals, actions, relationships will benefit from you being more self-aware.
So, start using the techniques above little by little and introduce them into your habit plan. Over time, they will have a massive impact on your life, and you’ll never look back.
Other Resources on Self-Awareness
Self-Awareness Development and Types
The Three Levels of Self-Awareness
What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)
What Is Self-Awareness and Why Is It Important? [+5 Ways to Increase It]
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- Do you see yourself as a self-aware person?
- When was the last time you deliberately worked on improving your self-awareness?
- What areas of life do you believe you lack self-awareness the most?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!