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Understanding self-awareness and its benefits

Have you ever met someone with no self-awareness? Someone who has absolutely no idea how they come across to others? Perhaps they’ve made offensive or insensitive comments they viewed as hilarious, threw a childish tantrum in public over nothing. Or someone who wasn’t about to pick up on social cues of those around them. There are numerous other examples of this cringe-worthy behaviour. Or maybe, you know someone who never seems to learn from their mistakes – they lose jobs and their relationships are rarely successful. Research has shown that unfortunately, people don’t always learn from experience, but the ability to learn is often dependent on how self-aware one is.

Internationally acclaimed author and psychologist Daniel Goleman says, “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” When one does not develop self-awareness, they stifle advancement in many areas – relationships, careers, academics, even hobbies. A large scientific study headed by organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich found that while 95% of people think they are self-aware, when actually, only 10-15% actually are. 

Would you consider yourself to be self-aware?

Let’s break down the concept of self-awareness, because it’s distinct from self-consciousness. A self-conscious individual has a heightened understanding of themselves, but stays focused on their current emotions and actions to avoid negative outcomes. This often causes discomfort, nervousness and an inability to effectively analyze behaviours. This is the opposite of what self-awareness is. Eurich and her research team defined two broad categories of self-awareness: internal and external.


Internal Self-Awareness: How clearly you see your own values, passions, aspirations, how they fit with the environment around you, and reactions and impact on others.


Benefit:
You become confident in your own skin and more accepting of yourself. As you know yourself well and can analyze your thoughts and behaviour without judgement, you are better equipped to deal with new situations and make sounder decisions. Moreover, as you can communicate effectively, you’ll build stronger relationships, be a better worker and a more effective leader. In professions where one experiences high levels of stress, this is crucial. Being aware of what emotions and thoughts you might be facing in a situation, and what strategies are effective to managing them, are key to successfully finishing the task at hand.

One extremely challenging job is teaching students with behaviour and emotional disabilities, who frequently experience disruptive behaviour and classroom power struggles. A journal article in Teaching Exceptional Children, highlighted the value of a teacher’s own self-awareness. According to past research, these students tend to affect teachers on a very personal level. Teachers need a heightened awareness of how their “own personalities, learned prejudices, and responses to certain behaviour” to work successfully with such students. The article goes on to discuss what teachers can focus on to build self-awareness with regard to student interaction as well as how to ensure their own well-being.


External Self-Awareness: How accurately you perceive how others view you, in terms of your own internal self-awareness. 

 

Benefit: Knowing how others view you helps to identify what you are doing well, and areas that require improvement. People who know how others see them are more adept at showing empathy (to find out more about empathy, view our previous blog posts here and here),  and are shown to be better workers and more effective leaders.

Take the example of a doctor that is an expert on a specific medical condition, but is unable to communicate well with patients. She has received several complaints from patients that do not understand their medical treatment, or find her bedside manner harsh and unsympathetic. Being aware of and acknowledging this weakness should cause her to examine why she is receiving such feedback and to develop better communication skills. Conversely, without self-awareness, she may push the blame onto the patients for being ‘oversensitive’. As a result, she would not take steps to improve, and continue to interact ineffectively with patients, lowering her standard of care. 


Still unsure if you’re self-aware? There’s a short online quiz you can take – but you’re not the only one who has to take it. Find someone who knows you well and ask them to answer the questions about you and offer to help them take the quiz too! This will help to give you a sense of both your internal and external self-awareness. 

For more in-depth strategies you can employ to become more self-aware, here are several resources:

       Building Self-Awareness: 16 Activities for Meaningful Change
       12 Tips to Improve Self-Awareness and Develop Your Potential
       The True Meaning of Self-Awareness
       Self-Awareness meets Emotional Intelligence
       5 Ways to Become More Self-Aware
       Why Some People Will Never Learn
       The Dunning-Kruger Effect

This blog is intended for learning purposes only, and is not a study guide for the CASPer test. 

Photo by Laurenz Kleinheider on Unsplash