WHAT IS SELF-AWARENESS & HOW TO CULTIVATE IT?
Updated: Apr 1, 2022
Research revealed that even though most people believe they are self-aware; self-awareness is a truly rare quality. The shocking fact is that only 10% – 15% of the world population reach self-awareness in one lifetime.
So, let’s start exploring what is self-awareness? Self-awareness is something that we don’t know we need until we get it; then we wander how did we live so far without being self-aware. It is the first building block of Emotional Intelligence, which is comprised of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill. In short, the more we understand ourselves, the more we understand others.
There are two types of self-awareness: internal self-awareness, represents how conscious we are with respect to our own values, passions, aspirations, as well as, our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, including strengths and weaknesses, and their impact on others. Internal self-awareness is associated with higher job and relationship satisfaction, personal and social control, and happiness level; it is negatively related to anxiety, stress, and depression. Internal self-awareness is achieved when our being is aligned with our doing.
The second type, external self-awareness, means understanding how other people view us, in terms of those same factors listed above. Research shows that people who know how others see them are more skilled at showing empathy and taking others’ perspectives. Assuming that being high on one type of awareness would mean being high on the other is inaccurate. People shall actively work on both as being “highly self-aware” means being focused on balancing the scale.
What gets in our way to achieve a rounded self-awareness? The answer is broad; yet in this blog I will point out two interesting pitfalls that keep us far from reaching self-awareness, as well as, ways to mitigate them.
First, experience and power hinder self-awareness; contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that people do not always learn from experience, that expertise does not help them eradicate false information; indeed, seeing ourselves as highly experienced can keep us from doing our homework and questioning our assumptions. Another drawback linked to experience is that it can lead to a false sense of confidence about our performance, making us overconfident about our level of self-knowledge. Also, the more power people hold, the more likely they are to overestimate their skills and abilities because they have fewer people above them who can provide candid feedback. People are less comfortable to give them constructive feedback, and their willingness to listen shrinks because either they think they know more than others or seeking feedback will come at a cost.
Second, introspection doesn’t always improve self-awareness; when introspection is carried with “Why” it is dubbed to be ineffective. One of the negative consequences of asking a WHY question is that it invites unproductive negative thoughts and we get caught in ruminative patterns. We are likely to land on an explanation focused on fears, shortcomings, or insecurities, rather than a rational assessment of our strengths & weaknesses, and how to move forward learning from our experience.
So if WHY isn’t the right introspective question, is there a better one?
The “What” question. “WHAT …?” helps us stay objective, future-focused, and empowered to act on our new insights. It helps us move to solutions rather than focusing on the unproductive patterns of the past.
Thus, people who focus on building both internal and external self-awareness, who seek honest & constructive feedback, and who ask WHAT instead of WHY can learn to see themselves more clearly and reap the many rewards that increased self-knowledge delivers. No matter how much progress we make, there’s always room for improvement and new learning; self-awareness is exciting and a never ending journey.