If you’re like most people, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about self-awareness.
And why would you? It’s not like it’s something you can see or touch. It’s not like it’s a tangible skill that you can list on your resume.
But here’s the thing: self-awareness is actually one of the most important things you can ever hope to achieve.
Because without it, you’re essentially shooting in the dark when it comes to living your best life.
Think about it this way: how can you hope to improve your life if you don’t even know what areas need improvement?
How can you hope to build positive relationships if you’re not aware of how your words and actions affect those around you? How can achieve your goals, advance your career, and be a thoughtful and compassionate parent, family member, or friend, if you’re not able to understand your own personality, your own feelings, and your impact on others?
The answer is; you can’t.
That’s why self-awareness is so important. It’s the foundation upon which all other personal growth must be built.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to improve your self-awareness.
By taking some time to get to know yourself—your values, your triggers, your goals—you can start making positive changes in your life that will last long after the initial new year’s resolutions have worn off.
Here’s what you need to know about self-awareness and why it’s so important.
What Is Self-Awareness?
From realizing you’re bad at math to understanding your showering habits are weird, self-awareness is essential to the human experience.
Without it, we’d all be walking around like blissfully ignorant zombies, completely unaware of our surroundings or how we fit into the world.
The first step in becoming self-aware individuals is understanding what being self-aware means.
Self-awareness is simply the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively (easy to say, not so easy to do).
It involves being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and how they affect other people. It is also about understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, being aware of your own needs, wants, and desires, and creating a better understanding of who you are.
Self-awareness is key to good decision-making because it allows you to know your triggers and avoid making impulsive decisions that you might later regret. This is why a high level of self-awareness is often found in successful leaders.
It’s also an important part of emotional intelligence because it allows you to understand and therefore manage your emotions effectively, and overcome negative thoughts.
When you’re self-aware, you’re more likely to be able to control your reactions, respond constructively to criticism, and maintain healthier relationships.
In short, self-awareness is about knowing who you are and how you fit into the world around you.
It’s something that sounds simple in theory, but is also something that many people struggle to do because it requires a level of honesty with yourself, and self-reflection that can be incredibly uncomfortable for some people.
BUT… it also gets easier with practice (phew…).
Why Is Self-Awareness So Important?
If you asked anyone if self-awareness was important, chances are they’d say “yes”.
However, many people still don’t fully understand why it is important and why it is something they should be working on.
To help explain, let’s look at social media.
In today’s world, we spend hours at a time scrolling through feeds, looking at the best version of everyone else’s life – the parts of their life that are carefully curated and that they choose to share.
But the truth is, life isn’t an Instagram feed, and while social media and the online world is part of the world we live in, it’s not all of it.
And while we see all kinds of messages of loving ourselves and being the best versions of ourselves, we cannot do this without self-awareness.
This is where the importance of self-awareness really shines.
Self-awareness is the core of creating stable relationships, with yourself and with others, and allows us to gain an understanding of who we are, what we want, and how to get there.
It allows us to be honest with ourselves about our thoughts and feelings, and understand how our words and actions affect others.
It is an essential ingredient in emotional intelligence, and is what allows us to look at a social media feed and not allow the images we see to make us feel like we are any less worthy.
Simply put, self-awareness is important because it leads to a deeper understanding of yourself, those around you, and the world that you live in, allowing you to interact in the world in a positive and confident way.
What Are The Different Types Of Self Awareness?
There are a lot of different theories about the various types of self-awareness, and how they pertain to different areas of our life.
Essentially, there are a few different types of self-awareness that fairly well encompass them all:
1 – Physical Self Awareness
This is basically just being aware of your body and how it moves through space.
This is the type of self-awareness that allows you to catch a ball or not walk into a wall. It’s also the reason why you know when you have to pee.
2 – Mental Self Awareness
This is being aware of your own thoughts and feelings.
This is the type of self-awareness that allows you to reflect on your life choices and figure out why you do the things you do.
It’s also the reason why you sometimes have those pesky intrusive thoughts about wondering what would happen if you stapled your hand or threw your computer out the window (we all have them, don’t worry, I swear they’re totally normal).
3 – Emotional Self Awareness
This is being aware of your emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior.
This is the type of self-awareness that allows you to regulate your emotions and respond effectively to difficult situations. It’s also the reason why you sometimes find yourself inexplicably crying in the middle of a Target, or when you’re watching a commercial for dog food (again, we’ve all been there).
Further to these different types, there are also the concepts of:
Internal Self Awareness
Internal self-awareness is the quality of being aware of your own thoughts and feelings as you experience them.
It’s sometimes described as a “meta-cognition” because it’s a level of thinking about your own thoughts.
Interestingly, research has shown that people who are high in internal self-awareness are more likely to be successful in various domains, including academics, sports, and relationship satisfaction.
Essentially, if you know what’s going on inside your head, you can better manage it and direct it towards achieving your goals.
External Self Awareness
This is being aware of how your actions and words affect other people.
It’s the ability to see yourself through the eyes of others, and understand how they perceive you.
This is important because it allows you to tailor your behavior to achieve the desired effect (whether that’s impressing your boss, winning over a new friend, or just not being an oblivious jerk).
External self-awareness is also important for managing difficult emotions like anger, fear, and jealousy.
If you can understand how your emotions are affecting other people, you can better manage them and keep them from spiraling out of control.
Collective Self Awareness
This is being aware of the dynamics at play in a group or team environment, and how your individual behavior affects the whole.
It’s the ability to see yourself as part of a larger system, and understand how your actions contribute to the collective goal.
This is important for team sports, of course, but it’s also important in any group setting, from the workplace to social situations.
Collective self-awareness allows you to manage your behavior in a way that benefits the group, rather than yourself.
It’s the difference between being a team player and being a selfish prat.
What Are The Benefits of Self-Awareness
As the great philosopher, Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And what better way to examine your life than through the lens of self-awareness?
Here are just a few of the benefits that come from placing yourself under the microscope:
1 – Understand Your Emotions
If you’re not aware of your emotions, you’ll have a hard time controlling them. This can lead to outbursts of anger, sadness, or frustration that can damage your relationships with others.
When you’re self-aware, you’re better able to understand your emotions as they happen and find healthy ways to deal with them. This can make a big difference in both your personal and professional life.
2 – Make Better Decisions
Self-awareness also allows you to make better decisions because you’re able to take into account how your actions will affect not only yourself but also those around you.
If you’re not aware of your own motivations and biases, it’s easy to make choices that aren’t in your best interest or that could end up hurting other people.
However, when you’re able to step back and see the situation from all angles, you’re more likely to make decisions that are beneficial for everyone involved and you’re less likely to make impulsive decisions that you may later regret.
3 – Communicate More Effectively
Another benefit of being self-aware is that it allows you to communicate more effectively with others.
When you know what you’re feeling, it’s easier to express those feelings in a way that the other person can understand.
This can make a big difference in both personal relationships and professional interactions. In addition, being self-aware can help you better understand what others are communicating to you, which can make it easier to resolve conflicts and build stronger relationships overall.
It can also help you to be a better listener, which we know, at the end of the day, is essential in effective communication.
4 – Greater Emotional Intelligence
By understanding your own emotions, you can better regulate them and respond constructively to the emotions of others.
This is what’s known as emotional intelligence, and it’s a valuable skill to have in both your personal and professional life.
If you can effectively understand your emotions and the emotions of those around you, you’re more likely to be successful in all areas of your life.
5 – Enhanced Creativity
Many of the world’s most creative people are also some of the most self-aware.
This is because creativity often requires looking at things from a different perspective, and this can only be done when you have a deep understanding of yourself and your own thought processes.
If you’re looking to tap into your creative side, self-awareness is a good place to start.
6 – Improved Relationships
This is because self-aware people are able to understand their own emotions and the emotions of others, which makes it easier to build strong, healthy relationships.
In addition, self-aware people are typically more authentic and genuine, which tends to make others more drawn to them.
So, if you’re looking to create better relationships, whether romantic or with close friends, self-awareness is key.
7 – Increased Self-Esteem
When you’re self-aware, you’re able to see yourself more clearly, warts and all.
And while this may not sound like a good thing at first, it actually leads to increased self-esteem.
This is because self-awareness allows you to accept yourself for who you are, appreciate your strengths, and accept your weaknesses. And when you’re able to do this, you’re more likely to have a healthy sense of self-esteem, leading to a more positive view of yourself.
Read more about the benefits of self-awareness.
How Do I Know If I’m Self-Aware?
We’d all like to think we know ourselves pretty well, and for the most part, we do.
However, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to self-awareness.
Here are a few ways you can tell if you’re doing well in the self-awareness department (or not).
If you’re self-aware, you’re likely to:
1 – Be introspective: You’re always looking inward and reflecting on your own thoughts and emotions.
2 – Be aware of your biases and prejudices: You know your triggers and you’re consciously aware of the things that make you react in certain ways.
3 – Make thoughtful decisions: You take into account how your actions will affect yourself and those around you before making any decisions.
4 – Be authentic: You’re genuine and honest with yourself and others, leading to more authentic relationships.
5 – Accept yourself: You know your strengths and weaknesses and you accept yourself for who you are.
6 – Communicate effectively: You understand what you’re feeling and you’re able to communicate those feelings to others in a way that they can understand.
If you have a lack of self-awareness, you’re likely to:
1 – Be reactive: You tend to react to things without thinking about the consequences of your actions.
2 – Be defensive: You’re quick to get defensive and you have a hard time hearing constructive criticism.
3 – Make impulsive decisions: You don’t think things through and you often act on impulse, without considering how your actions will affect yourself or others.
4 – Be inauthentic: You’re not being genuine and you’re not true to yourself.
5 – Judge yourself harshly: You’re your own worst critic and you’re constantly beating yourself up.
6 – Communicate poorly: You have a hard time understanding your own emotions and you’re not very good at communicating those feelings to others.
Read more about signs you lack self-awareness.
If you’re ticking more boxes in the ‘lacking self-awareness’ category than you’d like to admit, that’s okay! It’s totally normal for us to lack self-awareness, and becoming self-aware is a skill and a practice.
You have all the skills you need and all the information right here to help you understand and lead to greater self-awareness.
How to Improve Your Self-Awareness
Improving your self-awareness isn’t as scary as it sounds.
While yes, it does require you to examine yourself and your own life closely, and requires complete honesty, it can also help you to see just how wonderful you are and help you find areas you need to focus a little more attention on.
If you’re ready and willing to reap the benefits of self-awareness, here are a few things you can do.
1 – Pay Attention To Your Thoughts And Emotions.
This is the first and most important step to improving your self-awareness. If you’re not paying attention to your thoughts and emotions, you’re not going to be aware of them.
Start by simply taking a few minutes each day to sit quietly and pay attention to what’s going on inside your head. What are you thinking about? What emotions are you feeling?
Don’t judge or try to change anything, just notice it.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to push aside a negative emotion anytime it comes up, but understanding our emotional responses to situations can be a great way to better understand how to manage our thoughts and emotions, and can help us to become a more self-aware person.
2 – Reflect On Who You Are
Once you’ve become more aware of your thoughts and emotions, it’s time to start reflecting on who you are.
Ask yourself these questions as a starting point:
- What are my personal values?
- What makes me happy?
- What do I want out of life?
- What motivates me?
- What sort of life do I want to live?
- Am I happy where I am at the present moment?
- What lessons have my life experiences taught me?
- What personality traits do I have that I love?
- What bad habits do I need to remove?
- What pushes me out of my comfort zone?
The more you know about yourself, the easier it will be to make decisions that align with who you are and what you want out of life.
Interestingly, a Harvard Study found that when asking questions about ourselves, and examining our thoughts, feelings, and motivations (introspection), asking ‘what’ rather than ‘why’ lead to deeper and more accurate increases in self-awareness.
3 – Talk To Others
Just as important as knowing yourself is understanding how others see and experience YOU.
Ask those closest to you for honest feedback about how they perceive YOU— both the good and the bad.
Don’t take this feedback personally; instead, use it as valuable information that can help guide your decisions moving forward.
4 – Write And Reflect
Journaling is one of the best ways to become more self-aware and gain insight into who you are, what you want, and what is important to you.
Every day, take some time to write about your thoughts and emotions. You can also reflect on your experiences, both good and bad.
When you look back on what you’ve written, you’ll start to see patterns emerge, which can be extremely helpful in gaining self-awareness.
Use these Self Awareness Questions as journaling prompts or as a way to improve your self-awareness.
5 – Be Mindful Of Your Words And Actions
Self-awareness isn’t just about knowing your thoughts and emotions; it’s also about being mindful of your words and actions.
Are your words and actions in alignment with who you say you are? If not, why not? This is something to reflect on.
It’s also important to be mindful of the impact your words and actions have on others. Do they make people feel good? Do they make you feel good? If not, it may be time to make some changes.
Practical Examples Of Self Awareness
There are countless examples of self-awareness, but here are a few to get you started, so you can see how self-awareness translates into everyday life.
1 – Paying attention to your body: This could mean being aware of your posture, your breathing, your heart rate, etc.
2 – Being able to remove yourself from a situation that doesn’t involve you: this could be a work situation or a social situation.
3 – Understanding someone’s bad mood isn’t a reflection of you: no one is happy all the time and someone else’s happiness isn’t your responsibility.
4 – Noticing your negative self-talk and reframing it: we all have that little voice in our head that tells us we’re not good enough, we can’t do it, etc. Noticing this, and being able to switch this to positive self-talk is a fantastic skill to have.
5 – Accepting compliments: this one is hard for a lot of people, but it’s important to remember that when someone gives you a compliment, they’re not obligated to do so and they genuinely mean it.
Read more examples of self-awareness.
Self-awareness is not just some woo-woo concept; it’s a concrete foundation that supports everything else we do in our journey toward personal growth.
By taking the time to get to know ourselves— our thoughts, emotions, values, and goals— we can live more authentic and fulfilling lives. We can also build stronger relationships with others and have a deeper understanding of who we are and what we want out of life.
If you’re ready to improve your self-awareness, start with the tips above. And remember, it’s a journey, not a destination. There’s no need to rush; just take things one step at a time, and be patient with yourself. You’ll get there eventually.