Personal Development Starts with Self-Awareness
If you are looking to make changes and improvements in your life, a good place to start is with self-awareness.
You need to know where you are now in order to know what work needs to be done.
But what exactly is self-awareness, why is it so important, and what can you do to develop yours?
What is Self-Awareness?
In a nutshell, self-awareness is knowing who you really are as a person.
But wait, obviously, you know who you are, no-one knows you better than you do! Right?
The reality is that we often fail to clearly see and understand the motivations behind our actions or the real causes behind certain emotions.
Most people spend the majority of their lives reacting, letting their emotions and instinct guide them without much critical thought.
But the psychological theory of self-awareness suggests that we are not the sum of our emotions, reactions, and hormones, though these elements have a lot of influence over us. Rather, we are the level of consciousness that observes those things.
The theory also suggests that when we have a level of self-awareness that allows us to clearly observe and identify our emotional and instinctive responses, we have the ability to control them. And, in this way, we move from constantly reacting to life, to actively planning and molding our lives.
As we become more self-aware, we gain a better understanding of:
- Our strengths and weaknesses - what comes easily to us and the things that others might find simple, but we find challenging;
- Our values - what we consider to be right and wrong;
- Our drivers - the things which motivate us;
- Our habits - the things that we do instinctively without thinking;
- Our emotional triggers - the things that cause us to feel strong emotions.
Why does Self-Awareness Matter to Personal Development?
Imagine that it is your job to improve an existing product. Maybe you are creating Netflix 2.0, or the ultimate hamburger.
The first thing that you would want to do is understand the existing product. What’s in it, what makes it tick, what makes it the thing that it is? What is good about the product, and where is there room for improvement? What do people love about it, and what aren’t such popular features?
It is only with these things in mind that you will start to develop your new and improved version of the product.
The same goes for you. If you want to make changes and develop yourself personally, you need to start with a clear vision of who you are.
- What are the weaknesses that are holding you back?
- What are the strengths that you could be making more of?
- What are the habits that are locking you into bad decision cycles?
- What is it that truly motivates and drives you?
Only when you have a clear vision of yourself can you identify the true underlying causes of issues and start to solve them.
Read more: 7 Meaningful Goals in Life
Other Benefits of Self-Awareness
As well as helping you define a starting point for personal development and identify where in your life you have the capacity to grow and develop, self-awareness comes with a lot of general benefits for how you think, your self-esteem, and your outlook on life.
- It encourages a positive outlook on the world;
- It encourages a growth-mindset which helps you to believe in your ability to grow and change;
- It boosts our self-confidence and our belief in our self-worth;
- It helps us see things from the perspectives of other people, and therefore understand the world better;
- It helps us manage stress and emotions better, which also allows us to make better decisions.
How to Boost your Self-Awareness
The best way to boost your self-awareness is to spend quality time with yourself. Again, you may be saying “but don’t I do that 24 hours a day”, but the answer is generally no. We are so distracted with what we are doing and our surface thoughts that we don’t often get to the real you. Developing self-awareness requires self-reflection and introspection.
So, what can you do?
Create Distraction-Free Time
Self-reflection requires time and space. You won’t really have time to think about yourself if you are distracted by family members needing things, work deadlines that are still unmet, or how many likes your latest Instagram post received.
You need to find time and space where you aren’t distracted by people and your cell phone, and during which you give yourself permission to forget about those important emails or family crises. They will still be there later, but you may be better equipped to deal with them.
If you struggle to put down your work stresses at the end of the day, read: Three Ways Goal Setting Helps You Achieve Work-Life Balance.
It can be enough to be in a distraction-free zone to start to engage in self-awareness, but you can supercharge that experience by meditating.
While there are many different ways to meditate, at its core, meditating is seeking a state of self-awareness.
New meditators often think that the goal is to clear your head of all thoughts. But it isn’t really, because that is impossible. What you actually want to do when meditating is let those thoughts bubble up, but recognize them for the relatively insignificant, reactionary biological functions that they are, and put them to one side.
In this way, during meditation, you cease to become your reactionary self, and inhabit your self-aware self. The more you do this during meditation, the easier it can be to do this at other times.
If you find sitting to meditate difficult, and feel that you are constantly distracted, try yoga. The idea behind yoga is also to achieve this self-aware headspace, but through movement.
If you need help getting started, read: How To Meditate For Gratitude.
An alternative to meditation can be journaling, which is basically a way of talking to yourself. It lets you record what has happened to you and how you reacted, and then analyze why that was in a calmer “after-the-fact” way.
The act of writing it down also helps us to be more critical in our thinking, as we are taught to think before we write much more than we are taught to think before we speak. So the act of writing itself can help us shift towards a more self-aware mindset.
For ideas on where to start read: How To Start Journalling in 2020.
Ask for Feedback
If you are really struggling to identify your motivations, drivers, and pressure points, or you feel like your vision of yourself is very different from how other people see you, another thing that you can do is ask others for feedback. Ask people that you know and trust what they think your strengths and weaknesses are, and why they think that you behave the way that you do.
While you should always ask someone who is close to you and knows you well, of course, they will never have as much information about you as you do to make complete judgments. But, they have more distance from your problems and motivations, so can sometimes see them more clearly.
You should not always take other people’s opinions of you as accurate. But, they can provide you with an alternative perspective that lets you see yourself in a different way. This will allow you to engage in more accurate self-reflection.
There are few people out there who don’t want to make some kind of change of improvement in their lives. But many people fail to make these changes. One of the main reasons for this is that they do not truly understand why they behave they do, or why they want the things that they do. Without this knowledge, it can be very challenging to develop a goal, a strategy, and a motivation that works.
The best way to overcome this hurdle is to get to know yourself through self-awareness. If you know who you are, understand your why, and can see what makes you tick, you can make better decisions about how to change and grow.