• Rob

Self-awareness (Part I)

So what do we mean by self-awareness?

From a psychological perspective, Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund first popularised the concept of self-awareness in 1972. Their ideas stated that:

“When we focus our attention on ourselves, we evaluate and compare our current behaviour to our internal standards and values. We become self-conscious as objective evaluators of ourselves.”

This gives us a good place to start, but after thinking about it some more, I believe it to be about the difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us. How we see ourselves in this context refers to our aspirations, passions, values, reactions (behaviours, feelings and thoughts) and the impact that all of these have on those around us. If these components are healthily managed, this “internal” self-awareness can be linked to increased personal satisfaction, control (in a positive sense) and, ultimately, happiness. Conversely, it can be negatively related to anxiety, depression and stress.

Looking at how others see us, I believe this is not only about how others view us but why they view us this way, using the same elements as above; I believe those who are able to know how and why others view them as they do have a greater sense of empathy and are more competent at appreciating others’ perspectives.

At this point in time I believe it’s important to emphasise that self-awareness should be non-judgemental; when you identify how you respond to circumstances, you should acknowledge and accept that this is an inevitable effect of being human. It may be tempting to give yourself a hard time about how you have reacted to events as most people’s default position when reflecting is “I should have done that differently”.

Self-awareness should also be about more than just gaining self-knowledge; our brains are tremendously proficient at collecting information about how we respond to events in order to create a blueprint for our lives. This is what’s called confirmation bias (more in this later).This information can often end up conditioning our minds to respond in a specific way as we encounter similar events in the future. Developing your self-awareness would allow you to be cognisant of these preconceptions and provide the building blocks for freeing the mind from them.

According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, developing self-awareness is a crucial pillar in developing a healthy level of emotional intelligence. The ability to “self-monitor” in the present is fundamental to managing our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, increased self-understanding and, ultimately, being content with who we are. I will elaborate on this more in the second part of this blog. Additionally, people who have cultivated their level of self-awareness are inclined to act consciously rather than passively, to have a positive outlook on life and to be in good psychological health.

I used to think that when someone described themselves as being self-aware, it meant that they were had an inflated sense of ego; that they didn’t have the time or energy to consider others and that I didn’t believe that they would be the kind of person that I would be able to have relationship with to spend a significant amount of time with. However, I have now changed my view on this. I now believe that self-awareness is about being able to see the different facets of your personality and to accept them without judgment. If you are able to notice and appreciate your feelings, the way you think about things, and your reactions to the events that directly affect you and your life, then I would suggest that ultimately you are a more rounded person.

Developing your self-awareness will decrease the chances of being caught off guard by events that happen to you, lessen the possibility that you’ll respond in an incorrect/inappropriate way to such events and also reduce the probability of making the same mistakes repeatedly. To be blunt, you’ll still get things wrong but there’s a greater chance of being in control whilst doing it.

If you have developed your self-awareness, you tend to trust your instincts more; you have learnt from previous experiences and are able to separate gut reactions from emotions and react from calm rather than fear. You’ll start to manage most situations that you are confronted with without negative behaviour and thoughts intruding.

So, now that we know why it’s important, why does it appear to be such a stumbling block for many? I believe that this is due to the idea that for the majority of the time, we’re simply “not present” to observe ourselves. To put it another way, we are not paying attention to what’s going on internally or in our environments. Studies by the psychologists Killingsworth and Gilbert found that for almost 50% of our daily activities, we are functioning on what they call “automatic pilot”; that is, we are unconscious of our actions, feelings and thoughts as our mind drifts to somewhere other than the present situation.

Additionally, we are all prone to confirmation bias; this can deceive us into interpreting or seeking out information in such a way to confirm our pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses about our lives; for example, someone with low self-esteem is highly susceptible to being ignored by others, and they constantly look for signs that people might not like them. Also, if people think that others ignore them, then they only remember the times when people have ignored them; this is like selective attention to the events/situations that confirm this belief about themselves, other people and the environment. Therefore, if you are concerned that someone is upset with you, you are biased towards the negative information about how that person acts toward you.

A further complication is the difference between what is called the experiencing self and the remembering self, an idea proposed by Daniel Kahneman, and how it affects our decision-making. Daniel explained that how we feel about the experience whilst experiencing it and how we remember it can be very different and actually only correlate 50% of the time; this difference may significantly influence the story we tell ourselves, how we relate to others and the decisions we make, even though we may not acknowledge these differences the majority of the time.

In the second part of this blog, I’ll look at how we can develop our self-awareness and how it can be transformational.

If you’d like to find out more about this topic or any others previously discussed, please get in touch via the homepage for a free consultation today.



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