Are we really aware of how certain events influence our happiness? Are we really self-aware? And more importantly, can we teach ourselves to be more self-aware? Can self-awareness even be taught?
It takes a lot of reflection to come to terms with the most basic, let alone the deepest, parts of ourselves. Turning inward can be a tough challenge as it requires us to be vulnerable (which isn’t easy for most of us). But the skill of self-awareness can be taught and learned like any other. It only takes the drive to improve and a generous amount of self-compassion to achieve it.
In this article, I've looked at existing studies on self-awareness and whether or not it can be taught. I've found 3 actionable tips that will help you learn this skill as much as they've helped me!
What is self-awareness?
In the world of psychology, the term “self-awareness” has become quite a buzz word in recent years. Being self-aware means that you have a high consciousness of how you function, think, and feel. At the same time, it’s also being adept at how you extend yourself to others in the outside world.
Psychologist Tasha Eurich, who has been studying self-awareness for over 15 years now, has conducted a scientific study that involved nearly 5,000 participants in 10 separate investigations in order to define self-awareness and how it manifests in different people.
She and her team found that self-awareness can be categorized into two types:
- Internal Self-Awareness represents how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions and impact on others.
- External Self-Awareness means understanding how other people view us according to these factors.
In order to be fully self-aware, one must not prioritize one type over the other according to Eurich. For example, if one is only internally self-aware, they may be too confident about themselves and refuse constructive criticism from others.
On the other hand, if one is only externally self-aware, then they may become “people pleasers” who only seek the approval of others and lack a stronger sense of self.
Tasha Eurich has a nice TEDx talk that answers some other interesting questions about this topic:
When you’re low on both external and internal self-awareness, you may struggle in knowing what you want, what you need, or what your boundaries are. And, as a result, you may have toxic relationships where other people can’t value you for who you truly are.
What happens when you lack self-awareness?
Lacking self-awareness can be a common phenomenon, especially when you’re at the stage of your life where you’re still discovering yourself and the world around you.
For example, I experienced the struggle of lacking self-awareness when I was in my early 20s. I was at that point in my dating life where I knew I was looking for something serious but couldn’t find it.
There was a time when I thought that being with this one person was everything to me. I thought that I didn’t need anything else. But, as you may have guessed by now, the relationship didn’t work out.
After countless drunken nights with my best friend and binging on self-love videos on YouTube, I eventually realized that the reason why I couldn’t find the right relationship was because:
- I didn’t know what kind of relationship I actually wanted.
- I didn’t know what kind of person I wanted to be with.
- I didn’t know how I wanted to be loved.
I was totally clueless about myself which is why I was also clueless in the relationships that I was in. I lacked the self-awareness that I needed.
What happens when you build self-awareness?
Once you acknowledge that you need to improve your self-awareness, things can radically change for you. In my case, the process was not the breeziest and most comfortable one. In the early stages of me trying to get to know myself, I felt even more lost. Everything I thought I knew about myself suddenly seemed wrong. The growing pains were real!
But when I started teaching myself self-awareness, that’s when I became a better friend to myself.
- I learned to choose myself over other people who were not good for me, at the same time listen to those who truly value me for who I am and how I want to be valued.
- I learned to be firmer about my boundaries.
- I learned to communicate my needs.
- I learned to show myself compassion and embrace every part of me. (I now know that these parts exist!)
Teaching myself self-awareness also helped me have a better sense of who I want to become, what kind of life I want to live, and what kind of people I want to surround myself with.
How can self-awareness be taught?
In Eurich’s study, although most participants believed that they are self-aware, only 10-15% of them actually are.
She lovingly dubbed this small portion as the “self-awareness unicorns.” And if you want to be part of this magical elite circle, here are three actionable steps that you can take.
1. Stop asking “why?” and ask "what?" instead
One interesting insight that Eurich found in her study is the difference in response of those people who are less self-aware from those who are more self-aware. When faced with a difficult situation, the “unicorns” ask “what” questions instead of “whys.”
So, if you’re not so self-aware and you didn’t get the job that you so badly want, you will have the tendency to ask “Why am I so bad at my chosen career track?” or even “Why do employers hate me?”
This will only cause counterproductive rumination that will lead you away from your truth and down a depressive path.
But, if you’re in a similar situation and you’re more self-aware, then the right question to ask is, “What can I do to get my next dream job?”
Or perhaps “What can I improve in myself to be worthy of that kind of position?”
Achieving self-awareness also helped me have a better sense of who I want to become, what kind of life I want to live, and what kind of people I want to surround myself with.
2. Be in touch with your feelings
One of the resources that helped me out of my rut when I was discovering self-awareness was philosopher Alain de Botton’s “On Being Out of Touch with One’s Feelings.”
In this essay, he discusses how we have the tendency to numb ourselves when difficult (and sometimes nasty) feelings arise. For example, we’d rather say, “I’m tired” when we don’t feel like giving affection to our partner instead of saying, “I’m hurt” after they commented something offensive about our cooking. It’s hard to admit those feelings because they require vulnerability and fragility.
However, to achieve self-awareness, we have to be good “reporters” of our feelings. To be in touch with our feelings, we must take the time, perhaps during idle moments, to catch up on the feelings that are located much deeper than what we’d like to observe from. One way to do this is to write a self-awareness journal!
We have to own up to these feelings of hurt, shame, guilt, anger, and self-indulgence to really get to know ourselves fully and honestly - nasty bits and all.
One of the too-often overlooked, but key arts of living is to learn to devote ourselves to correctly labelling and repatriating our own and others’ orphaned feelings.Alain de Botton
3. Seek insight from the right people
As mentioned earlier, being self-aware doesn’t only mean focusing on your inner workings; it also entails knowing how you relate yourself to others. Having low external self-awareness can limit your relationships and, consequently, your overall growth.
In light of this, we must seek insight from other people, too, in order to have a wider perspective of ourselves.
But we must remember to accept feedback only from the right sources. These are people who know our true value, who lovingly push us to our full potential, who care about us but trust us enough to make our own decisions. If you already have some people in mind, then you’re on the right track!
However, if you feel like you will benefit from a different perspective than your loved ones’, then seeking counsel from a professional is the way to go. A therapist can help you delve further into your mind and catalogue your feelings. Equipped with the right tools, they can listen to us, study us, and provide a more dynamic yet kinder picture of our truest selves.
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Self-awareness is both a powerful tool and an exciting journey. In order to be our best selves, we must turn inward first. Learning more about ourselves is an important step before teaching others how to know and love us. And there’s nothing more rewarding than being known and loved in such an authentic way. So let's get to know ourselves better, learn how to be more self-aware and become our very own best friend first!
What did I miss? Do you want to share a tip that you missed in this article? Or maybe you want to open up about your own experiences with learning to be self-aware? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!