Being self-aware all the time is hard. In fact, many human flaws – or cognitive biases – keep us from making rational decisions. It’s these human biases that cause a lack of self-awareness. But what are the signs that you lack self-awareness?
Without being able to recognize the signs of lacking self-awareness, how can you do something about it? In this article, I’m going to show you 11 clear examples that you can use to better recognize when someone is lacking self-awareness, whether that person is you or someone else!
So if you don’t know what “self-serving bias” is, the “negativity bias”, or the “spotlight effect”, you’re in the right place. Continue reading to learn more about these things so that you can better spot signs of self-awareness in the future.
What causes a lack of self-awareness?
Self-awareness is a crucial skill to have when it comes to being a kind, compassionate and happy person. However, most humans are prone to do things or make decisions that don’t seem self-aware at all. But why is that?
I personally know some very smart people that hold down impressive careers and degrees, but ultimately lack a good sense of self-awareness. On the other hand, I know people who aren’t considered the “smartest” in class, but who I do consider to be very wise.
All humans are prone to a number of cognitive biases. Over the years, these biases have been studied extensively and it’s been found that our actions are often negatively impacted by them. We often find ourselves in situations where there is a clear, rational, and logical thing to do, but these biases keep us from doing so and make us look foolish or unaware as a result.
Most of the examples I use in this post are explained by these biases. This is why I’ll be referencing them extensively throughout this article so that you can better recognize these in the future.
So the next time your colleague acts like a man-child, or you find yourself becoming angry over something insignificant, you may recognize one of these biases at work.
By recognizing these situations whenever they pop up, you’ll be well-equipped to deal with any lack of self-awareness in a calm and appropriate way.
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Signs you lack self-awareness
To help you recognize a lack of self-awareness in the future, here are 11 examples. As I’ve said, most of these examples can be traced back to one of the studied cognitive biases. It’s a good idea to remember them so you can better recognize a lack of self-awareness in the future!
1. You think you’ve earned all your successes
The first bias I want to discuss that often causes a lack of self-awareness is self-serving bias. This common bias has you believe that all your successes are a result of hard work, dedication, commitment, and discipline. Nothing else!
But what about luck?
“No way! I create my own luck, and I’ve worked my ass off throughout my entire life!”
If you’ve ever been caught saying this, it’s a sign that you lack self-awareness. The self-serving bias comes from a psychological desire to protect our ego. Crediting our successes to luck doesn’t make us look good to others, so our minds often want to believe that there’s no luck involved in our successes.
How do you counter this lack of self-awareness? Try to be more humble every now and then, think about your past successes, and try to spot the lucky instances you’ve enjoyed.
Personally, I vividly remember the first time I interviewed for my job as an offshore engineer. I was only 21 years old at the time, and due to some clerical error on my end, I missed my first meeting with the company.
When I received a phone call from the guy that was supposed to be interviewing me, I did my best to express how sorry I was. Luckily, they accepted to reschedule the interview, despite the fact that there were dozens of other candidates lined up for the job. In the end, I was offered a job and stayed with the company for 6 years. I always tried to be a great employee, and I know I was a productive member of the team.
But my career would have looked totally different if I hadn’t simply been a lucky fool on the day they rescheduled my interview. Without luck, I wouldn’t have gotten anything.
2. You play the victim card whenever you receive feedback
While we’re on the topic of the self-serving bias, here’s another great sign of lacking self-awareness. People who are especially vulnerable to the self-serving bias are not only quick to take full credit for their successes, but they’re also quick to blame their losses on their circumstances.
Let’s consider my previous example: If I had not been invited for a second interview, I could have blamed it on them.
“I missed my interview because you guys told me the wrong date! It’s not my fault!”
If I had responded this way, that would be a clear sign of being unaware. If you find yourself a constant victim of circumstance, chances are that you’re lacking self-awareness.
As said before, the self-serving bias serves to protect our egos. So whenever we hit a setback, the easiest non-confronting thing to do is to point the blame to something else.
- Missed an important meeting? Blame the busy traffic!
- Forgot to buy a gift for your partner’s anniversary? The shops were all closed!
- Did you lose in a game of bowling? The bowling alley must have been on a slight angle!
Even though this may sound silly, saying these kinds of things are clear signs of lacking self-awareness. You can thank the self-serving bias for that!
3. There’s always drama when you’re with others
Everybody hates drama, right? And by drama, I mean pointless arguments, fights, name-calling, gossiping, awkwardness, you know… Immature stuff.
If it feels like you’re always surrounded by drama, then maybe you should take that as a sign of lacking self-awareness.
This may sound harsh, but what’s the common denominator? It’s you. While this doesn’t guarantee that you are always the cause of drama, it may be a good idea to ask yourself how much you participate in creating the drama. Maybe you should learn how to be a bit more compassionate, or be more kind to others?
When you’re fully self-aware, you may be able to intervene whenever a social get-together is turning into an awkward, passive-aggressive, or downright hostile situation. Spend your energy focusing on positivity rather than negativity.
4. You find it hard to say “I don’t know”
Here’s another sign you lack self-awareness that can be traced back to a common cognitive bias.
If you think that saying “I don’t know” is a sign of weakness, then there’s a clear sign that you’re the one that lacks self-awareness.
There’s a human principle called the “Dunning-Kruger effect“, which is explained in layman’s terms with the following quote:
The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.Aristotle
Whenever someone says “I don’t know”, this may mean two things:
- The person really has no clue about the subject matter and is honest about his/her lack of knowledge.
- The person is actually very knowledgeable but doesn’t want to answer your question with a simple black-and-white statement. This often results in an “I don’t know, but….”.
If you interpret both answers as the other person being clueless, then you need to know that you may actually be the one that lacks self-awareness.
Having the honesty, decency, and know-how to acknowledge your shortcomings is a sign of wisdom instead of cluelessness. If you don’t understand this basic principle, then you should work on your self-awareness some more.
Luckily, self-awareness is a skill that can be improved:
- You can journal for self-awareness.
- Self-awareness can be taught.
- Here are 4 ways to improve your self-awareness.
5. You have a compulsive need to control everything
When people call you a control freak – jokingly or seriously – that’s a good sign that you lack self-awareness.
If you spend the majority of your energy trying to influence things that are beyond your control, then you lack self-awareness. This includes the following things:
- Controlling whether or not people like you.
- Trying to control the amount of sleep you need.
- Forcing your own beliefs onto others.
These are things you should stop trying to control. When you try to control too many things, you set yourself up for high expectations, disappointments, and – frankly – you’re going to get on some people’s nerves.
Someone that’s self-aware knows when to back down and just accept life for what it is: chaotic and uncontrollable.
6. You never change your mind about something
You may be an expert in rocket science or hold a Ph.D. in neurology, but that doesn’t make you an expert in every topic.
That’s why changing one’s mind is a key sign of self-awareness. In this case, self-awareness leads to the realization that you are not all-knowing. It’s okay to change your mind when presented with new information.
This isn’t always easy. As I’ve said before, our minds are designed to protect our ego, and changing our minds on something can feel similar to admitting we were wrong. This is especially difficult as you grow older.
It’s easier to just ignore feedback or constructive criticism than it is to change your perception.
As an experiment, you should ask 3 of your friends for their honest opinion. Ask them if they think you are open-minded. If the answer is not a clear “Yes!”, then here’s a good article that can help you deal with your lack of self-awareness:
7. You feel the need to talk (all the time)
We all know people that love to talk. This is absolutely not a sign of lacking self-awareness!
But some people talk all the time and actually don’t say a lot of meaningful words. Instead, it feels like they talk all the time to fake a sense of importance, or to mask their lack of knowledge. These people are most active in offices, where lots of talking during meetings is sometimes confused with actually being an important team member.
If this feels like something you do, then that’s a clear sign you lack self-awareness.
My grandfather always told me that silence is more powerful than speaking. And there’s a popular quote floating around on the internet that encapsulates this sentiment as well:
You never really learn much from hearing yourself speak.George Clooney
How do you recognize this type of behavior in yourself?
Here’s one: If you’ve sat in a long meeting and feel like you did all the talking, but ultimately made no progress, then it may be a sign. Maybe you should have just stopped yapping and let your colleagues speak more.
By recognizing this kind of behavior in yourself and others, you’ll be more likely to develop a sense of self-awareness that others don’t have.
An interesting cognitive bias to be aware of here is the “Spotlight Effect“. According to the Wikipedia page, it makes people “believe they are being noticed more than they really are“. While we’re all the main characters in the story of our own life, everyone else is center-stage in theirs too.
8. You gossip
I know, I know. Don’t we all gossip sometimes?
Yes. Or, at least, I do.
But everyone knows that excessive gossip only leads to negativity. If everyone in your group of friends gossips behind each other’s back, then there’s not going to be much trust in the end. Yet, we all do it.
If you’re at least self-aware, you’ll be able to recognize this and steer the conversation in a more positive direction. You don’t want to build your friendships on a foundation of gossip and negativity.
9. You focus on short-term happiness too much
Everyone wants to lead a long and happy life. But in order to do so, we must find a balance between focusing on short-term happiness and long-term happiness.
This article explains what I mean by that, but it comes down to practicing a good amount of “delayed gratification”:
Delayed gratification is the resistance to the temptation of an immediate pleasure in the hope of obtaining a valuable and long-lasting reward in the long-term.Wikipedia
As an example, I’m writing this article right now, even though I could go out and enjoy the sun. I do so because I hope publishing this article will mean that my business will grow and help spread happiness around the world.
If you only spend your time going after short-term happiness – or immediate pleasures – chances are you lack a certain amount of self-awareness.
By immediate pleasures, I mean things like:
- Watching Netflix all day instead of working on your projects.
- Eating unhealthy snacks instead of meal-prepping something healthy.
- Staying inside instead of going out to exercise.
- Go out shopping instead of organizing your wardrobe.
You get the idea, right?
You should find a healthy balance between long-term and short-term happiness that promotes your sense of fulfillment and purpose. If you’re unable to find this balance and opt for the “easy way out” whenever you get the chance, you may want to work on your self-awareness.
Here’s a good article that will help you delay gratification more.
10. Most of the things you say are negative or criticizing
Sure, negativity has a purpose in our lives. Some forms of negativity, such as skepticism and unoptimistic realism, can come with positive effects such as increasing a person’s ability for clear judgment and self-motivation.
But if you’re pessimistic by nature and unaware of it, you may lack self-awareness.
This is another well-known bias, that is simply known as the “Negativity Bias“. People that suffer from this bias are often referred to as “glass-is-half-empty” people”. In other words, when something is equally positive and negative, these people decide to focus on the negatives.
This is not bad by definition. Many of us are pessimistic by nature. But those who are unaware of this character trait are lacking self-awareness. And this could impact your social relationships.
It’s been studied over and over again that the way we feel and express ourselves can influence the mood of those around us. In a study published in the British Medical Journal, scientists have found that happiness can effectively spread through your social ties such as your friends, family, and neighbors.
If you’re spreading negativity in the way you engage with others – without being aware of it – you may risk losing some of your friends. Especially when more and more people become aware of how they are influenced by the mood of others.
11. You go out of your way to prove your own right
Here’s the last sign of lacking self-awareness, and it’s explained by a common bias that we’ve not discussed before: Reactance.
It’s a common habit in humans to push back against someone who challenges what you do. Even when logic is not on your side, reactance urges you to stubbornly resist and push back even harder.
There are some unfortunate examples of this, and they are especially common among conspiracy believers.
- Flat earthers go out of their way to push back against logic that supports the earth being a sphere. Instead, they spend their time honing their own arguments and convincing themselves even further of their own rightness.
- What about anti-vaxxers? Even though the world’s biggest scientific bodies are supporting the efficiency of vaccines, there are people who refuse to believe this. What if it’s all a scheme?
- I don’t mean to get political here, but it can be argued that Donald Trump is a victim of reactance as well. Even though the votes were recounted multiple times in 2020, he claims to have lost the presidential elections due to voting fraud. The more people try to reason with him, the more he pushes back against these “allegations”.
If you’re in a similar situation, it’s very difficult to realize what’s happening. After all, these people all believe that they are right.
Again, this is a simple case of trying to be open-minded.
If we’re more open to feedback, more deliberate in the way we analyze things, and apply a filter to whatever we want to say, we’re less prone to lack a sense of self-awareness.
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I hope this article has shown you examples of lacking self-awareness that you didn’t realize before. By being aware of the many ways in which our judgment can be distorted, we’re better equipped to deal with life’s odds in a better way. By showing you these 11 examples, you can better recognize when someone is lacking self-awareness, whether that person is you or someone else!
What do you think? Do you have an example that perfectly fits this list? Or do you want to correct something I said in this article? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!