3 Techniques to Improve Self-Awareness

Have you ever been really angry, sad, or maybe anxious and yet had absolutely no idea where the feeling was coming from? When this happens do you feel stuck? What a frustrating situation. I know because this is how I used to feel all the time.

I would feel angry or upset, yet the most irritating part was the confusion. I was confused why I felt this way and confused what to do to change. You would think it’d be easy for us to understand ourselves. With all the information we have, shouldn’t it be an easy task to understand the inner workings of our minds?

No, it’s not. This understanding, also known as self-awareness, is so important to our lives because becoming aware of our thoughts, emotions, and feelings is the first step in bettering any aspect of our mindset. Though, it’s not a trait commonly inherited or developed.

I would say the majority of people do not have a natural tendency to look inward. Most of our problems seem external, so we get caught up looking outward for an understanding. This results in us forgetting where every thought, feeling, or behavior originates, inside our own heads.

Without knowing what, why, and where, they come from, these thoughts and emotions will master you instead of the other way around.

What is Self-Awareness?

Self-awareness is defined as the ability to understand our own feelings, motives, desires, thinking, and emotions. Seems to be a pretty simple idea, until we take into account the depth of our minds and how difficult they can be to navigate.

Our heads can be a puzzle, with each solution or discovery only bringing about more questions. As soon as we begin to think we understand it, we realize just how much we don’t know.

I would say the majority of people lack self-awareness, myself included. As I said, we all have the tendency to blame our environments and the people around us for how we feel. That means, we think we already know why we feel a certain way.

But the truth is, we have found a scapegoat, avoiding the work required to actually get to the bottom of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Over the past few years, there has been a great effort made on my part to truly understand why I think and feel the way I do. It’s been a fascinating journey.

The more I begin to understand myself, the more exciting the process becomes. The power self-awareness brings is phenomenal.

Not being self-aware seems incredibly scary to me. At a very extreme level, no self-awareness in an individual would lead to completely impulsive behavior that would render no understanding as to why it’s taking place.

"Self-awareness is defined as the ability to understand our own feelings, motives, desires, thinking, and emotions. Seems to be a pretty simple idea, until we take into account the depth of our minds and how difficult they can be to navigate."

Right now, all I can think about are the emotionally unstable people I’ve known in my life. Have you any in your life that you’re thinking of?

These are the types of individuals who are so emotionally unstable, they can switch on you in a split second. One moment their attitude is cheery and they’re having a good time, and then BOOM! Their mood takes a one-eighty, and they become incredibly angry.

One of the root causes of this type of behavior is a lack of self-awareness. Individuals such as this do not understand why they act the way they do, or why they speak the way they do.

That is an extreme example, but most people fall into the middle ground. Here we have those of us who may get angry on certain occasions. Or perhaps, a colleague or teammate really drives us crazy. Maybe you suffer from anxiety, the cause of which seems to be invisible. At this level, self-awareness is not needed to stabilize a personality, but rather to improve our lives.

I have found that, much like most skills in life, self-awareness is an ongoing journey. But any journey must start somewhere, and that is to the point we have come.

Digging deeper into the concept of self-awareness reveals that it can be broken down further to gain a better perspective. Dividing it into two categories helps to see how and why self-awareness affects certain areas of our lives. There is internal self-awareness and external self-awareness.

Internal Self-Awareness

Internal self-awareness is all about our inside world. It deals with how we perceive our values, desires, thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and the impact they have on other people.

How we react to our environment is also part of internal self-awareness. By being skilled in this, you can manage your thoughts and emotions well, and have the power to choose how to react in any given situation.

We all choose our thoughts, feelings, emotions, behaviors, and values. Even if at times it doesn’t seem that way, it’s true. While there are obvious social stipulations that come into play, at a basic level we are all free to think and act any way we desire, we must then accept the consequences that come along.

But when dealing with our self-awareness, it is imperative to grasp this concept. You must understand that you are the one choosing how you feel, not that someone “made” you feel that way. High internal self-awareness is only accessible once this is accepted.  

External Self-Awareness

Here is where understanding how others view us comes into play. With internal self-awareness, you understand how you think. Similarly, external self-awareness is understanding how other people view you in terms of how you think.

Also, it involves how our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors affect others. We are transitioning from understanding how we feel to now looking at how it affects the world.

External self-awareness cannot be mastered until a decent level of internal self-awareness is developed. If we are not aware of what and why we are feeling and acting a certain way, then there will be no basis to see how it impacts those around us.

With a good understanding of ourselves, a clear picture of the results of our own thoughts can be seen.

It’s not so much our thoughts or emotions that play a large part in external awareness, because they can be kept on the inside of us if we choose. What we are focusing on here is the subsequent actions and moods that we display.

By developing external self-awareness, all of our relationships will improve and interactions will go so much smoother.

What Does High Self-Awareness Look Like?

Since it is such an ongoing process of improvement, having a clear picture of what high self-awareness is can be challenging. Though, there is a general state that is achieved where we can say that someone is self-aware.

I think it begins with the realization that this skill is something to be improved upon. Having the sense to think that immediately shows a decent level of understanding of oneself.

That is where a lot of us must get to. Admitting that we need improvement is necessary and does not show weakness or inferiority. Refusing to grow as a person shows weakness, because there is always fear in change, and any improvement requires a degree of change.

For self-awareness, the change comes in the form of the relationship we have with our thoughts and emotions.

As our self-awareness grows, recognizing what we are thinking and feeling will become natural. Understanding why we act or speak to someone a certain way is also evident.

Having this knowledge about ourselves is so incredibly powerful. You will no longer feel frustrated because how you feel evades you. Then, as our self-awareness improves, we will reach what I believe to be the top rung of the skill.

From here, continuous improvement is still made, but it provides us with a target to shoot for when we can say, “I have a high level of self-awareness.”

At this stage, not only will how you feel, think, and act be distinguishable, but the reason for these will become clear. That is where the power of control over ourselves then comes into play.

"Admitting that we need improvement is necessary and does not show weakness or inferiority. Refusing to grow as a person shows weakness, because there is always fear in change, and any improvement requires a degree of change."

If you are angry, anxious, fearful, or sad, knowing how you feel is the first step. But then, we must have the ability to locate the cause of the feeling, which is a thought.

Then, the reasoning for that thought has to be pinpointed. To take it to the world of external self-awareness, we must understand why we acted a certain way towards a person, how this made them feel, and then discover why we handled the situation that way in the first place.

This level of self-awareness is considered high because of the knowledge it provides us about ourselves. At this point, we have peeled back the layers of our actions to the emotions that fueled the behavior, the thought that caused the emotion, and then the purpose of the thought.

Having all this information allows real change to take place within ourselves and then with how we interact in our environment. Without this level of self-awareness, patterned thinking and behavior will continue to take place, even if it leads to our detriment.

What Does Low Self-Awareness Look Like?

I hope that by now you are beginning to understand the importance of becoming self-aware. The upsides that have been described in the previous sections speak for themselves. Gaining a better understanding into why you think the way you do and why you feel the way you do is a tremendous power to have. But what really happens if we fail to develop self-awareness?

Will our lives really be all that awful? No, lacking self-awareness does not mean you will be miserable, however, it will make life more difficult. In my experience, lacking self-awareness left me in a constant state of irritation.

I was irritated with myself for thinking and feeling in unpleasant ways, along with being irritated that I didn’t understand why. Another great word that can be associated with low self-awareness is powerless.

In our lives, there is very little we have control over. The number one aspect within our power is ourselves. This includes how we choose to think, feel, and act.

However, in order to choose, one must understand how these three work. Without a high degree of awareness, this power is lost. You do not have the ability to choose how you feel, because you cannot stop the impulsive thinking and reactionary behavior.

I can remember a phone call I had with my mom one time in front of my townhouse in college. I was at my wits end. Anxiety had taken control of me, and I felt completely powerless. The main talking point I kept reiterating to her was how I didn’t understand why I felt that way.

Trust me, when you’re in this situation you feel weak and out of control. Somehow, you wish you could just run away. All due to the inability to look inward and figure out what’s resulting in the anxiety.

Another impact resulting from the inability to understand the relationship between your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, conflicts seem to arise more around those with low awareness. If you remember earlier in the article, I referred to individuals in my life who displayed incredibly low self-awareness.

Picking these individuals out was always easy for me because similar traits were common among them. Instability was a big one. Talking to them felt like walking across a lake with a thin layer of ice and hoping it doesn’t crack.

When you are around someone like this, finding yourself in a constant state of anxiety is common. They are constantly in conflict, usually because they are unaware of why they are acting a certain way and how it affects those around them.

Just imagine being this type of person yourself. Would you want to be around you if your moods were on a rollercoaster ride going up and down with no understanding why? I wouldn’t. I’ve done my best to understand myself for this very reason.

In my life, distancing myself from these types of individuals has become a goal. People who lack self-awareness drain the energy out of life.

Another trait possessed by someone with low self-awareness is the inability to adapt and change their behavior. On a more internal note, having low self-awareness can be very frustrating to live with. Forget about any interactions with the outside world, let’s just focus on ourselves.

If we are in a negative mindset, feel depressed, or any other way that is unfavorable, knowing why we are in that emotional state is needed.

If we cannot locate a reason, or worse, if we are unaware that this is even an option, our lives can become difficult and emotionally taxing. Consistent internal frustration leads to further depressive thoughts and negative outcomes in life.

So, if for no other reason, self-awareness greatly benefits our mental health. It allows us to understand how we think and feel, and then discover why. Without this skill, an already challenging thing which is life becomes even more of a difficulty.

"If we are in a negative mindset, feel depressed, or any other way that is unfavorable, knowing why we are in that emotional state is needed. If we cannot locate a reason, or worse, if we are unaware that this is even an option, our lives can become difficult and emotionally taxing."

Three Techniques to Improve Self-Awareness

After deciding that we want to improve upon a skill, the next question is likely, “What should I do?” This can easily become the most frustrating part and lead to a decision that it’s just not that important to work on after all.

It can be especially difficult if the skill is in an area that we are not so familiar with. All that research takes time, and then what if what we decide to do isn’t actually going to help?

In the following three sections I will introduce very powerful techniques that will drastically improve your self-awareness.

Though, I will warn you that they require some effort. Not much, and the time commitment is minimal each day too, but you must do the work in order to reap the rewards

Mindfulness Meditation

Has anyone ever introduced you to the idea of watching your thoughts? I know, it sounds quite strange. How can we watch our thoughts if we are the ones having them?

Well, we and our thoughts are not as connected as we’ve been led to believe. Through the practice of mindfulness meditation, this disconnect can be felt, leading to a better understanding and awareness of the inner workings of our mind.

As your mindfulness practice blossoms, thoughts will become more like passing clouds floating across the canvas of your mind. A deep recognition of why these thoughts are there develops, and with it, the ability to change them at will.

The ultimate purpose of the practice is to wipe the slate clean. Create a calm and quiet mind. Stillness then presents the opportunity to choose whatever thought you desire to have at that moment.

If you are someone who seems to have uncontrollable thoughts running rampant through your mind, then mindfulness meditation will be a breath of fresh air.

I used to continuously have worrisome thoughts swimming in my head, never knowing how to get rid of them. Only through my mindfulness practice have I been able to quiet my mind and enjoy the peace and power that follows.

The process of practicing mindfulness meditation is incredibly simple. It does not require any fancy training or week-long seminars.

There are different ways you can practice, but I am going to focus on a seated version which I have found to be most effective.

  • Step 1:Begin sitting in a comfortable position with your back straight. It doesn’t matter if you sit on the floor or in a chair, just be sure to be comfortable, as we do not want posture to pull your focus away from the meditation.
  • Step 2: Close your eyes and begin to breathe deeply. You want to focus only on your breath, feel it going in and out. Also, as I mentioned earlier, hold no expectations of the practice. Do your best to stay in the moment.
  • Step 3: While you focus on your breath, allow thoughts to come and go as they please. Do not hold any attachment to them. Do not attempt to force yourself to not have thoughts, either. Just observe what they are. By doing this you will begin to build a disconnect between you and your thoughts, allowing you to realize you are not your thoughts. They come and go, but you do not hold any attachment to them.

The practice does not need to be long either, simply set aside five to ten minutes a day to begin with. As you progress, I promise you’ll want to do it longer because of the benefits the practice provides.

"As your mindfulness practice blossoms, thoughts will become more like passing clouds floating across the canvas of your mind. A deep recognition of why these thoughts are there develops, and with it, the ability to change them at will."

Practice Self-Reflection Through Writing

Writing is an incredible tool to help us become more aware of how we feel.

Through this form of expression, deep pent up emotions can be revealed. When looking to improve self-awareness, it is necessary to perform this sort of introspective work.

One of the great aspects of writing is that it is a safe space. No one has to read what you write, not even you.

But by taking part in this activity, thoughts and feelings will be examined and worked through. That is why so many people keep journals, as a way to express themselves without fear of being judged or ridiculed.

I love this type of writing because it allows us to be completely free. No concern about others’ opinions and even our own insecurities cannot get in the way.

Introspection is such an important step in improving self-awareness and can be difficult to do by just sitting and thinking. To really grasp who we are and why we think, feel, and behave in certain ways requires thorough examination.

As with mindfulness meditation, writing need not take up much time. Five to ten minutes is plenty to get your thoughts onto paper, but by all means, do more if you feel the need.

I enjoy writing in the morning, right when I get up, and then again in the evenings. These times seem to be optimal for this type of work, but you should find the time of day that works best for you.

There isn’t really much more instruction to be given on writing, since it is such a personal process. The only other thing I would like to mention is to try to be consistent.

With any new habit, you are trying to form, consistency is key. It will also provide you with a daily dose of introspection, and as a result, examining how you think and feel will begin to become normal for yourself.

Seek the Input of Others

One of the best ways for us to learn about any weak areas in our personality is to seek the advice of people we trust. This person can take the form of a parent, friend, spouse, or anyone else that is close to you.

Someone you just met shouldn’t be used for this, because, asking a stranger this personal of a question can be terrifying, and they’re not going to know you well enough to provide an accurate answer. So, go with someone close to you that knows you well.

The reason it is important to seek the input of others lies in the importance of external self-awareness. We can gain clear insight into how our behavior is affecting those around us. By understanding this, steps can then be taken to improve upon weak areas.

Different perspectives are great at eliminating any biases that arise. And let’s face it, we all have a bias when it comes to ourselves.

By looking to others for counsel, we can take what they say and examine our thoughts, emotions, and behavior from another point of view.

However, do not take everything you hear during this process as fact. Each person has their own perspective and factors that play into their opinions.

Use the information you receive during this process and combine it with the understanding gotten from the previous two steps.

While meditation and writing should be performed every day, seeking the input of others is a singular act. It can be done more than once, just over a spaced-out period of time.

After your initial conversation, a clear picture of what needs to be worked on will be developed. Then, take that information, combined with your meditation and writing practice, and begin working on your self-awareness skills.

After a while has passed, you can revisit this step to see how those same people view your progress.

Final Thoughts

With the three techniques outlined above, you should be well on your way to developing very strong self-awareness skills.

It is not a one size fits all situation, so find what works best for you. But the constant remains that we must want to improve and be continuously looking to better understand ourselves.

By gaining a better understanding of how and why we think, feel, and behave the way we do, life becomes a smoother journey.

With this insight comes the ability to control our thoughts and emotions. A power that is of the utmost importance in achieving happiness and success.

Do you think you’re self-aware? Is it a skill you feel needs improvement? Please leave a comment below.

I hope this article was helpful and informative for you. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions or concerns you may have regarding time management or any performance psychology topic.

I wish you the best of success in all you do.

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