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What is self-awareness and why is it important? (With examples and tips to improve yours)

a man with yellow curly hair knows the answer to the question what is self awareness

How well do you really know yourself? Probably not as well as you think. According to research by Tasha Eurich, 95% of people claim to have self-awareness-but only 10 to 15% actually do.

So what’s with this huge disparity between perception and reality? It turns out that self awareness is harder to achieve than we think. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Below, we’ll go over how you can improve your self awareness. But first, let’s go over its definition and benefits.

Table of contents
What is self awareness?
Emotional intelligence and emotional self awareness
Internal self awareness vs external self awareness
Social awareness
Objective self awareness
Benefits of self awareness
How to become more self-aware
Self awareness training
How will you build your self awareness?

What is self awareness?

Self-awareness, self-consciousness, and self-knowledge are all terms that are often used interchangeably. So what’s the difference?

Thankfully, in 2020, University of Reading researchers Julia Carden, Rebecca Jones, and Jonathan Passmore set out to gain clarity on exactly what self-awareness means. After poring over 31 research articles, the researchers decided on this definition:

Self-awareness consists of a range of components, which can be developed through focus, evaluation and feedback, and provides an individual with an awareness of their internal state (emotions, cognitions, physiological responses), that drives their behaviors (beliefs, values and motivations) and an awareness of how this impacts and influences others.”

The findings of their research were published in the Journal of Management Education.

So, to recap, self-awareness has three components:

  1. An awareness of how you’re feeling (emotionally and physiologically) and what you’re thinking
  2. An awareness of how those thoughts and feelings influence your behavior
  3. An awareness of how those thoughts and feelings influence others

Emotional intelligence and emotional self awareness

Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman popularized emotional intelligence in his book of the same name. In his framework, he outlines five components of emotional intelligence, one of which is self awareness. In fact, he goes so far as to call self-awareness the foundation of emotional intelligence.

What is the definition of emotional self-awareness?

“With Emotional Self-Awareness, you understand your own emotions and their impact on your performance,” Goleman writes on LinkedIn. “You know what you are feeling and why-and how it helps or hurts what you are trying to do.”

What is the definition of emotional intelligence?

In his book, Goleman defines emotional intelligence as “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.”

Internal self awareness vs external self awareness

Based on her research, Eurich determined there are two types of self-awareness:

  1. Internal self-awareness, or "knowing who you are on the inside.” This includes your values, passions, personality, strengths and weaknesses. This is also sometimes called private self-awareness.
  2. External self-awareness or “knowing how other people see you." This is also sometimes called public self-awareness.

“Those two types of self-knowledge are completely independent,” she explains, meaning that just because you’re skilled (or unskilled) in one type doesn’t necessarily mean you’re skilled (or unskilled) in the other, and vice versa.

Coaching can help you uncover both skill sets. Whether or not you have a coach, Eurich recommends asking yourself where you stand on these two areas of self-knowledge.

Social awareness

According to Goleman, social awareness is one of the five components of emotional intelligence. Social awareness is knowledge of others’ feelings and perspectives. As Goleman writes for Berkeley's Greater Good Magazine:

“Social awareness refers to a spectrum that runs from primal empathy (instantaneously sensing another’s inner state) to empathic accuracy (understanding her feelings and thoughts) to social cognition (‘getting’ complicated social situations).”

Objective self awareness

The American Psychological Association defines objective self-awareness as:

"a reflective state of self-focused attention in which a person evaluates himself or herself and attempts to attain correctness and consistency in beliefs and behaviors. This involves the viewing of oneself as a separate object, acknowledging limitations and the existing disparity between the ideal self and the actual self."

Benefits of self awareness

So what’s all this fuss about self awareness? Well, by cultivating it, you’ll reap a whole host of benefits. Here are just a few.

Cultivate stronger relationships

Because self-awareness involves realizing how your thoughts, feelings and actions affect others, gaining self-awareness, particularly external self-awareness, can help you improve your relationships. Why? Because you’ll be able to see how your behaviors affect your loved ones. This might spur you to modify your behaviors to be a more caring friend, family member or significant other.

For instance, someone with a high sense of self-awareness might realize that they’re not good at expressing their feelings. This might cause their significant other to feel distant from them. This internal and external self-awareness might motivate them to develop their emotional intelligence so they can better express how they feel, helping their partner feel more connected to them.

Improve your mental health

Becoming aware of what you’re feeling and what triggers those emotions can help you get a better understanding of your mental health. If you don’t even realize where you’re struggling mentally, you won’t have the ability to seek the support you need.

Having a greater degree of self-awareness will allow you to check in with yourself, to notice when, for example, your anxiety is higher than usual and to identify patterns that might be causing it.

Decrease your stress

Stress is nothing more than our body’s fight-or-flight response kicking in because it thinks we’re in grave danger. In today’s modern age, we are rarely in the kind of danger that threatens our life. Often, we’re under pressure of looming work deadlines or impending bills. By increasing our self-awareness, we can better self-regulate, essentially turning off our stress response because it’s not actually needed. But that all begins with recognizing what’s happening within us.

Boost your self-esteem

Low self-esteem has many causes, and to improve it, you need an awareness of what’s causing it. On top of that, once you have objective knowledge about yourself, you’ll learn to accept yourself as you are-with your shortcomings and strengths. Objective self-awareness doesn’t have to be something scary that points out all your flaws; it can be something liberating because you finally see yourself and can love yourself as you are.

Perform better at work

Self-awareness allows you to see your strengths and blind spots, which proves useful in the workplace. How? Well, you can lean into your strengths and take on projects where you can excel and enjoy yourself. And wherever you have blind spots, you can lean on your team for extra support because they will have strengths in the areas where you have blind spots.

Make better decisions

Do you constantly grapple with indecision, unable to move forward? When you know your values and limitations (thanks to self awareness), making a choice becomes much easier.

For instance, maybe you’re struggling to decide between a job in a city close to your family or a higher-paying job on the other side of the country. Because of your self-awareness, you know that you value family above all else, including money. The decision is easy, then, if you stick to your values: choose the job with lower pay but closer to your loved ones.

How to become more self-aware

Now that you’ve seen how self awareness can improve so many different aspects of your life, how do you become more self-aware? Let’s go over some tips.

Begin with a growth mindset

When you have a growth mindset, you view attributes as learnable skills. This is in direct contrast to a fixed mindset, where you believe that people are born with inherent traits.

Beginning with adjusting your mindset is crucial. Because if you have a fixed mindset, you’ll be unmotivated to begin change in the first place.

Acknowledge your knowledge gaps

According to Eurich, the coach whose research found that at least 85% of people wrongly believe they are self-aware, the best place to start is with the realization that you probably don’t know yourself as well as you think you do.

Only once you have this realization can you be open enough to begin the work of becoming more self-aware.

Define your personal values

Remember that internal self-awareness involves knowing your personal values. So if you want to increase self-awareness, you need to know what your values are. Take time to sit down and reflect on what matters most to you. It could be work, family, health, advocacy. Be as specific as possible.

Write these personal values down. That way, going forward, you can have the self-awareness to know if the decisions you’re making are aligned with your values. Further, you’ll now have the internal self-awareness that you can compare to your external self-awareness. If there is a huge disconnect between what you know about yourself and how others perceive you, it might be a clue that it’s time to make a change.

Keep a journal

Journaling is an effective way to become aware of and sort through your thoughts and emotions. What’s more, it becomes a written record that you can refer to and start to see patterns. You might realize, for instance, that in your journal entries, you frequently blame others for your unhappiness. This might lead you to realize that you have a victim mentality, and this might prompt you to make some changes to regain power in your life.

Ask for feedback from your manager

The challenge with self-awareness is that we all have blindspots-we don’t see what we don’t see. Therefore, a fantastic way to gain self-awareness is to ask other people for feedback. This is especially true at work, where your performance is often observed by others, especially your manager. Meet with your manager one-on-one and ask for specific feedback on your work so that you can improve.

Ask for feedback from loved ones

While we all are accustomed to the idea of performance reviews in work context, we rarely ask for feedback on how we’re doing in our personal relationships. Why is that? Certainly, personal relationships are foundational in our lives, more important than our jobs. But for some reason, we shy away from asking what we’re doing well and how we could be better when it comes to friendships, marriages and our relationships with family members.

Granted, it’s an awkward thing to ask for a performance review from someone like your best friend. Instead, ask for specific feedback on something you’re trying to improve when it comes up naturally. For example, the next time your BFF texts you about something difficult they’re going through, you can give them a call and ask if talking on the phone helps or if they need something more from you. Ask about how they’ve felt supported by you in the past, or how they haven’t.

Another example is in romantic relationships. The next time you and your significant other have a disagreement, if it’s appropriate, ask questions instead of defending your stance. This can help you keep an open mind and cultivate self awareness that you wouldn’t be able to get if you’re only aiming to “win” an argument.

Take an assessment

To better know yourself, it’s wise to take an evidence-based assessment that can highlight your strengths and blindspots. Luckily, F4S has created one based on more than 20 years of motivation research.

In 20 minutes, you'll get a detailed report of what motivates you and what demotivates you. Using this knowledge, you can apply your strengths to your work and life, helping you gain self-confidence as you realize and lean into what you’re good at. And those blindspots? They can be improved! You can work with a coach to strengthen them, such as our AI-powered Coach Marlee.

Meditation and mindfulness practice

Through meditation, you can focus on the self without getting distracted by everything going on around you, which can help you develop internal self-awareness. Mindfulness, in particular, means being present to your thoughts without judging them.

Body Scan

The body scan meditation is a common tactic for becoming more aware of your emotional and physiological feelings. To do this, you sit in a relaxed position in a quiet place and become aware of sensations from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Isolate each part of your body and pay attention to what you feel. Is your jaw clenched? Is your neck aching? Do your hands feel tingly?

These physical sensations can clue you into your emotional state. For instance, you might clench your jaw when you’re stressed or feel tingling in your fingers when you’re excited.

Negative thoughts

Everyone has negative thoughts; it’s what you do with them that counts. Through mindfulness meditation, you can become aware of these thoughts without trying to control them or allowing them to control you. One common meditation technique that helps you make peace with your negative thoughts is this: You imagine every thought that passes through your mind as a cloud floating through the sky. Clouds aren’t trying to harm you. They simply exist. You don’t try to control clouds. You let them be. So you sit there, allowing each thought to come and go. The idea here is that if you accept your thoughts, even the negative ones, they’re less likely to disturb your peace or control your actions.

Practice gratitude

When business strategist Robert Murray coaches CEOs, he often uses a gratitude exercise to cultivate their self-awareness. Here's how he describes it on his blog:

"Each and every morning upon waking, think and write down three people, things or achievements that you’re grateful for. Commit to doing this for 21 straight days."

Why does Murray have his clients practice gratitude? By actively calling to mind what you’re grateful for, you start to recognize your achievements, others’ achievements and how others do things for you without you realizing it.

Review and reflect

At the end of every week, month, quarter, or year, check in with yourself. Review the pages of your journal, your gratitude lists and your goal progress. What have you learned? What have you accomplished? How do you feel? Checking in with yourself on a regular basis builds self-awareness and allows you to course-correct as needed.

Self awareness training

So what if you feel like you need extra support to gain self awareness? You can participate in self awareness training through coaching. Coaching is a great tool for identifying patterns, strengths and blind spots through exploration. Your coach will ask you questions that inspire you to know yourself better.

Not everyone can hire a one-on-one coach, but F4S makes personalized coaching available to anyone through our AI-powered Coach Marlee app. We have two programs that can help you become a more self-aware person:

Increase EQ program

EQ, also known as emotional intelligence, is a muscle you can build! And with Coach Marlee’s help, you can increase your EQ in just eight weeks. In this program, you’ll learn to forge more authentic connections by practicing empathy, reading and expressing emotions and using gestures to communicate.

After taking Increase EQ, you’ll walk away with increased self awareness and the social skills to form stronger relationships.

Reflection & Patience program

In our Reflection & Patience program, you'll learn about the growth mindset, journaling, mindfulness and feedback-four things mentioned above as key tools to increase self awareness! You'll walk away from this eight-week program with increased self awareness and the skills to slow down, take your time and live a more intentional life.

How will you build your self awareness?

As we saw from the research, the vast majority of people are not as self aware as they think. So if you find yourself lacking in this skill, you’re in good company.

But approaching this from a growth mindset, self awareness is a learnable skill. By using the many tools we’ve covered in this article, you can master it.

You don’t have to pursue self awareness alone! Take our free online coaching program Increase EQ to get support and start seeing results.

Build self-awareness with AI-powered coaching.

Our programs were designed by world-renowned coaches. Sessions only take 5-15 minutes. Get started for free with your personalized program now.

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