Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection and the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals.
It is one of the most important aspects of personal development, determining almost everything else. That includes whether you are able to stay motivated and achieve your goals.
“To have greater self-awareness or understanding means to have a better grasp of reality.” – H.H. Dalai Lama 14th
As you peel away the layers, you may discover many things about yourself simply by becoming more self aware.
When you become self-aware, you know your strengths, weaknesses, and personality type.
But it’s more than that.
Fully knowing yourself includes being aware of your thoughts and watching them objectively as an observer, without emotion or attachment.
You might tell yourself, “Now I’m experiencing anger.”
You can then go on to ask yourself why you’re getting angry and where that anger is coming from.
Self Awareness Theory
Self-awareness has been called by psychologist Philippe Rochat “arguably the most fundamental issue in psychology, from both a developmental and an evolutionary perspective.”
Self-Awareness theory was developed by Shelley Duval and Robert A Wicklund in their 1972 book A Theory of Objective Self Awareness. It says that when we focus our attention on ourselves, we evaluate and compare our current behavior to our internal standards and values.
You may start to ask what is the self, anyway. Is it your name, your body, the car you drive, your career?
You may be an artist, but that’s only the face you show to the world. Identification as an artist can create limitations, too. By defining who you are, you may categorize yourself and put yourself in a “box.”
For example, a commonly held belief about artists is that they can’t or don’t make much money. Do you really want, or need, to define yourself that narrowly?
“A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.” – Meister Eckhart
Self-awareness should not be confused with self-consciousness. True, certain cues in our environment and certasin situations can create awareness of the self, like mirrors, an audience, or being videotaped or recorded.
But while consciousness, particularly self-consciousness, is a term given to being aware of one’s environment and body and lifestyle, self-awareness is the recognition of that awareness.
Your monitoring of your own mental states is called meta-cognition. It is considered to be an indicator that there is some concept of the self.
When you find yourself getting irritated by someone, you can examine yourself to see whether you harbor the same negative trait that they’re manifesting. This requires self awareness.
Usually, you’ll find the answer is yes. You likely possess the same trait in some form or another.
Take Emily, for example: She might find herself attempting to converse with her six-year-old nephew. The boy is anti-social, always glowering and scowling at people.
He never speaks to anyone. When Emily tries to interact with him, even to smile at him, he scowls even harder.
This prompted Emily to call him a “bad boy,” which made the six-year-old even more aggressive.
Fortunately, this happened in the presence of some of Emily’s good friends who gently pointed out her folly.
Emily turned the spotlight within. Did she also lack respect for others? She realized the answer was yes. The moment this thought crossed her mind, she stopped feeling irritated.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Gustav Jung
What is Self Awareness?
To define self awareness, we mean you are conscious of the following and more:
- Your goals
- The events, thoughts, and beliefs that make you happy and sad
- Your strengths and weaknesses
- Your values and beliefs
- Your philosophy in life
- Your achievements, how you accomplished them, and what you learned from them
- Your failures, how they came about, and how to prevent them from recurring
- How you relate to others
- How you see yourself and others
One benefit of being self-aware is that when you do or say something, you are conscious of the reason behind it.
If you scold a child, you ask yourself why. Do you want to assert your seniority or authority, or do you actually want the child to improve their behavior for their own best interest?
”I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion.” – Billie Jean King
Where Does Self Awareness Come From?
If you are an average toddler, then by the time you reach 18 months you will have discovered yourself and recognize your own reflection in the mirror.
By the age of 24 months you can watch and relate your own actions to those actions of other people and the surrounding environment.
Numerous experiments have been done that show a child’s self-awareness. In what has come to be known as The Shopping Cart Task:
“Children were asked to push a shopping the cart to their mothers, but in attempting to do so they had to step on the mat and in consequence, their body weight prevented the cart from moving”.
Around school age your awareness of personal memory changes into a sense of your own self. At this stage, a child begins to develop interests along with likes and dislikes.
This transition enables the awareness of an individual’s past, present, and future to grow as conscious experiences are remembered more often.
As your self-awareness increases, you tend to separate and become your own person. Your cognitive and social development includes the taking of another’s perspective and the accepting of inconsistencies.
By adolescence, a coherent and integrated self-perception normally emerges. You also become conscious of your emotions during adolescence.
Most children are aware of emotions like shame, guilt, pride and embarrassment by the age to two, but do not fully understand how those emotions affect their life.
By age 13, children become more in touch with these emotions and begin to apply them to their own lives.
A 1999 study entitled The Construction of the Self found that many adolescents display happiness and self-confidence around friends, but hopelessness and anger around parents due to the fear of being a disappointment. Teenagers were also shown to feel intelligent and creative around teachers, and shy, uncomfortable and nervous around people they were not familiar with.
“The outward freedom that we shall attain will only be in exact proportion to the inward freedom to which we may have grown at a given moment. And if this is a correct view of freedom, our chief energy must be concentrated on achieving reform from within.” – Mahatma Gandhi
In the The Tao Te Ching, the great sage and founder of Taoism Lao Tzu writes: “The great Tao flows everywhere. It nourishes the ten thousand things. It holds nothing back.”
In this book, he gives us “three treasures” that may be helpful to remember when developing greater self awareness:
1. Compassion. With compassion, you don’t condemn others for their mistakes, for you recognize these mistakes in yourself.
2. Frugality. The frugal one avoids being wasteful and going to extremes. Living frugally, you can enjoy abundance. Your life will be as simple as your needs.
3. Humility. Humility dissolves the ego and thus removes all possibility of disharmony and conflict. Watch for signs of humility in yourself. True humility revolves around knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and being willing to take responsibility for your actions.
“He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.” – Lao Tzu
While it’s easy for us to think of our good qualities, our negative traits are often pushed aside.
You may even find justifications for your negative thoughts and behaviors. One way to cultivate awareness of them is to look deep into yourself and write down all of your characteristics, positive and negative.
Avoid chastising yourself for your negative traits. Instead, know that everyone is an amalgam of productive and destructive qualities.
It’s the desire to change what doesn’t serve you which distinguishes the self-aware from the deluded.
“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” – The Dalai Lama
Resolving Conflict by Becoming More Self-Aware
The cause of conflict is usually within our self. When you find yourself in an uneasy situation, check whether your lack of self awareness is in the way.
Usually conflict is caused by the need to assert your wishes or the desire to be right. Once you become aware of this in yourself, you can begin to resolve it.
Or it could be that you feel stressed out because of the emotions simmering within you.
You may not be aware of them at first.
For instance, there could be worry, fear, jealousy, anger, resentment, or frustration, sometimes all at once. At such times, take a deep breath and observe what’s happening in your mind. This simple practice will help you to think more clearly.
Self-efficacy and Self Awareness
Self-awareness involves observing your thoughts and actions. One of the best ways to do this is by writing in a journal every day.
If you keep putting it off and allow a week to go by without making notes, you may not recall everything important.
Keeping notes will help you see the patterns and values you’ve been harboring all along. Once you can identify these patterns, you can begin to change them if they’re not leading to positive outcomes.
When you’re self-aware, you learn from your own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others.
The psychologist Albert Bandura‘s theory of self-efficacy builds on our varying degrees of self-awareness. It is “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations.”
A person’s belief in their ability to succeed sets the stage to how they think, behave and feel. Someone with a strong self-efficacy, for example, views challenges as mere tasks that must be overcome, and are not easily discouraged by setbacks.
They are aware of their flaws and abilities and choose to utilize these qualities to the best of their ability.
Someone with a weak sense of self-efficacy evades challenges and quickly feels discouraged by setbacks. They may not be aware of these negative reactions, and therefore do not always change their attitude.
So if you want to develop yourself to your fullest potential, you must first develop your self awareness to the fullest potential.
Top Image: Surian Soosay/Flickr