How to become self-aware

Here’s a humbling research finding. Most of us aren’t as self-aware as we thought.

Organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich reports that 95% of people think they’re self-aware – that is, conscious of what really makes them tick AND how they come across to others.  Only about 10-15% of us however, truly are self-aware.

If you have ever watched either the British or American series ‘The Office’, it provides a hilarious example, again and again, of someone who thinks they are more self-aware than they are. We laugh because the boss is completely unaware that he is unaware. We laugh because we think that is not us.

These statistics might cause us to pause. On a good day, Eurich, states, 85-90 % of us are lying to ourselves about what whether we are lying to ourselves. Yikes!

Why is self-awareness, “seeing ourselves clearly” so important?

  • It helps us relate better to ourselves
  • Self-aware people are happier, more confident, more fulfilled
  • It helps us deepen our most important relationships
  • It gives us an understanding of the impact we have on people

The importance of self-awareness can be traced back to 600 BC.  Many of us are familiar with the phrase ‘know thyself’ from the seven sages of ancient Greece. Eurich calls self-awareness the “meta-skill of the 21st century”, further stating that there is “…not a positive outcome that self-awareness can’t be traced back to.” Wow, that certainly makes the goal of self-awareness a worthwhile one!

The obvious question that follows is: how do we become truly self-aware?  It revolves around two things: radical self-honesty and seeking honest feedback from others.

Radical self-honesty

  • We have to learn to love the truth more than we currently do. State this as an intention: “I am seeking the truth about myself.” Be sure to approach this from a desire to know and not from a desire to punish.
  • Be open and curious instead of looking for definitive answers.
  • Eurich wisely advises us to ask what questions rather than the (rabbit hole) why ones. The ‘what’ questions keep us more honest. While Eurich’s work is focused on work and leadership, we can easily apply this to all of our relationships.  Let’s use an example. We might ask ourselves “Why am I so upset with my partner/my mom/my dad/my kids?”

Instead, you may want to ask “What was going on with me at the time? What was my self-talk? What was I thinking? What was I feeling? What is another way to see this?  What can I do to respond better in the future?”

  • Look for patterns. True insight, as opposed to unproductive ‘navel gazing’, comes from processing thoughts and feelings, not simply recording them. Let’s continue with the above example. “When else do I get upset like this? What triggers this upset? Is there a pattern here?
  • ‘The Daily Check In’. Eurich found that all of the very self-aware people that she studied do some form of review of the day. They are simple questions: “What went well today?” Second question: What didn’t go well today?”  And third: “How can I use that insight to be smarter tomorrow?”

Seek honest feedback from others

  • Push through a reluctance to ask for feedback. Expect to feel uncomfortable. Eurich’s work on the most self-aware leaders revealed that they push through fear, defensiveness and vulnerability and seek the feedback anyway. Why? Because the potential insight to be gained is more important than the fear.
  • Choose wisely who you seek feedback from. Skip ‘unloving critics’ (those who would criticize everything we do) and ‘uncritical lovers’ (those who wouldn’t criticize us if their lives depended on it). Choose ‘loving critics’ who Eurich describes as people who have our best interests at heart while also willing to be brutally honest with us.
  • If you are feeling particularly brave, you can schedule what Eurich calls ‘The Dinner of Truth’. She takes people out for dinner and she asks them to tell her what about annoys them the most about her. Again, with a mindset of openness and curiosity, and leading with what, rather than why, there is much insight to be gained.  Making yourself vulnerable like this is also something which can create greater closeness and intimacy. Brene Brown has a great motto: “Courage over comfort.”

Of course none of us set out to delude ourselves and it is humbling to find out that, despite our best intentions, most of us do exactly that. By practicing radical self-honesty and seeking honest feedback from others, we are putting ourselves on the road to bonafide self-awareness.

Do you seek feedback from others about yourself and your impact on others? It could be interesting!


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