Updated: Nov 16, 2020
I have been thinking a lot about relationships with others lately and I keep coming back to self-awareness. I think that by becoming self-aware we are at a great starting point for self-improvement. When we get to know our strengths, weaknesses, feelings, and emotions, we have a better understanding of ourselves and what triggers us to behave the way we do. It always makes us think about how we impact on the people around us and how we can trigger them!
So instead of trying to avoid or fix how we feel, we can observe and think about our feelings, even the difficult, uncomfortable ones. It also means paying attention to how we tend to act and behave in certain situations. Think about what tendencies you have during conflict and what is your default responses to things.
Without self-awareness and the ability to manage our emotions, we often unknowingly lead from hurt, not heart. Not only is this a huge energy suck for us and the people around us, it creates distrust, disengagement, and an eggshell culture. – Brene Brown
Being self-aware can be thought of in three parts: awareness of thoughts, feelings and actions.
Awareness of thoughts:
Your thoughts are that inner dialogue that runs through our heads constantly. These thoughts often help us to clarify but can also be q bully to us. We have about six thousand thoughts a day, most of which we habitually repeat to ourselves. These are often the learned thoughts and beliefs that we have from our experiences with our caregivers from childhood, and have been repeating these messages to ourselves constantly. Escaping from these thought patterns and strongly held beliefs can be incredibly difficult- but it can be done.
Keeping in mind that cognitive abilities do not fully develop until our mid-20s, thankfully, we can come to the point where these thoughts no longer serve us.
The importance of developing an awareness of this inner dialogue gives us the choice to think about our responses to triggering events but more important is helps us to regulate. Thinking about out our thinking is a distinctly human quality. Commonly known as metacognition it is what enables us to step back and think through problems rather than simply reacting instinctually. Our metacognitive processes allow us to learn from prior experiences, generalise learning so we can apply strategies to new situations, evaluate the utility of different approaches, and decide how we might do things differently next time.
Becoming self-aware allows you to direct your choices rather than your emotions driving your responses. Your happiness depends on this, as your thoughts are what drive your emotions – even the painful ones. Your thoughts, and the underlying beliefs that drive them, automatically trigger emotions.
It is important that we understand that while events and some people’s actions may trigger unpleasant feelings and reactions, they do not cause them. The real activating agents are the thoughts that you tell yourself and most of what you tell yourself operates subconsciously from those beliefs you hold about yourself at any given time.
When you, rather than your emotions, are in charge of what you think, you are in charge of your own behaviours and you have more control over yourself and your life.
Awareness of Feelings:
Like our actions, you’d think it would be easy to know how you’re feeling—but many of us really don’t know until we eliminate our distractions.
Emotional awareness is the ability to recognise and make sense of not just your own emotions, but also those of others. ... High levels of emotional awareness means you can learn from your feelings quickly. For example, if you feel sad, you can reflect on why this is so, and make decisions that then help you.
Ways to Be More Aware of Your Emotions
1. Notice and name your emotions. Start by just noticing different emotions as you feel them.
2. Build your emotional vocabulary. How many emotions can you name? We teach children name it to tame it!
3. Think of related emotions that vary in intensity and how you respond to them.
4. We try and get children to put emotions together so that they can understand the triggering emotion. For example: anger may present as frustration, disappointment, mad, cross, annoyed etc.
5. Keep a feelings journal.
Once you become aware of what emotion is surfacing you will notice that some feelings you’ve probably been forcing down for a while—these could include anger, resentment, or perhaps shame.
Becoming aware of these emotions is important because it will allow you to question their cause and work towards a solution.
Mindfulness can help with this as it removes distractions and gives you time to identify an emotion, make a note of it, take a deep breath, and then move on. Next time you experience that feeling, you’ll understand why and it won’t affect you as deeply.
Awareness of Actions
It’s not enough to be self-aware. It’s the action that comes after the awareness that counts. We need to remember that being self- aware means we manage not only our actions but also our distractions. If we are aware of how we are feeling, responding and being triggered we can use this information to move forward.
Sometimes we may distract ourselves from the pain or dullness of our lives by engaging in mindless distractions or passive activities without any realisation of our actions. When you are self-aware, you may be hyper-aware of what you are doing but maybe not you are not in tune with how people interpret your actions. When we can see things from our own perspective and unable to see how we impact others we are not truly self -ware. A large part of being self- aware is being able to see how our words and actions impact on the people around us.
How can we increase self-awareness?
1. Pay attention to what bothers you about other people
I remember once puzzling over why I disliked a colleague recently. I became aware of these long-winded stories she told that rambled on and on and was hit with that moment of realisation that I do that! On reflection I realised that I disliked in her what I disliked about myself.
So, whenever someone does something that seems to particularly annoy or irritate you, ask yourself: Could this be a reflection of something in me that I dislike? Do I do some version of that?
One of the great things about meditation is that it helps you focus and takes you away from distractions. It’s the practice of keeping your attention focused on your breath or some other physical sensation. When you notice your mind wandering to other thoughts, gently returning your attention to your point of focus.
Meditation has been shown to be a great way to increase your level of self-awareness.
Specifically, meditation is one of the best ways to learn more about how your thoughts work. When you practice watching and observing your thoughts without attaching to them or thinking about them, you begin to realise that you are not your thoughts.
3. Accept uncomfortable feelings
None of us like to feel sad, anxious, ashamed, or any other kind of painful emotion. Which is understandable since they feel bad, sometimes painfully so. And while we all recoil from negative emotions, each of us tends to have one particular negative emotion that we especially dislike and try to avoid. My triggers are definitely feelings of shame and guilt. Being raised Catholic that was embedded in my belief system from an early age.
We all have certain emotions that we especially dislike, which means that we try very hard to avoid feeling that emotion. The problem is, being so afraid of an emotion that we’re willing to do just about anything to avoid but by avoiding the emotion, we’re avoiding listening to what the emotion has to say to us. Negative emotions are painful because our mind is trying to get our attention, sometimes for a very good reason.
Learning to tolerate uncomfortable emotions can give us insight about ourselves and teach us valuable life lessons if we’re willing to listen.
4. Identify cognitive distortions
Cognitive distortions are inaccurate thoughts and beliefs that warp how we see things, including ourselves. This thinking can become your default setting when responding to people and situations which means we miss the opportunity to see our own behaviour and self-correct. It is a major source of our lack of self-awareness and the inaccurate mental habits and self-talk that we develop. Once we start to identify the cognitive distortions that we hold we can choose to let go of them, rather than reinforcing them as is our habit. This helps us to start cultivating and strengthening a more rational and balanced perspective about ourselves. If we can learn to identify these patterns of inaccurate thinking, we can become more self-aware—and probably end up feeling better too.
5. Make time to think about what matters to you
I'm sure we all think there just isn’t enough time in our lives. We don't have time to see all our friends, ﬁnish all our work, and attend to the things we want to do. However, if we think about what really matters to us we can make time for it. It's too easy to go through our days, weeks and years without prioritising what really matters. Life is short- put the people and the things you love most first and the other stuff will work itself out. No-one every regrets the work they didn’t do but we will all regret not spending time with people we live.
If you want to have an insight into how you think maybe try an online personality test
And as always when helping children to become self-aware there are some great books out there that can guide your conversation with them.
And as always when helping children to become self aware there are some great books out there that can guide your conversation with them.