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How to be Self-Aware

Sorry to Break it to You, But You're Not as Self-Aware as You Think

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Raise your hand if you think you're self-aware! Chances are, like me, you do. How else would you have gotten so far in life, right? Well, while most of us already likely do possess some level of self-awareness, according to organisational psychologist and researcher Dr. Tasha Eurich, only 10 to 15 percent of us truly are.

Only 10 to 15 percent?! Yeah, that was my reaction too. Because for all the time we spend on finding, knowing and caring for ourselves, surely we'd be better off for it? Not quite. "There are so many factors that work against us," Dr. Eurich says, on why so many of us seem to be living in a false state of self-awareness. One of which is the way human beings are wired. "We have a lot of trouble seeing and appreciating all our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. That doesn't make us bad people or inherently delusional, it just means that we have to work a little harder to see those things clearly."

The second influence spans worldwide: the cult of self. According to Dr. Eurich, "It's a false sense of awesomeness, that's the sort of the world we live in. Why become great when you can just think you're great and not do the work that it takes?"

Clearly, we all need some help in this regard. And since self-awareness is a trait so crucial to career, relationship and all-round life success in general, we decided to get to the bottom of what it really means.

What does self-awareness really mean?

Based on extensive research, Dr. Eurich defines self-awareness as comprising of two independent types of self-knowledge. "The first type of self-knowledge is what I call internal self-awareness. This refers to clearly understanding what we value, what we're interested in, what our personality is, what our strength and weaknesses are — seeing ourselves clearly from our own vantage point," she says. "The second type is external self-awareness, which is knowing how other people see us on all of those same factors." True self-awareness comes from having both types of knowledge.

What do all self-aware people have in common?

According to Dr. Eurich, self-acceptance is a defining trait amongst those who are self-aware. "Whoever I discover I am, I accept that person and realise that I can make a choice to change certain things," she says. "But even if I don't, I have to figure out a way to respect and appreciate the person I learn that I am."

OK, so how can I work on my self-awareness?

The first step anyone can take to become more self-aware is to stop assuming you are in the first place, regardless of what others have told you. "In doing this, it frees us up to examine our assumptions about ourselves and get feedback from other people that challenges our perceptions, or even just paying a little more attention to who we are and how we're showing up," Dr. Eurich says. She adds that self-aware people always work the hardest on seeing themselves clearly, even though they're the ones leading the pack.

Her second piece of advice is to ask for feedback. Seemingly simple, but easier said than done. "The step that most of us don't take in that respect is we don't ask," Dr. Eurich says. "It feels great in the short term, but in the long run, it's actually hurting our health, happiness and success." To that end, she advises to find a "loving critic" — someone who you trust completely and know will be honest with you — and ask them questions you wouldn't usually ask.

"Ask questions like, what do I do that's helping me be successful? What do I do that's helping me be a good friend or family member?" Dr. Eurich says. "And then on the flip side, what am I doing where I'm getting in my own way? What am I doing that's most annoying to you that maybe you've never told me?"

Can you ever be too self-aware?

In short, no (see: self-acceptance), but Dr. Eurich says it's important to realise when our introspection veers into overthinking or self-consciousness. Where self-awareness is an intuitive understanding to see ourselves clearly and know who we are, self-consciousness usually involves a negative judgement.

"I would suggest that people not let themselves get sucked into spending too much time and energy trying to figure out why they are the way they are, or why they behaved a certain way, and really start looking at the patterns," she advises. "What are my consistent ways of behaving over time, and what does that tell me? Or even just looking at their current state of beings: feelings, actions, the impact they're having on others."

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Diggy Lloyd
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