For nearly a full term of nursery last year, Zoë brought a soft toy with her every day. Sometimes she left it in the car, and sometimes she brought it inside and put it into her little tray, but she would never leave the house without one. I was a little bit irritated by this, because thought it was just her just being stubborn and wanting to continue play. I never thought to ask her why she wanted to bring it.
But all of a sudden one morning, she announced, ‘I don’t need to bring a toy this time, because I don’t feel nervous or anxious today about going to school.’
I was amazed at the ability she had, aged four, to recognise those complex emotions going on within her!
What Zoë demonstrated that day (much more so than her mum!) was self-awareness.
It’s not often considered to be one of life’s superpowers. But you can’t be a good spouse, friend, employee, team player or leader without it. Leadership coach Reggie McNeal says it is the most valuable skill in a leader’s toolkit. Marriages can’t thrive in its absence. Friendships blossom in its abundance.
So what is it, and how do you get – or should I say – grow it?
What is it?
Self-awareness is the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively through intentional reflection. Essentially, it’s an honest understanding of yourself.
Apparently there are around 7,809,380,000 people living on planet Earth today. I wonder how many of those people have a fully rounded picture of who they really are; what truly motivates them; what triggers them; and and what makes them tick?
The answer is, probably not that many. Human nature often drives us either towards self-deprecation or elevation. In other words, we have a tendency either to be too hard on ourselves or too full of ourselves. As Vironika Tugaleva puts it, ‘To know yourself, you must sacrifice the illusion that you already do.”
A self-aware person understands their strengths and weaknesses, and doesn’t think of themselves either too highly or too critically as a result. They always know how they are feeling and the potential their emotions have to impact those around them.
Are you always in touch with how you’re feeling and how you’re affecting others? I know I’m not. But the good news is that when we make a decision to evaluate ourselves honestly, we place ourselves in a position to grow and ultimately succeed.
“To know yourself, you must sacrifice the illusion that you already do.”Vironika Tugaleva
How do I get (or grow) it?
Here are five useful tips for becoming more self-aware:
1. Take personality tests
Anyone who knows me also knows I’m a tad obsessed with these, but really they are so useful for growing in self-knowledge. Think about it, they are essentially ready made lists of perceptive questions to ask yourself. And just in case you’re concerned about being ‘put into a box,’ this is less about ‘boxing you in’ than increasing in insight!
The Enneagram, KLLP Life Languages, Strength-Finder and Myers-Briggs are some of the most insightful ones out there. Tip: have someone who knows you well do it with you; they can keep you right on some of your blind spots!
2. Ask your friends
Ask the people who know you best what your strengths and weaknesses are.
Ask them what they think bothers you most and energises you most! It’s an interesting exercise and will most likely encourage you as well as challenge you.
You might even discover some gifts and talents you didn’t know you had yet!
3. Invite feedback
One of the things I love about my work superiors is that they welcome, invite and even celebrate feedback. ‘How could we have done this better?’ And ‘question everything’ are phrases I hear from them a lot. That cultivates a team that is aware of individual and collective strengths and weaknesses, and thus able to grow in all directions! Feedback that is both encouraging and challenging is needed to develop strengths and identify blind spots in our character.
4. Ask the ‘why?’ questions
I find it really difficult to say ‘no.’ Majorly difficult. Always have, and probably always will to some degree. When I say ‘no’ to something, I always feel like I have to have a good justification for it.
For years, I thought I had a hard time with saying ‘no’ because I felt I should always be available to help people. But I’ve dug a bit deeper recently, and after asking the right ‘why?’ questions, I’ve realised that the main reason I struggle to say ‘no’ to people because I don’t want them to feel I don’t care about them or what they need.
Why is this important? Because a core question for my personality type in every relationship is, ‘Do you really care?’ Once I understood I was inherently wired to respond to needs in front of me, then I could still express my care to the person, while maintaining the necessary boundary of time or energy.
5. Get in touch with your feelings
‘Yuck,’ some of you are already thinking! ‘I don’t like that mushy stuff.’ Fact is, we all experience strong emotions, yet we rarely think about why those emotions are so strong.
Even if you are a very logically minded person, you may be more ruled by your feelings than you care to admit. 95% of stock market traders lose money because they can’t help but trade with their emotions. Emotions rule much of what we do.
When I know what triggers strong emotions in me, I’m empowered to respond in a wiser way. For instance, it’s a very trivial example, but when I don’t eat at regular intervals, I begin to feel the epitome of ‘hangry’. I morph into a very irritable and short-tempered person, literally. So now that I know that, I make sure I don’t leave it too long between meals! Practical, but powerful all the same.
So it seems that self-awareness is a bit of a superpower. But even though it took Clark Kent a while to discover the true extent of his identity and abilities, he still became superman eventually! And it’s the same with us. When we discover the depths of what’s in us – the great, the good, the bad and the ugly – we’ll hone the superpower of self awareness and supercharge our path to success.