Although self-awareness has always been an intriguing enquiry from as far back as the Ancient Greek aphorism ‘Know thyself’, it has recently become the newest buzz word personal development and rightly so. As Tasha Eurich in her New York Times Bestseller, ‘Insight’, shares there is strong scientific research that self-aware people are happier, make smarter decisions, have better relationships and make more effective leaders.
So what is self-awareness?
Internationally acclaimed psychologist, Daniel Goleman, explains that self-awareness is the corner stone of emotional intelligence and is the ability to know one’s internal states, preference, resources and intuitions. However, as easy as it sounds the problem is that being truly self-aware, knowing thyself fully, is not that simple. There are three main barriers that can stop us being completely self-aware:
Firstly, our own bias
Many of us can feel uncomfortable with being conscious about our areas for development. In our highly narcissistic and comparative culture it can feel counterintuitive to ask for help or admit mistakes, for fear of being judged poorly or seen as weak. We want others to see the best version of ourselves, which can mean we consciously or unconsciously end up hiding our faults. We are notoriously bad at judging our own characters. Tasha Eurichreported 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 – yet realistically she identifies that about 10-15% of us really are. You are probably very familiar with this, your life is probably full of friends and colleagues who don’t have any awareness of how others perceive them. However, the real point here is whether that is also true of you? It is tricky to know ourselves fully when we have so many cognitive biases. Just because it isn’t easy doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consciously work on becoming more self-aware. It can be an uncomfortable process to develop self-awareness as we need to shed light on those faults we have been so good at hiding, not only to others but to ourselves also.
Secondly, feedback avoidance
Self-awareness is more than just understanding our personality traits, values, attitudes, behaviours, habits and everything else that makes us tick. An equally, if not more valuable, aspect is being aware of how in sync our self-view is when compared to external perspectives, how others see us. The humerous part is with no external data, the results of self-knowledge assessments are presumed to be accurate, when instead they may reinforce the inaccurate perceptions of ourselves. The result is that no external feedback can be harmful to both our development and performance. The table below shows findings of a study by Rubin, Erich and Dierdorff which clearly demonstrates the relationship between accurate self-awareness and team effectiveness. When individuals were less self-aware (i.e., there was a large gap between the assessments of their own behavioural contributions and the assessments of their team members), the teams substantially suffered. In fact, teams with less self-aware individuals made worse decisions, engaged in less coordination, and showed less conflict management. Correctly understanding our own self-knowledge relative to others perspectives is therefore essential in transforming introspection from just naval gazing into more accurate self-awareness, leading us to greater success. Feedback from others can be an experience we would rather avoid, however, it is a key principal of self-awareness.
Finally, taking action
You can read every self-development tip, you can listen other’s feedback and take every personality profile available, but it will be pointless if you don’t put your learning into practice. This is always one of the hardest steps to take, change requires us to step out from our comfort zones, take risks and try things differently. When we are truly self-aware it enables us to take the knowledge we have and that others have given us and apply it into practice, to develop both personally and professionally. To be better. Sometimes these changes in our thinking, emotions and behaviours won’t always go to plan, but the self-aware person will be able to admit these mistakes and move on from them, honestly evaluating themselves and reforming their actions accordingly.
If you are able to master these barriers you can develop a strong self-awareness. Ultimately having clarity about who you are and what you want can be empowering, giving you the confidence to make positive changes. Self-awareness is a necessary basis for strong relationships, creating the ability to be happier and feel more fulfilled. In addition, self-aware people tend to act consciously rather than reacting in autopilot, they make better more informed choices. As someone who is on the self-awareness journey I can tell you it is well worth the effort. In our next blog we will share some strategies that can help you develop a greater self-awareness and lead a better life.
‘Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom’ Lao Tzu