Self-awareness is the foundation of all other personal competency articles on this website. I will try to explain it in simple terms, but don’t be fooled about the importance and the complexity of the subject. If you are a book person, I have introduced some references you may find interesting and helpful at the end of the article.
You were there before I happened, perhaps you’ll find the solution.
In the best case scenario -if the scenario is in fact a fairytale-, everyone gets along all the time. How? They simply happen to feel and think the same. Well, this is not the real world, is it? Until the day it becomes true, let’s explore some other possibilities.
In the real world, where people are allowed to be different and in fact have the freedom to show it (or not), individuals tend to differ from each other in two main aspects. Every person feels and thinks about a subject differently from another. Now this gap may be as small as fissure or as big as the Grand Canyon. And to make it more complicated, it doesn’t matter if you are related by blood or not. There is good news in the last statement: people may be complete strangers, but have a lot in common.
How did it happen?
The reason why you might have more conflicts with your friends or parents than with your colleague has to do with these two main aspects. Your emotions and thoughts are specific to you. Although some of our thoughts and beliefs may overlap due to their influence during our upbringing, emotions still may be far from similar. That is where conflicts rise. The same is true about our work relationships. No matter how much people have in common, they might feel differently about an issue, and then comes the battle of persuasion, in the most civilized script, or the silent war of coercion. Happy birthday conflict! But there is also a third option where there is no battle. It is true! I will save the best for last
While it may seem amusing to think about it in this manner, it ceases to be so in the real situation. But before we get to the conflict and the series of negotiations to resolve the issue, first we need to deal with something that caused at least %50 of the problem: us. There are many scenarios from this point on without even counting in the other person(s) or the conflict. I will explain why it matters to be self-aware.
The good news is we can sometimes single-handedly manage a conflict without doing anything out there. As the %50 person of the participant in a relationship, we can manage half of it through self-management. However, first we need to be aware of the self within us. Just as we try to pay attention to others, be good listeners, and get to know them better, we have to do the same for ourselves. This should and cannot happen exactly when a problem rises. Self-awareness is a constant practice.
Self-awareness is seeing yourself from afar, not affected by the emotions and thoughts you may have.
It is important to know that self-awareness is a precursor to self-management. Without truly knowing and understanding yourself, you will be only hushing yourself and calling it self-management, and this can lead to much more conflicts. This may seem weird, but you can get to know yourself just as you would others. How? You should pay attention to how you feel and listen to your thoughts. That’s right! This means no judgment and no shushing yourself. It can be hard at first, especially if you have been living in a controlling environment. It takes time to unlearn those behaviors, but it is not impossible.
What you need to do to practice self-awareness is to ask two questions in every situation, even when there is no conflict or even a person around. From time to time, ask yourself:
– What emotions am I experiencing right now? (name them) why am I feeling this way? (find the reason)
– What are my thoughts right now? Do they come from my beliefs or are they affected by others?
This can be confusing in the beginning since you are not used to it. You may completely forget to do so for some time because it hasn’t become a habit yet. And you may feel annoyed because this interrupts your main activities or thoughts. It is okay to experience either of these three situations, but I promise you will begin to get used to being mindful after a while, and things will become much easier.
You will be mindful, present, and still managing to do your activities and think your thoughts. It will feel like you are two people. You will be the one who thinks and feels, and the person who sees the one thinking and feeling. That is the point. Self-awareness is seeing yourself from afar, not affected by any emotions and thoughts. It helps you make better decisions and change your life through self-improvement. You may call it a smart self-evaluation.
Remember! Awareness improves through practice and repetition. Make practice familiar.
Understand your emotions without judgment
Have you ever been in a situation where everything is running beautifully and suddenly someone goes completely mad – I mean very very very angry – in less than 5 seconds? Or to make it more personal, have you ever felt you needed to object to something and defend your point of view, but suddenly felt that you shouldn’t? These are examples of suppression. As you become more aware of your emotions, you become stronger in defending and expressing them, and even stronger in letting things go without bursting into flames later.
What is important is to let yourself feel your emotions as they rise without suppressing them. If you feel sad, do not try to deny it or pretend to be happy. If you feel angry, there is no reason to feel guilty. Just like you would for a friend, acknowledge how they feel and let it flow. This will be the first steps towards self-acceptance. And through practicing self-acceptance, you give yourself the right to feel and try to find the reason behind that.
Explore your thoughts and belief system
As for your thoughts, the process is almost the same. However, since thoughts are affected by our beliefs and our beliefs are affected by the environment, it is important to explore and find the roots. Understanding thoughts and beliefs may take more time, because you may not instantly remember why you think the way you do. Sometimes you may realize that your actions are completely the opposite of your belief system, or you do not even like having certain beliefs but find it hard to change.
At this point you need to dig deeper, but not in a way that consumes you. Life should go on with you trying to improve day by day. This is the essence of self-awareness. It is not an epiphany, rather a process. Repetition of self-reflection helps creating the bigger picture: the self as it is. The more aware you become of your thoughts and underlying beliefs, the clearer the picture and your realization. What used to be an instant reaction gradually becomes a thoughtful respond. This helps you regulate your emotions without having to suppress them.
This, believe it or not, was only the introduction. From here, we build blocks while digging deep into the underlying structure that shape the self. Of course it is not as difficult as it sounds. And it is more fun.
Further Reading Suggestions
What I have explained in short in this post –short in compare to the sources I have used to learn more about the subject- has been discussed in detail in many self-help, spiritual, self-management and psychology books. Eckhart Tolle explained self-awareness from a spiritual point of view in his books The Power of the Now and A New Earth. If you are a spiritual person and if you find the books easy to understand, by all means start reading.
However, if you are skeptical or not interested in spiritual books that need lots of contemplation – this whole posts need contemplation as I see it -, then let me tell you about a book that has exercises and makes it easier to practice. Debbie Ford’s The Dark Side of the Light Chasers explores the self in a simple but systematic way. It even helps you find those aspects of yourselves that you have tried to hush in yourself and censor outside. There are exercises to facilitate the process.
If you are not fond of these kinds of books and still like to read on the subject, I suggest Morgan Paul’s Managing Yourself: Coach Yourself to Optimum Emotional Intelligence, and NLP by Javid Samoudi. If you are looking for more challenging psychology books, by all means refer to A primer on Jungian Psychology by Vernon Nordby and my personal favorite author, Carl Jung’s Undiscovered Self. You may also dive into Jonathan Marshal’s Understanding Motivation and Emotion. I think that is enough for now, of a couple of months if you decide to read them. If you don’t, no worries, I am going to post about them in the website. Everything I know comes from the books and articles. Of course, lots of inspiring people have also helped me through my self-awareness process. Now I am trying to help others to the best of my abilities.