Training Your Mind: Self-Awareness
Self-awareness, a concept that mystics and philosophers have used for centuries, has recently become mainstream. Self-aware people are able to manage stress better, have higher emotional intelligence (EQ) and stronger, long lasting relationships. All this leads to a fulfilling and rewarding life. Fantastic! That’s exactly what everyone wants.
So, what is it?
What is Self-Awareness?
Most of us believe that we know ourselves pretty well. We know what we like, dislike, what our personality is like. I am an extrovert or introvert; I am personable; I am an outdoors person; I am ambitious; I support others etc. So, how is this different from self-awareness?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary self-awareness means “An awareness of one’s own personality or individuality.”; Cambridge Dictionary describes it as “Good knowledge and judgement about yourself.” On the surface this seems the same thing as what we already know about ourselves.
Self-awareness starts when we take this knowledge and continue to dig a little deeper. For example, being an extrovert or introvert is a broad categorization of personality. All extroverts don’t behave exactly the same way in all situations and neither do all introverts. Each of us have unique thought processes and beliefs that makes us who we are.
So, Self-Awareness is the journey of finding an answer to the age old question:
“Who Am I?”
The question sounds spiritual and heavy. We know the mystics have devoted their entire lives to find an answer to this question. So why would normal people like us even think about spending time on self-awareness?
Benefits of Self-Awareness
While the ultimate goal of self-awareness may seem like a pot of gold, the journey itself is very interesting with many benefits realized along the way. A 2012 study published in MIT Sloan Management Review found self-awareness to be a key in effective leadership. Another study published in Harvard Business Review, conducted in 2018 by Dr. Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist and a part of Thinkers50 thought leaders, suggests that as we become self-aware, we become more confident and creative, communicate effectively, build stronger relationships and become better leaders.
A few major benefits of self-awareness identified by several studies over the years are,
- Increased Confidence
- Enhanced Creativity
- Increased Emotional Intelligence
- Better Leadership
- Most importantly – The Ability to Build Resilient Relationships
Power of Self-Awareness
On this journey of training our minds to be self-aware, we continue to understand not just our broader personality traits, but we gain more granular awareness of our idiosyncrasies; our strengths and weaknesses. As we recognize and accept this knowledge without judgement, we gain clarity of thought.
As we continue to gain this clarity, we can identify ways to use our strengths in professional or personal lives. At the same time, as we continue to recognize our weaknesses without judgement, we can also decide to start working on those or just be aware of them.
The awareness itself is powerful!
In my journey of self-awareness, as I kept digging deeper into my behavior and decisions over the years, I found a trend. It pointed to my different behavior at work compared to my personal life. This awareness then led me to realize my fear of judgement from society. This fear of judgement had me compromise several of my beliefs as I went through life experiences. For example, I have always been a feminist and believer in female empowerment, but my fear of judgement from society kept me from voicing my opinions to my family, second guess my decisions, and modify my behavior to fit in. Once realizing this weakness, I chose to be kind to myself and accept it without judgement. To just be aware of it rather than trying to consciously fix myself.
Overtime, I started seeing an unconscious change in my behavior due to this awareness. Instead of focusing on perfection from myself, I started focusing on continuous improvement, becoming a version of myself that is more aligned with my core beliefs. At times, I still find myself worrying about social judgement, but now I can recognize this thought process quickly. This change in awareness helps me both consciously and unconsciously decide how I want to behave in that circumstance rather than my unconscious mind making decisions only based on fear.
Empathy and Respect
Another benefit of this awareness of our own weaknesses is, it makes us more open to accept the weaknesses of others. Not only does it make us more empathetic, but it makes us more respectful of others’ efforts to overcome their own weaknesses.
A close friend of mine has been battling depression for years. Mental illness is still considered a taboo in parts of society. Because of the fear of judgement from society, it took her a long time to accept her depression and seek treatment. Now armed with this awareness, she has made it a mission in her life to stay positive and be there for her family. A resolve she renews every day. My own awareness of my own weaknesses, made me realize how courageous my friend is; it made me see her as an inspiration rather than a “poor dear friend” battling with depression. A pivotal change in perspective!
As we become more self-aware, besides being more confident, empathetic and respectful, we also learn to become better listeners. We learn to listen to our body and our thoughts without judgement. We also learn to listen to others. As our listening improves, we are less inclined to judge and more inclined to be there for others. This shift in our approach helps improve our personal and professional relationships. It helps us understand others’ perspectives. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with those perspectives, but we can always learn from them. The willingness to listen and be open to understanding others’ perspectives helps us forge deeper bonds with people that are important to us. It could help us be better children to our parents, better parents to our children, and better friends. It could also help us be better leaders, better employees, and better employers.
As our listening improves so does our situational awareness. We begin to let ourselves see the larger impact of our individual actions on the world. For example, when the COVID-19 global pandemic started, my best friend/life partner and I started seeing the confusion and overwhelming stress around us. We started focusing on self-care more diligently and having video chats with friends and family. But we kept seeing the overwhelming stress around us due to the continued threat to health and the economy. Seeing so much distress compelled us to start this blog, sharing our experiences of training our minds for well being and sound financial strategies to build wealth.
Relationship with self
The most important benefit of the journey of training your mind to become self-aware is the change in relationship with self. As we continue on this journey and accept our findings without judgement, we continue to create space for ourselves to be. A space where we can be without judgement for ourselves or others. A beautiful space that continues to grow and keeps bringing us closer to the calm and happiness that we are looking for. The space where we start to understand “Who am I?”.
So, how do we get there?
How to increase self-awareness
Before we start looking at ways that would help us increase self-awareness, remember the importance of being non-judgemental and patient with yourself. Self-awareness is a journey of training our minds to find who we are. Even though your self-awareness increases slowly, you will see the difference. Be patient and stay non-judgemental.
1- Seek Feedback
Most of us who have worked in a corporate environment are familiar with performance reviews or 360 reviews. Seeking feedback is similar. Ask for feedback from the people you trust to give you truthful feedback and have your best interest at heart; people that can give you constructive feedback. We all have such people in our personal and professional worlds. Seek feedback from multiple people. If you see a pattern of feedback that you may not agree with but appears in feedback from multiple people, then don’t dismiss it. It is how people are perceiving you; there is nothing wrong with you, it’s just something to be aware of.
When reviewing the feedback, be aware that sometimes our mind could start going down the negative thought spiral. Remember this is not an exercise to find our faults. The most effective way of using the feedback is to look for a trend in the feedback. Once you start seeing trends in the feedback, it can help you decide whether those trends meet with your core values.
Remember seeking feedback is just one step of training your mind to be self-aware. It is knowledge that you may not have had before; knowledge that you can either choose to utilize or discard, depending on your core values, in your journey of becoming self-aware.
2 – Reflection Practice
Having a regular reflection practice is another great way of increasing your self-awareness. Here is the post with a step by step guide on starting your regular Reflection practice.
During your reflection practice, focus on the “what” questions more. The questions starting with “what” can help you identify trends in your behavior; things that make you upset or sad versus things that make you happy; people that drain your energy versus people that make you happy. For example, “What made you upset today?”, “What about that conversation made you upset?”, “What exactly happened during that conversation that made you upset?” etc.
Keep digging deeper with “what” questions, because most times our mind tries to give us obvious answers that are not the real causes. Once you are satisfied that you have identified a real “what”, start delving into “why”.
Remember this is not a journey of fixing ourselves; it is a journey of increasing our self-awareness; our understanding of “Who am I?”. The awareness itself is power.
3 – Meditation
Regular meditation practice is one of the most effective tools to increase self-awareness. Meditation combined with regular Reflection practice and occasional feedback would help you not only with self-awareness but also with cultivating patience.
Regular meditation practice trains our minds to be quiet, to create space where we can “Just Be”; a space without judgement, without want. As Nisargadatta Maharaj said in his teachings in the book I Am That,
Meditation helps quiet the mind. When the mind is quiet, we come to know ourselves as the pure witness. We withdraw from the experience and its experiencer and stand apart in pure awareness.Nisargadatta Maharaj
These moments of awareness bring us closer to finding out “Who am I?”.