Self-Awareness: What It Is and Why It’s So Important

CoachHub · 31 October 2022 · 6 min read

An individual with self awareness has a practice of internally observing their thoughts and emotions. They understand the triggers and roots of their patterns of thinking and feeling. They have clarity regarding their beliefs, values and needs. They know how they are received in the world and are aware of what aspects of their character still need to be developed.

What is self-awareness?

Self-awareness is the practice of observing and questioning oneself in order to form an understanding of who you are and where you need to grow.

Self-awareness is both a skill and a practice. It is an ability to know oneself and a commitment to deepening your understanding of your internal world as well as your external self.

A recent study found two broad categories of self-awareness:

1. Internal or private self-awareness

This category refers to the level of awareness we have over our internal mechanisms. Internal self-awareness is how clearly we understand our internal experiences such as thoughts, emotions, belief systems, values and needs. With heightened awareness of our internal world, we have greater emotional regulation and can better manage triggering situations and environments.

2. External or public self-awareness

The second category refers to the external self and how clearly we understand how other people view us. When we have a clear picture of who we are to those around us we have a greater sense of empathy and can create stronger relationships. This is particularly important for those in leadership, “leaders who see themselves as their employees do, tend to have a better relationship with them, feel more satisfied with them, and see them as more effective in general”.

self awareness

Benefits of self-awareness

Self-awareness is an important component of one’s growth and development. We must know ourselves internally in order to know how to operate externally. We must also know how we are being experienced externally in order to know where our strengths and weaknesses lie. Working on our self-awareness has been proven to have significant benefits both personally and professionally:

  • Improve self-acceptance
  • Increase self-confidence
  • Become more proactive
  • Reduce stress in social interactions
  • Improve overall well-being and mental health
  • Greater job-related satisfaction
  • Stronger appreciation of diversity
  • Better communication with colleagues

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Lack of self-awareness

Having poor awareness of yourself can significantly damage your well-being, relationships and professional life.

  • A poor internal state: Without an awareness of your thoughts and feelings you will become lost in them and be unable to control your reactions. You will believe every thought and act on every emotion, leading to the formation of destructive behavioral patterns and poor mental health.
  • Conflict in relationships: A lack of self-awareness presents itself in relationships as a lack of empathy, compassion and insensitivity to the needs of others. You may be engaging in selfish or hurtful behaviors that you are unable to see and as a result, conflict arises and others have a poor impression of you.
  • Hinders professional life: A healthy work-life is hard to have without a high level of self-awareness. Cooperation, consideration and teamwork are negatively impacted when someone is unaware of their behaviors. Those in leadership positions are particularly affected by a lack of self-awareness as they allow their title to skew their perspective and may become overconfident, unable to assess their leadership effectiveness and overvalue their skills. Analysis shows that leaders who ask for feedback improve their self-awareness and overall leadership skills.

How to become self-aware?

Knowing whether or not you are self-aware can be a challenge. A recent study found that the majority of people believe they are self-aware, but only 10%—15% actually fit the criteria. No matter your level of self-awareness there are many things you can do to heighten your understanding of both your internal and external self.

1. Intention

Begin with setting a clear intention to become more self-aware. Understand what this means to you. Take some time to research self-awareness and familiarise yourself with the practices. Form your own individual understanding of the concept and visualize what being more self-aware would bring into your life specifically. Make the decision to integrate this practice into your life and commit to giving it the time it needs.

2. Practice

The next step is to develop self-awareness practices that will improve your self-awareness. Try a few different methods and chose what feels best for you. Find practices you enjoy that you will be able to commit to on a daily basis. Establishing a mindfulness practice is an excellent way to improve self-awareness:

Mindfulness has been defined as “a form of attention that is purposeful, non-reactive, non-judgmental, and in the present moment” by mindfulness expert John Kabat-Zinn. It is a practice of continuously taking your awareness back from the mind and placing it in the present moment. This practice strengthens your awareness and weakens the influence of the mind. With regular practice, you learn to watch your thoughts without believing them. You separate yourself from your thoughts and can choose not to engage with disempowering mental patterns. With stronger awareness of the mind, you have a better awareness of yourself and better emotional regulation. You now have the ability to watch your automatic patterns and remove yourself from them.

3. Observation

Observation of your internal world and external self is a vital aspect of self-awareness. Set the intention to simply observe yourself in as many situations as you can. Objectively observe your thoughts and emotions. Be a detached witness of yourself in social situations. Being objective and remaining detached means refraining from judging, resisting or criticizing yourself for what you see. With heightened awareness, you will see things that used to pass you by and you may not like what you see. It is vital to be self-compassionate and accept where you are in the process. Hold the light of your awareness for as long as you can over both your internal and external experiences, judging none of it. You are watching to improve, not to criticize. Writer Mark Manson says “self-awareness is wasted if it does not result in self-acceptance”.

4. Reflection

Make reflection a part of your daily life. Revisit your day and ask yourself what you are proud of and what you want to improve. With reflection, you can process your experiences, identify patterns and highlight areas to improve. Establishing a journaling habit is an excellent tool to reflection and can improve your awareness of both your internal and external behaviors. Writing down your reflections will help you to organize your thoughts and provide clarity on ways to improve.

5. Get external help

Working with a coach or even a trustworthy friend can greatly enhance your self-awareness. Gaining more awareness involves going deep into your subconscious thoughts, emotions and patterns. Research has shown that we are not great at objectively evaluating why we are the way we are and often we “invent answers that feel true but are often wrong”. A coach can be an excellent source of clarity and direction when we are struggling to gain a deeper understanding of our patterns and behaviors.

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In conclusion

Becoming more self-aware can be an enjoyable process. As you learn more about yourself you can see clearly what is not serving you, and you can leave it behind. Increasing your self-awareness brings you into closer alignment with your authentic self. It is a liberating and enriching process, so long as you keep it light and practice non-judgment and self-compassion. Working with a coach can help speed up the process and help you to avoid many of the pitfalls and roadblocks involved. With professional guidance, you can dive into the subconscious and bring disempowering patterns to light and eventually, leave them behind.

Cathy Stapleton
Cathy is an Irish writer based in Berlin, Germany who is passionate about using words to inspire growth. As a certified mindfulness facilitator and performance coach, Cathy aims to create work that helps people connect with themselves and heighten their awareness. When she is not writing she is usually running in nature, meditating or contemplating an existential crisis.

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