The concept of ‘self-awareness’ can get a bad rap these days, often prompting a few eye-rolls or misattribution to the ‘woo-woo’ camp of hipsters or hippies…but, in reality: it’s as old as time – with its roots in all the major religions, and a fair few Greek and Roman philosophers thrown in for good measure, ‘know thyself’ – being but one. Fast forward a few thousand years into the 1970s and a few pivotal theories started to emerge in psychology: that when we focus attention on ourselves, we evaluate and compare our current behaviour to our internal standards and values (more on that later).
Broadly then, self-awareness then becomes how we consciously know and understand our own feelings, desires, character, and motives. Sounds (almost) easy doesn’t it? I don’t pretend to have this licked myself, but I do recognise that the greater our understanding of what makes us tick and experience ourselves as unique individuals: the greater our ability to relate to another, and perhaps have healthier communications with our loved ones along the way.
Oddly, we all have moments where we know that not saying something massively outweighs the saying so and yet we do it anyway to our detriment. What drives that? At the extreme end of the spectrum: self-sabotaging behaviour can ruin a relationship or curb a career progression; knowing what that motivator is, especially if it be a recurring pattern, can save a lot of heartache.
In my work: I often find that people overestimate their level of self-awareness when a particular event is recounted; if we sometimes struggle to discern our own motives perhaps, we should reserve judgement on another’s, and give that person the benefit of the doubt. A little homework I occasionally give to clients is the ‘strength list’: on one sheet the client writes their own list of ‘strengths and weaknesses’ and then asks, from a very trusted friend or manager, to do the same for them from their vantage point. The gaps are often revealing to the client. One could progress this into other areas such as character or personality traits, but that is not for the fainthearted and only very close ones can be entrusted with such a thing, and perhaps even then I’d suggest to wear a crash helmet or prepare for fireworks!