How to Be More Self-Aware and Why It Matters

Friday, May 4, 2018
Fatou Darboe

You are self-aware if you have a clear perception of your personality, strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, thoughts, motivations and emotions. Self-awareness also means that you are able to understand other people, how they perceive you, and your attitude and response to them in a given moment.

Does that sound like you?

If not, don’t worry. This post will provide you with everything you need to know about self-awareness and how you can hone this critical life skill.

More About Self Awareness

From Aphorism (Greek for “know thyself”) to modern day psychology, self-awareness is a topic that has been studied extensively in philosophy and psychology in the last century.

The psychological study of self-awareness began around 1972, when Shelly Duval and Robert Wicklund advanced the theory as we know it today.

They started off with the proposal that when we focus our attention on ourselves, we assess and associate our present behavior to our inner principles and beliefs. We become self-conscious as impartial judges of ourselves.

In other words, self-awareness is a key mechanism of self-control.

A more mainstream definition of self-awareness came from psychologist Daniel Coleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence. He defined it as “knowing one’s internal states, preference, resources and intuitions.”

Coleman’s definition highlights the ability to observe our inner world; and our thoughts and emotions as they arise.

As we are more aware of what is happening in our inner world – inside ourselves – we also acknowledge and accept what is happening as an inevitable part of being human. We are non-judgmental of ourselves.

Image credit: Harvard Business Review

However, self-awareness is more than just hoarding knowledge about ourselves. It is also about paying close attention to our inner selves with an open heart and a beginner’s mentality.

On the other hand, our minds are good at storing information about how we react to a particular event, in order to form a blueprint of our emotional lives.

Such information usually ends up conditioning our minds to react in a specific way when we encounter a similar even in the future.

Self-awareness is what makes us conscious of that conditioning and sets the foundation of releasing our minds from it.

To further complicate things, according to Tasha Eurich, organizational psychologist, author and principal of The Eurich Group, there are two types of self-awareness.

Internal and External Self-Awareness

Self-awareness can be broken up into two forms: internal self-awareness (how clearly we understand our own values, emotions, reactions, passions, etc., and our impact on others) and external self-awareness (understanding how people see us).

Internal self-awareness is tied to higher job and relationship satisfaction; personal and social control; and happiness. It is negatively associated with anxiety, stress and depression.

While external self-awareness is tied to empathy and employing other people’s perspectives. In leadership, seeing oneself as employees do could help to build better relationships with them and to be more satisfied with their performance.

It is important to note that scoring high on one type of awareness does not necessarily mean that you score high on the other. There is in fact no relationship between the two, according to Eurich.

There are actually four leadership archetypes, take a look:

Image credit: Harvard Business Review

Why Self Awareness Matters

Back to Coleman. According to him, self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. The ability to monitor our emotions and thoughts, moment by moment, is key to understanding ourselves better, and to be at peace with who we are.

It gives us more control over our thoughts, emotions and behaviors.

Indeed, as you develop self-awareness, you are able to make changes in the thoughts and interpretations you make in your mind. Changing certain preconceptions or interpretations of the mind enables us to change our emotions.

Hence, self-awareness is one of the key traits of emotional intelligence and an essential factor in achieving success.

Additionally, people who are self-aware act consciously as opposed to reacting passively. They are also in good psychological health and are generally more positive in life. They also, usually, have more meaningful life experiences and are more likely to be compassionate to themselves and others.

Furthermore, research shows that self-awareness is an important trait of successful business leaders. A study by Cornell University looked at 72 executives at 31 private and public companies and found that a high self-awareness score was the best forecast of overall success.

In fact, self-awareness is a key trait to good leadership

Self-Awareness in Leadership

You can become a better leader once you are able to answer the question of “what is self-awareness?”

It gives you a critical base for having a strong character and being able to lead with authenticity, purpose and trust.

It elucidates both your successes and your failures; and at the same time, gives you a clear understanding of who you are and what you need most from other people in order to have a successful team.

It also gives you the opportunity to pinpoint any gaps you may have in your management skills while illuminating the areas in which you are effective and which areas you need to improve in.

A keen understanding of those things can help leaders to make better decisions and increase their effectiveness in motivating their employees.

Having both types of awareness (that Eurich refers to) is important for leaders. They must be able to see themselves clearly and also understand how others see them. The most highly self-aware people have a balance between internal and external self-awareness.

As you may have guessed, self-awareness is also critical when it comes to your personal relationships.

Self-Awareness in Your Relationships

Emotional turmoil is what hurts a lot of relationships – both at work and in your personal life.

When you change the interpretation of your thoughts, you can change your emotions and alter the emotional quality of your relationships. And when you change the emotions in your relationships, you then open up new possibilities in your life.

That is simply because having a clear understanding of your thoughts and behavior patterns can help you understand other people. And that will increase your ability to empathize, which consequently facilitates better personal and professional relationships.

So, if self-awareness is so important, why are we not more self-aware?

It is Not Easy to Master Self-Awareness

The best answer is that it is not so easy for use to observe ourselves: we are not present enough to pay attention to what is going on within and around us.

It has been suggested that we operate on auto-pilot about 50 percent of the time or that we are unconscious of what we are doing and how we feel because our minds wander to other places instead of the here and now.

In addition to our wandering minds, we hold some cognitive biases that hinder our ability to have a more truthful understanding of ourselves.

An example of this is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias can fool us into looking for or interpreting information in a way that confirms our preconceptions.

Additionally, unwillingness to seek feedback could hurt us if we want a fuller view of ourselves through the eyes of others.

So how can you get into the right state of mind to easily hone self-awareness?

Have you ever been in a car accident? If so, go back to the experience of feeling everything happening in slow motion and pay attention to your thought process and how everything turned out. In that experience, you were in a state of heightened awareness.

With enough practice, you can learn to engage those types of heightened states and find new ways to interpret your thoughts and emotions. That awareness also creates an avenue for you to have changes in your behaviors and beliefs.

It is seen by some as the first step in creating the life you want and having control over it. That is because where you focus your attention, reactions, emotions, behavior and personality determine where you go in life.

Having self-awareness enables you to see where your thoughts, actions and emotions are taking you. It also enables you to take control of your thoughts, actions and emotions to make the changes you want.

Until you are fully aware of your thoughts, words, emotions and actions in the moment, you will encounter many obstacles in changing the direction of your life.

Before we give you tips on how to increase your self-awareness, we have to highlight that self-awareness is honed through practices in directing your attention to the details of your personality and behavior. You cannot hone it by reading an article or post on the topic.

When you read a book or article, like this one, you are focusing on the concepts that we are talking about – you are not paying attention to your emotions, personality or behavior.

Perhaps it would be better to think of it this way: learning to be more self-aware is like learning to dance.

In dance lessons, you have to pay attention to how and where your feet move, your body and hand motions, the music, the beat, the floor space and other dancers. You cannot learn how to dance from a book and neither can you learn self-awareness from an article.

Just as a dancer needs to be aware of their body movements, self-awareness is what you develop when you pay close attention to your expressions of thought, behavior and emotions.

So with that knowledge, we will provide you with techniques in this article to heighten your self-awareness. And you will know when your self-awareness has been heightened as you will instinctively see aspects of your personality and behavior that you didn’t notice before.

If you react in anger or frustration, you will notice the thoughts and small triggers that build up towards those emotions. You will also see moments when you can change the interpretations in your mind or disbelief your thoughts.

In that heightened level of awareness, you instinctively make better choices in your thought process just in time to prevent an emotional reaction or destructive behavior.

Let’s get started.

How to Be More Self Aware

Try to See Yourself Objectively

Trying to see yourself as you truly are is no easy task. But if you make a valiant effort, getting to know your true self can be quite rewarding.

When you see yourself objectively, you can learn to better accept yourself and seek ways for you to develop as a person.

Image credit: Lifehacker

We know, easier said than done. To make it easier in practice, try the following:

  • Identify your current understanding of yourself by writing out your perceptions. That may include the things you think you are good at or what you need to improve.

  • Think about things you are proud of or your major accomplishments in life.

  • Refer back to your childhood. What made you happy back then? What has changed and what has stayed the same? Why did things change?

  • Ask family and close friends for their honest opinions. Ask them how they feel about you and take everything they say to heart.

That exercise will give you a fresh perspective of yourself and the life you are living.


Your journal is your place to write down anything and everything you want, even if it is not related to your goals and dreams. Recording your thoughts on paper helps you to release your mind from those thoughts, ideas or feelings; and clears it up to make room for new ideas and information.

You should make time, every night, to write your thoughts and feelings, successes and failures of the day, in your journal. That will help you grow and push toward your goals and achievements.

As you reflect, spend some time thinking about yourself as a leader and how people working under you are likely to view you. Also think about what you do to help others and if you could possibly do more.

What are your values and what is most important to you at the moment?

Those self-reflection questions will give you a better idea of who you are and what you want out of your life right now.

What are Your Goals, Plans and Priorities?

Write them down. In fact, plan out your goals in a spreadsheet so that you can turn them from ideas into a step-by-step process. You can break down your larger goals into smaller ones so it doesn’t overwhelm you.

Next, tackle them head on.

Image credit: Lifehacker

Reflect Daily

As you’ve probably gathered so far, you need to do a lot self-reflection in order to have self-awareness. That means that you need to set some time aside, hopefully daily, to honestly look at yourself as a person and as a leader. It needs to be something you commit to, every day.

We understand: in a demanding business world, daily self-reflection isn’t easy. There is always pressure to do more or less, especially with digital distractions everywhere.

Since it takes time to self-reflect, start by setting aside at least 15 minutes each day. You can use your journal to write down your thoughts. It also helps to find a quiet place to think.

Meditate and Be Mindful

Meditation improves mindfulness. While most types of meditation focus on breathing, not all meditation has to be formal. You can gain a lot of clarity in regular moments of reflection.

So, while reflecting, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my goal?

  • What am I doing that is working towards my goal?

  • What is blocking me from achieving my goal or success?

  • How can I change to improve or get me there?

You can frequently practice meditation by carrying out everyday tasks that provide a sense of calm and serenity. That may be washing dishes, cooking, going to church, walking, etc.

Take Some Personality and Psychometric Tests

Personality and psychometric tests help you to understand the personality traits that you have. Tests like Myers-Briggs and Predictive Index are aimed at increasing self-awareness.

Remember that there are no right or wrong answers to those tests. They simply enable respondents to think about the personality traits or characteristics that best describe them, relative to other people.

Image credit: Lifehacker


Not just hearing. Listening. Listening is about being there and paying attention to people’s emotions and body language. It’s about being empathetic and understanding without evaluating or judging.

When you become a better listener, you can also become better at listening to your inner voice and becoming a friend to yourself.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Feedback

Understandably, we are sometimes scared to ask others what they think of us. But you should get into the habit of getting honest feedback from friends, family and colleagues.

It’s important to note that sometimes, the feedback you get can be biased or dishonest; but you can filter through it all and see the real and genuine feedback from the biased ones as you learn more about yourself and others.

And getting feedback at work is critical to your professional development.

A research study shows that getting feedback in the workplace can improve a manager’s self-awareness.

We all have blind spots so it is useful to gain different perspectives to have a better picture of ourselves.

Image credit: Entrepreneur

Wrapping Up

Self-awareness is arguably a prime issue in the fields of psychology and philosophy, both from a developmental and evolutionary perspective.

Although we may never be able to understand ourselves as human beings, the journey to self-awareness (understanding and becoming ourselves) is what makes life what it is, and worth living.

You can take Eurich’s test to find out how self-aware you are.