November 18

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5 Powerful Ways To Increase Your Self-Awareness

By Alison

November 18, 2020


Increase your self-awareness to manage inner doubt and build confidence

The day I succumbed to the feelings of overwhelm was difficult.  What made it worse was when I looked in the mirror, it wasn’t me I saw.  I no longer knew who I was or what I wanted.  Staring back through the mirror was a stranger.


What Is Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is when you know your character and feelings.  For more detail, please read my article: ‘Why Self Awareness Is Important For Your Well-Being’.

The reason it’s essential to be self-aware is so you can move to self-acceptance.  Confident people accept themselves for who they are.  Not only do they take into account their strengths, but they also acknowledge their weaknesses. 

To summarise, self-awareness means you are aware of your:

  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Values
  • Emotions and how you can control them
  • Desires and needs
  • Behaviour
  • Reactions
  • Beliefs

As you look in the mirror, ignore the reflection and focus to see yourself clearly and how other people see you.  To do this, you need to dig deeper.

Ultimately if you take the time to increase your self-awareness you'll:

  • know yourself better
  • have greater confidence
  • achieve an improved sense of well-being.
young dancer looking in a mirror

When you see yourself in the mirror, look to find who you really are

The Wrong Way To Increase Your Self-Awareness

When I first embarked on my journey of self-discovery and to become more self-aware, I fell into the trap of self-reflection.  I would spend hours asking myself why did I feel this way?, why didn’t I know what I wanted?. 

This behaviour was self-destructive navel-gazing. 

The result: I became more confused and less sure of myself.

If you’ve been struggling with this approach, I can tell you there’s a better way to build your self-awareness.  To achieve success will require you to be proactive.

Here are my top 5 tools that can help you to increase your self-awareness.

5 Ways To Increase Your Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is a method of observing ourselves.  Not, an out of body type experience but as someone on the outside who takes a curious look.  We need to pay attention to patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviour.  These tools can assist you with that process.  

But beware, don’t focus on the why of things like I did.  That will only lead to frustration and more upset.

The Wheel Of Awareness

The wheel of awareness is one of my favourite coaching tools.  

Designed by Dr Daniel Siegel, it’s a practical tool to help build awareness.  I’ve found it particularly useful when reflecting on actions. However, I know some people use it as part of a meditative practice.

The wheel represents a ‘bicycle wheel.  You are the hub and all along the rim are places where you can direct your focus, accessing those moments through a “spoke of attention.” 

I love the fact it's a visual representation of what is going on inside our minds.  The strength of the tool is how it provides a form of mindfulness.  Taking an observers view of where you put your attention.  There is no judgement, just a statement and focus on what you:

  • Think
  • Feel
  • Want
  • Do
  • Observe

Below is my interpretation of the wheel I use to gain awareness.

The wheel of awareness helps increase your self-awareness

My interpretation of Dr Siegel's Wheel of Awareness

There is no starting point for the wheel.  You can look at the different 'spokes' in whatever order you like.

Proust Questionnaire

The Proust Questionnaire started as a parlour game termed a confession album.  Proust didn’t create it but made it famous when he completed the questionnaire as a young man.

There is a list of 35 questions which digs deep into likes, dislikes, values and view on life.  Personally, I found it a fun way to increase your self-awareness.

Vanity Fair interviewed famous people using the questions.  You can see their results online.  My musical hero David Bowie completed the questionnaire, and you can see his results here.

I also came across a podcast where the hosts ask their guests the 35 questions.  You can find the Proust Questionnaire Podcast by clicking here.  It’s a good listen.

Here's the list of questions:

  1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
  2. What is your greatest fear?
  3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
  4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
  5. Which living person do you most admire?
  6. What is your greatest extravagance?
  7. What is your current state of mind?
  8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
  9. On what occasion do you lie?
  10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
  11. Which living person do you most despise?
  12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
  13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
  14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
  15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
  16. When and where were you happiest?
  17. Which talent would you most like to have?
  18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
  20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
  21. Where would you most like to live?
  22. What is your most treasured possession?
  23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
  24. What is your favourite occupation?
  25. What is your most marked characteristic?
  26. What do you most value in your friends?
  27. Who are your favourite writers?
  28. Who is your hero of fiction?
  29. Which historical figure do you most identify with
  30. Who are your heroes in real life?
  31. What are your favourite names?
  32. What is it that you most dislike?
  33. What is your greatest regret?
  34. How would you like to die?
  35. What is your motto?

I recommend putting some quiet time aside to complete the questionnaire.  You can go through the 35 questions and write a quick response, or you can dig deep and explore your inner thoughts.  It’s like most things; you get out of it what you put in.

Seek Feedback

The purpose of actively seeking feedback is to gain a greater understanding of your abilities from another person’s perspective.  Seeking feedback can be challenging.  After all, you're opening yourself up for potential criticism.  But, if you don’t know what you’re doing well or what needs attention, you’re never going to improve.

It’s not always easy to find quality feedback so take your time with this exercise. 

First of all, select those that you think will provide you with constructive feedback.  Relying solely on friends and family will give you a very biased outcome.  You want people who will be honest in their responses.  Your boss is a good start; they are the person who determines your success at work.  But you could also think about your customers, peers or people in other departments with who you have a strong working relationship.

Secondly, be specific in the feedback you are seeking.  Time spent compiling some questions to ask in advance will be valuable.  Are you looking at seeking feedback on a particular project or behaviour? 

When I’ve sought feedback in the past, I’ve written the questions down and provided them to people in advance, so they have the opportunity to mull them over.

Thirdly, listen carefully to the feedback.  Don’t be tempted to question the validity or defend what is said to you.  But, but do ask for clarification and if possible, obtain tangible examples.

Fourthly, collect the feedback and take time to think it through.

Finally take action.  Feedback is useless unless you do something with it.

Put a plan together on how you’re going to use the feedback to improve your performance.  I’ve used many feedback tools, and one of the best systems, which happens to be the simplest is to create a list of actionable items.

Create a spreadsheet with columns showing, question asked, positive, negative, and action.  Take each element of feedback and consider how you can move forward with it.

The table below is an example of how this can work in practice.

Empty template of a feedback spreadsheet

Life Timeline

I first used this tool to increase self-awareness when I was training teams.  But you can use it as a solo exercise. 

The tool is fantastic as it enables you to see in a simplified form the ups and downs you have experienced in life.

You’ll need to put some quality time aside to undertake this exercise.  All you need is a pen and a piece of paper. 

Step 1

List all the events that have happened in your life.  They can be positive or negative.  After each positive event put a + and after each negative event put a -.  Where possible, include a date.  If you can’t remember the exact date it doesn’t matter, you can guestimate.

Here are a few examples:

  • 1991 Bought first house +
  • 1992 Made redundant –
  • 1995 Got married +
  • 1996 Promoted +

Step 2  Grab a big piece of paper – an A3 size works best, especially if you have large handwriting. 

Draw a vertical line at the far left of the page.  Then draw a horizontal line across the middle of the page. 

On the vertical line put 1 to 5 equally spaced on the upper part of the horizontal line and -1 to -5 below the horizontal line

Along the horizontal line, put marks to represent significant events in your life.  You can go right back to when you were born, or start from when you started work.  The choice is yours.  The horizontal line is your baseline when events were neither positive or negative.

Step 3  Plot your significant events on the graph.  Using the numbers on the left, you can specify if the event had a positive or negative impact on you.  The numbers +5 to -5 symbolise the level of impact that particular event had on your life.

For example, getting your first supervisory role would be an achievement so you would mark that above the line and perhaps score it a 4

An adverse event might be losing a job due to redundancy.  You would position that below the line with a negative score.  Depending on the impact, the score would vary.  Perhaps it was devastating to you – a much-loved job so you would mark it -5.  If on the other hand you didn’t like the job and you were planning to leave any way you could score it -1. 

When you have completed all your life events, you have a helicopter overview of your journey

You will increase your self-awareness in the following ways:

  • See key achievements and opportunities
  • Recognise how negative shifts move to positive outcomes
  • Understand your sense of purpose in life and the decisions that you made
  • Discover new meanings with your present life when considered in light of past events
  • Identify actions that you took that led to either favourable or adverse situations.
Graph showing a timeline example

Keep A Journal/Diary

When all about us is a constant rush, it’s hard to keep pace with what is going on. A journal can provide a place of peace and calm.  Somewhere to collect your thoughts and reflect on your day.  You can use it to explore ideas and formulate plans for what you want to do as well as build a practice to increase your self-awareness.

There are many famous diarists.  Samuel Pepys, Queen Victoria, and the very poignant diary left behind by Anne Frank, to name just a few.

Interestingly, the writer John Steinbeck used his diary to work through issues of self-doubt.  

Over the years, I’ve seen an increase in the number of journals available.  A quick look at the shelves in your local stationers, or a search on Amazon reveals hundreds.   

I started with just a plain notebook and pen, and I still use this method today. But, I have intermittently used guided journals too.

You can buy journals that focus on areas such as productivity, happiness or gratitude.

One of my favourites is the Five-Minute Journal, which Amazon describes as Using the science of positive psychology to improve happiness. The Five-Minute Journal focuses your attention on the good in your life. Improve your mental well-being and feel better every day.

What I love about journaling is there are no rules.  You can make it what you want.  You can write in longhand or use a bullet point approach such as the book designed by Ryder Carroll.  

Cal Newport when commenting on the BUJO (short form for bullet journal – must be good as it has its own acronym)  “It will not only help you get more organised but will also help you become a better person.”

Whether you adopt a freehand approach or purchase a journal such as the Five-Minute Journal from Intelligent Change which by the way is favoured by Tim Ferris.  You will increase your self-awareness and discover more about yourself.

But, whichever you choose, select a method that works for you and your schedule.

increase your self-awareness like this woman journalling

Conclusion & Some Other Techniques To Increase Your Self-Awareness

I’ve listed 5 tools I believe are powerful to use when you want to increase your self-awareness.

But I’d also like to mention some other techniques I’ve adopted that have helped me increase my self-awareness and manage my inner doubt, including:

Meditation

Meditation allows you to clear your mind of rampaging thoughts and find 10 minutes of peace.  I wrote an article on the benefits of meditation which you might find helpful. 

Adopt A Growth Mindset

My particular breakthrough on the growth mindset came when I read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: Changing The Way You Think To Fulfil Your Potential.  It changed the way I thought about myself and how I viewed the world.  You can find out more by reading my article 30 Compelling Reasons Why You Need A Growth Mindset

Clarify Your Values. 

For many of us, we go through life and accept what it throws at us.  When I took the time to identify my values, I was able to find direction and purpose.  You can read my article on  What You Need To Know About Personal Values to understand why they are important to us.  If you’re looking for a way to identify your values, please read How to Find Your Personal Values.  This exercise will increase your self-awareness through the beliefs and views that you hold.

Discover Your Strengths. 

I have a free guide available to people who sign up for my weekly newsletter.  The guide helps to clarify why knowing your strengths is important and ways you can identify them.

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A Final Thought On How To Increase Your Self-Awareness

If you take the time to become self-aware, you will understand yourself better.  When you know yourself better, you will:

  • form better relationships
  • make better decisions
  • have clarity on what you want from life.   

When you have these things, your confidence will soar.

So which tool are you going to try out?  Let me know in the comments.

About the author

For years, despite career success, I was plagued with inner doubt. I worried about what other people thought. I became anxious about doing things wrong, felt out of my depth, and struggled with imposter syndrome. Above all, I feared failing. So, I worked long hours to prove myself worthy. It was exhausting, and it took a toll. My relationships suffered - my husband and I were becoming virtual strangers - and I had no social life. When the ravages of my doubts began to affect my health, I knew something had to change. I know there is a better way to live. Let me show you how.

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