The importance of self-awareness is often underplayed, but the impact it can have on your well-being is massive.
Sunday’s are supposed to be a day of rest. Yet for many years I didn’t enjoy them. As the weekend wound down, I knew I would be facing another week of work. Sunday nights were the worst. I’d get frustrated at the silliest of things, feel ‘out of sorts’ and had trouble sleeping. But if you asked me what was wrong, I wouldn’t be able to articulate it. Self-awareness helped me understand my feelings and provided me with a better way forward. Now Sunday is the day of rest. I always dreamed it would be.
What Is Self-Awareness?
Let’s start with a definition of what self-awareness is. Here’s a quote from the dictionary:
conscious knowledge of one’s own character and feelings.
“the process can be painful, but it leads to greater self-awareness.”
Self-awareness is understanding the different parts of ourselves. By being aware we’re able to monitor our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, needs and our behaviour. Our self-awareness is also the tool for managing our stress and improving our general well-being.
The Theory Bit
Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund were the first to define self-awareness in 1972.
I think before then we were probably oblivious!
What they discovered was ‘when we focus our attention on ourselves, we evaluate and compare our current behaviour to our internal standards and values’.
It means you’re either:
- Aligned with your standards or
- Unaligned with your standards. Or as I like to think of it, at odds with yourself.
When you’re aligned, you experience a sense of happiness, calm and general well-being. But, if you’re at odds, you’re not happy. You then have a choice to make. You can either accept things as they are (in other words, avoid it) or take action to make changes.
But, this all depends on whether you believe you can change things. If you think the outcome is predetermined, you won’t even try. The importance of self-awareness cannot be underestimated.
The Sunday night blues is an indication of unhappiness at work. Often due to a job not aligned with your skills or in tune with your values and beliefs. You feel stuck and can’t see a way forward to improve the situation.
If you would like to learn more about whether you believe you can change things or whether they are predetermined, have a look at my article on the growth mindset - 30 Compelling Reasons Why You Need A Growth Mindset.
What It Means To Be Self-Aware
To be self-aware means, you know your:
- strengths & weaknesses
- emotions and how you can manage them better
- desires and needs
- reactions - in particular, your triggers and why certain people or situations can make you go crazy
- beliefs and how they impact the world around you and how they can hold you back. Hello, inner doubt!
All these factors contribute to a sense of internal well-being.
When you have all this information, it impacts every aspect of your life, including:
- An objective view of your capabilities
- Clarity about what you want from life. Living a fulfilled life in line with what is truly important to you
- Awareness of your emotional well-being
- Better relationships with yourself and others
- Better decision making
I mean, who wouldn’t want all of those things.
Sadly not everyone is as enthusiastic about understanding themselves better. I’ve seen a statistic that states only 15% of people are self-aware and understand the potential they have for growth. The rest hold themselves back from living the life they want. As a result they remain stuck where they are, and are usually miserable with it. They don't understand the importance of self-awareness.
Do you want to be stuck and miserable? I know I don’t.
The Link With Well-Being
We all want to be happy. Self-awareness can undoubtedly lead to that. But where does well-being fit in?
Well-being goes beyond the concept of happiness, which can be situational and subjective. It includes health, prosperity, contentment and welfare. As you become more self-aware, your sense of well-being will improve. You’ll be more resilient, confident and comfortable with who you are and what you stand for.
The Importance Of Self-Awareness
So, if you accept what you think affects how you feel and how this, in turn, impacts how you behave.
It helps answer the big question of who am I?
- What do I think?
- How do I feel – physically and emotionally?
- What do I want?
- What do I do?
Self-awareness gives you an objective assessment of where you are now and where you want to be. This is why the importance of self-awareness cannot be underestimated.
There’s also a link between self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Self-awareness is one of the competencies required for emotional intelligence, as determined by Daniel Goleman. Goleman believes that by being self-aware, we’re able to recognise and understand our moods, emotions and drives. We know the impact they have on us, but also other people.
So, let’s look in detail at the importance of self-awareness in everyday life and how it impacts our sense of well-being.
The Importance Of Self-Awareness In Everyday Life
Objective View Of Your Capabilities
We lie to ourselves all the time. We imagine we’re better at some things and then play down our abilities in another. We are all a combination of truth and falsehoods. When you also have your inner critic to deal with, it gets more complicated and messy. You know the voice I mean, the one that nags away telling you:
- you’re not good enough
- who do you think you are to take on that position/task etc. etc.
- you’re clumsy
You, as we all do, pay attention to that inner voice even when you realise that what you’re hearing is lies, lies and more damn lies. Often it’s a throwback comment from the past that hits repeat like a needle on a broken record.
Self-awareness allows you to take a realistic look at yourself from an objective point of view. To face that inner critic head-on and to change what you believe about yourself.
Every one of us is unique. You have talents and weaknesses that sets you apart. When you use your skills appropriately, you play to your strengths and become more productive.
Sadly, we often consider our strengths as something ordinary. Because they come easy to us, we believe everyone has the same capability. This is not true.
Clarity Of Wants And Needs
- Do you know what you want from life?
- Everybody wants to be happy, don’t they?
- But do you know what you need to achieve it?
Don’t panic if you don’t know. Not many people do.
The confusion arises because we’re consumed by all the ‘should dos’ which fulfil other people’s wishes and desires. We forge ahead constrained by obligation—no wonder the majority of us aren’t happy.
With self-awareness, you can identify what you want from life. You can wave a cheery goodbye to the sense that you’re just going through the motions of what life throws at you.
It’s not easy to find what you want from life, especially if you’ve been trying to keep other people happy. The easiest place to start is to identify what you don’t like and then explore the opposite.
I did this exercise when I was unhappy in one job. I wrote down all the things that I didn’t like which included:
Clocking-in and out. Yes in the 20th century this really did exist. I appreciate in some industries this is the norm, but I had never encountered this before in an office environment. If you were recorded as being ‘late’ three times (it didn’t even have to be in a row) you were contacted by the Payroll manager and asked to explain yourself.
When I wrote it down, I started to explore why I felt so aggrieved by clocking in, and this is what I came up with:
- Lack of trust in the employees
- Didn’t take into account whether you worked excessive hours at the other end of the day
- Being told to explain myself to someone who was not my manager
Thinking about these reasons, I began to realise what was important to me and therefore, what I wanted was:
- To be trusted to manage myself,
- Appreciated for the output I contributed which was often the result from staying late to get things done
- A flexible approach to working hours (also, I didn’t particularly appreciate explaining myself to someone who had no understanding of the work I did)
I left that job and when looking for my next role took into account the things I wanted from my work life. I was a lot happier as a result.
Another way to discover what you want is to look at what you’re good at.
As you become more aware of your unique skills and talents, you can look at how you can enhance them. We tend to like what we’re good at.
Consider what you enjoy. Here are a couple of prompts:-
- Look back at your childhood and reminisce a bit. What did you enjoy doing?
- Ask yourself, if money was no object, what would I do with my time?
Finding out what you want is not a quick fix. Take the time to think about what you want. Carry a notebook with you and each time you work on something consider what it is you enjoy about it. Writing things down can provide you with powerful insight.
As you work on finding your needs and wants you will realise the importance of self-awareness in being able to gather the information.
Get In Touch With Your Emotions
Life is hectic. There always seems to be something going on. You rush from one activity to the next in an attempt to get things done.
- To-do lists a mile long
- Constant interruptions
- Setbacks when things don’t go to plan
It’s enough to make you throw your arms up in the air in surrender, and declare you’re off to hide under the duvet.
But as you rush around, in this frenzy of activity, you tend to ignore how you feel. If you’re not careful, you’ll run out of steam. You’ll start to feel stressed.
Perhaps you feel:
- Put upon by other people’s demands of you
- Required to pick up the slack when someone fails to deliver on a promise
- Saying yes to someone because you don’t want them to think badly about you
Sadly, if you don’t take time to stop, it can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety and exhaustion.
When you look at how these situations make you feel, you can identify the emotion. Perhaps you feel angry, frustrated or downright pissed off. If you don’t acknowledge these emotions and smother them, they tend to fester. The potential result could be a delayed reaction of anger at something trivial, entirely separate to the current incident.
If you try to suppress your emotions, you are carrying around an extra burden what weighs heavily on you. Quite frankly, it can drain the life out of you.
When you’re tired, frustrated and quite frankly exhausted, it impacts your performance, and it can result in poor behaviour choices. I know when I get tired, I behave like an overwrought toddler. A two-year-old has nothing on me when it comes to tantrums!
If you understand what emotion you are feeling at the time, you can respond accordingly. Annoyance is expressed constructively, and it gets easier to say no when you realise saying yes is only going to upset you further down the line.
Take time to acknowledge how you feel. Don’t let emotions build up. Protect your well-being by slamming on the breaks of the rollercoaster when you feel out of control.
When you understand yourself better, it makes sense that you’re able to understand others better too. As part of your journey of self-discovery, you appreciate both your strengths and weaknesses. Here, the importance of self-awareness provides great insight.
To accept your shortcomings is a good thing. Nobody is perfect. As you recognise this in yourself, you can extend this and learn to tolerate (and even forgive) the failings of others. You are more likely to notice when they struggle, and instead of criticising, you are more likely to think of constructive ways to help.
I want to offer a word of caution. Take care not to assume what the other person feels or thinks. None of us know what goes on inside someone else’s head, and it’s easy to impose our sense of reality on them. Take time to talk to them and ask what they need in the way of support. Your enquiries are more likely to result in a positive outcome for your both.
Acceptance allows you to take responsibility for your actions. If you don’t spend time building your self-awareness, there’s the temptation to blame others for your faults. Conflict tends to be the outcome.
As you look to work with your weaknesses, it provides an opportunity to work with others who are stronger where you are weaker. You become an equal partnership bringing value to the other party.
A big challenge to your sense of well-being is conflict. When you understand yourself and others better, it decreases the friction. It results in a more incredible feeling of inner peace.The focus is on the present, on how you can improve. You enable yourself to look at past situations with curiosity rather than blame.
Make Better Decisions
Habits and routines are a great way to increase your effectiveness. But how often do you run on auto-pilot. Making decisions based on processes and thought patterns that you’ve always had. Self-awareness allows you to question what you’re doing and why.
As you become more self-aware, you understand the motivation behind what you’re doing and ask whether or not it’s still serving a purpose.
Are you making decisions in line with your needs and wants? When you know what those needs and wants are, it’s a lot easier to make decisions. You’ll feel more comfortable to say "no" to things that don’t fit with the plan you have laid out for yourself.
Decision making becomes more consistent, especially if you stay true to your values and what you believe to be right. You’re less likely to be swayed by emotion and decisions fit better with what you want and need.
You’ll no longer be confused about the direction you want to take in your life for the benefit of your well-being.
The End Result: The Importance of Self-Awareness Is Happiness & Sense of Well-Being
When you’re self-aware all your observations, thinking, emotions, desires and actions are in harmony. You’re less likely to feel anxiety and stress. This is a huge benefit to understand the importance of self-awareness.
When acknowledge your unique skills and talents, you can put them to use, find the work you want to do, build better relationships, the options are endless.
But, perhaps the most significant impact is you know yourself. You strip away all that doesn’t fit with who you are and become authentic. Your actions are value-driven. You have goals and find excitement in the pursuit of them. There is a greater sense of purpose and well-being.
Because you no longer fear your weaknesses as exposing you as someone lacking in skill, you accept yourself more. And acceptance is the key to happiness.
All these components lead you to feel confident about yourself. Your struggles with inner doubt will become easier to manage.
And once you manage your inner doubt, you can experience the freedom of what confidence has to offer. For more information read my article on What Is Confidence And Why You Need To Understand It
Sunday’s become a day of rest
You won’t feel frustrated by trivial events
You’ll sleep better