Self-Awareness: A Valuable Asset, Not So Easy to Achieve

Questions to ponder—and write down:

  • What does self-awareness mean to you?
  • What value does it have in your life?
  • On a scale from 1-10, how much self-awareness do you have(10 being highest).

Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence and leading expert in the field) has proposed a popular definition of self-awareness in his best-selling book “Emotional Intelligence,” as “knowing one’s internal states (feelings), what to do with them, resources and intuitions.”

Self-awareness is the key cornerstone to emotional intelligence, “The ability to monitor our emotions and thoughts from moment to moment is key to understanding ourselves better, being at peace with who we are and proactively managing our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.” (Goleman)

As you develop self-awareness, it enables you to better understand your behavior and the consequences of your actions. This leads to making better choices and having more of the desired effect on others. This is more important than being smart according to Goleman and others.

In working with people on self-awareness, I usually run into two roadblocks. The first one is the lack of willingness to take the time and effort to be successful at it. They don’t see the value. In our fast-paced world, people seem to be more driven to find solutions or solve problems, instead of taking time to figure out how their actions, habits and feelings are influencing outcomes. Psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert found that almost half of the time we operate on “automatic pilot” or unconscious of what we are doing or how we feel, as our mind wanders to somewhere else other than here and now.

The second roadblock is the difficulty of accurately identifying what your emotions are, as well as the willingness to open up some cans of worms you have successfully hidden from yourself. Those “worms” are feelings that are at the least uncomfortable, and at the most, pretty scary. If you’ve spent your life avoiding some feelings, you haven’t had the opportunity to learn how to manage them and become more comfortable with them. What gets suppressed becomes bigger and scarier as time goes by, the invisible enemy you can’t see or control, like living in a haunted house.

Much of your awareness of, and attitude towards your feelings is influenced by the family you grew up with. They were the first place you learned what to do with feelings. Some families act as if feelings don’t exist, others think some feelings are okay and others are not, and some families act as if anything goes—whatever you are feeling takes center stage. As you began to have other experiences with teachers, friends, spiritual leaders, your relationship with your feelings becomes more solidified or modified. How would you describe your family’s approach to feelings?

It doesn’t have to be either/or– learning about inner discomfort can co-exist with learning new skills and coping mechanisms. In reality, the more self-knowledge you have, the easier it will be to feel better about yourself and more capable of expressing yourself effectively.

In the next section is a list of actions you can take to become more self-aware. Even with these helpful suggestions, many people just don’t make the time, or lack the patience to put them into regular practice. Here are some questions to ask yourself (write the answers down–for more accurate perspective):

  1. What feelings am I willing to recognize and acknowledge?
  2. What feelings do I avoid recognizing or feeling?
  3. What is my biggest fear of what would happen if I allowed myself to feel those feelings?
  4. When an uncomfortable feeling starts to emerge, what do I do with it? (e.g. push it down, distract myself, turn it into another feeling such as turning hurt into anger)?
  5. Where did I learn about how to deal with my feelings?
  6. What do I wish I would have learned about how to deal with feelings?

Quite often when I ask clients what they are feeling, they either can’t come up with an answer, or they respond with a problem that needs to be solved.

Here are some suggestions on how to recognize and manage your own feelings:

  1. Notice body signals that tip you off to a feeling, such as tightness in your throat, butterflies in your stomach, or tension anywhere in your body. See if you can identify the feeling that accompanies the physical symptoms.
  2. Pay attention to how your thoughts influence your feelings. (If you would like a chart to help you record and sort out your thoughts and feelings, let me know)
  3. Listen to others when they are expressing their feelings (or you are picking the feelings up via body language or tone of voice). What is your reaction to hearing or observing feelings in others? Can you show some empathy? Can you show the same empathy towards yourself?
  4. Notice when you are having a feeling and if you judge whether the feeling is good or bad, right or wrong. Tell yourself that all feelings are real and okay, no matter whether you like them or not. Notice what feelings in yourself and others reflect or contradict your values. In what ways do your values influence your feelings?
  5. Practice Mindfulness: Sit silently, with no distractions and focus on what is going on—in your head and heart with no judgment. You can do this for a minute or more, whatever amount of time works. Notice how your body is feeling.
  6. Keep a journal—start writing down, every day, what feelings you were having and what you did about them. Include a stream of consciousness—see where this takes you: to a place of judgement, understanding or a path to other feelings.

“By becoming self aware, you gain ownership of reality; in becoming real, you become the master of both inner and outer life” –Deepak Chopra

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts or other ideas you might have on this topic.

Please feel free to share this with anyone who might find this useful.

You can also check out my previous blogs on my website: ShelliChosak.com

Best,

Shelli

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