“The greatest of faults is to be conscious of none” – Thomas Carlyle
What is Self-Awareness?
It is knowing who you are and what your values are. It’s about being able to look at who you are without attachment to it being good or bad.
Why is it important?
In a study by Cornell University and Green Peak Partners, 72 executives at public and private companies were studied. It was found that having higher self-awareness was the strongest predictor of overall success. Self-aware leaders with strong interpersonal skills deliver better financial performance.
In life, we only really have control over our attitudes, our behaviours, our level of effort we put in. While we may be able to identify what others should change, we don’t have control over that! So, rather than turning our attention to what others should be doing, it is more valuable to look at better understanding ourselves, what drives us, what is most important to us.
How can we develop it?
This list is not exhaustive, but here are five tips to develop a greater understanding of yourself.
Take time out to think about your past behaviours, what comes most naturally to you, past feedback you have received. This can help us see who we are when we are at our best. In our busy lives, it can be difficult to find time to stop and ask ourselves, “how am I feeling?” or “why did I act that way? Was it effective?”
Have you ever been angry or upset by something at work, and then come home and taken it out on the wrong person? This may because you didn’t take your “emotional temperature” and pause to recognise how you were feeling before reacting.
Try to see things differently about yourself. Try to view yourself through a different lens.
For example, if you think of yourself as a bit of a “push over” and a “people pleaser”, this could be reframed as “I care a lot about people. I try to bring joy to other people’s lives, and they like to be around me”. This can help you be more compassionate to yourself and see your strengths.
On the other hand, if you think “I’m very flexible, agile, and adaptable”, that may also mean “sometimes I jump around to different tasks or projects, or I don’t stick with something or stand my ground.” Reframing can help you identify areas where you could develop your skills.
3. Be a good listener
Seek feedback on how others see you, and really listen to this feedback. Schedule regular check-ins with your manager or team to get their opinion on how well your approach is working.
The caveat of this is to not simply try to become who others want you to be. Ensure you know who you are and what your values are, and this will help you stay true to yourself. If you have an image of how you would like to be seen, and feedback tells you that is not how you come across to others, then you know there’s some room for improvement.
4. Do assessments
Assessments can be valuable to provide a framework, to clarify how we see our skills or traits. There are a variety of scientifically robust psychometric assessments available; Have a look at some of the ones we have to offer here.
Following point number 3 above about the value of feedback, 360-degree assessments are a great way to enhance self-awareness because they allow you to assess how you view your own skills, and how this compares to how others see them. They can help you identify blind spots and areas in which you may not be coming across as you think you are.
Mindfulness is not about sitting cross-legged on a mountain. It is about paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. It can be done by simply focusing on your breathing, or stopping to notice what is happening around you. As you focus on these things, remember you are not trying to make a judgement on if they are good or bad, but rather you are just noticing.
When you first start out, you may find your attention wandering often, and that’s perfectly normal. As you practice, you may get better at bringing your focus back to where you want it to be.