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*Warning! Adult language.
We are all legitimately full of shit, most of the time.
It is a universal truth of the human condition. When it comes to self-awareness, I could almost guarantee that most of us are of the strong opinion that we know ourselves pretty damn well.
I too have found myself in situations defending myself when I’ve been confronted on some shitty kind of behavior, when I have shown others closest to me that I didn’t have a cooking clue what I was doing and most importantly, why.
We have it all figured out, right?
Until we make the same stupid decision or have the same destructive mentality and expect things to be miraculously different. Plot twist—it never works that way. We’re only left wondering why certain areas of our lives are almost always a struggle.
Self-awareness isn’t what is going to change our lives for the better, it’s the solid foundation of how we live our lives at our best, and we will get it wrong more than we will get it right and that’s how we grow.
What is self-awareness?
Self-awareness, in short, is understanding our own psychology.
>> It means looking for patterns in the way we think; how we explain things to ourselves; and how we make sense of the world around us.
>> It means understanding our emotions—not avoiding them, or trying to fix them—simply observing them. Being curious about what they are trying to tell us, even the uncomfortable ones that we shouldn’t try and wash down with an alcoholic beverage.
>> It means paying attention to how we react in certain situations. Do we have some dangerous default behavior that has become a blind spot for us?
Self-awareness is important because the benefits are undeniably brilliant. Think better relationships, improved moods, effective communication, better decision-making, and increased productivity. It’s the way forward in living our best lives.
Here are some ways of improving our self-awareness:
1. Pay special attention to what irks you about others.
If you want to see yourself in a clearer, unbiased way, take a good, hard look at what irritates you about the behavior of others. This is usually a reflection of our psyche. We all have unflattering parts of ourselves that we often feel are better to ignore and dismiss than face the pain of confronting those aspects within ourselves.
Delving into the deeper meaning of where it comes from and how we can possibly do things differently is a better long-term plan than the short-term solution of denial. Ignorance truly is not bliss, despite what the cliché tells us.
The next time someone does something that bothers you or causes uncomfortable emotions of anger, fear, or annoyance, stop and ask yourself if what they are doing are things you could possibly be doing unconsciously. Be honest with yourself.
2. Practice mindfulness meditation.
We are not our thoughts. I will repeat it—we are not our thoughts.
Our self-awareness suffers when we let our thoughts run rampant and wild; when we entertain each one as fact; when we constantly and consistently obsess over every little detail. This is how our thoughts control us versus us being in control of them. This is also the path to driving ourselves mad.
A way to gain control of our thoughts is by the practice of mindfulness meditation. Yes, when you start, it’s going to be fucking hard but that’s why it’s called a practice. It takes time, patience, and commitment.
Mindfulness meditation has been proven to be effective against depression and even weight-loss, the same applies to self-awareness. You become a spectator of the content of your mind. You gain a better understanding of where it is prone to wander and you learn to dismiss thoughts that stem entirely from worry or anxiety.
3. Speak to someone you trust and ask for feedback.
How often do you ask those who are close to you for some honest and open feedback? Probably not too often.
The brain will do anything to avoid pain, and while we are too busy doing everything we can to avoid the negative feelings—which interestingly creates even more negative feelings—we aren’t particularly open to change.
The fastest way of becoming more self-aware of our behaviors, beliefs, and emotions is to get an outside perspective. Remember though, take criticism well. You can break trust and hurt a relationship if you ask for honesty that you might not be entirely prepared for.
You probably aren’t going to feel all kinds of “wonderful” about what you hear back but it will help you along in developing some healthy, constructive habits that further promote open communication with your nearest and dearest.
4. Recognize cognitive distortions.
A cognitive distortion is an inaccurate thought or belief that warps how we perceive things and how we see ourselves. You could call these mental habits. A simple example is when you make a mistake and instantaneously berate yourself.
How could I be so stupid? I’m such an idiot.
By recognizing these we become aware of our self-talk (and let’s be honest, for most of us, it’s pretty fucked-up how we berate ourselves) and mental habits. Once we are aware, we can start ridding ourselves of the insidious habits that are toxic and keep the things we know are working well for us.
5. Do a moral inventory.
Bill Wilson, a recovering alcoholic and the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous developed the 12-Step Program to aid people on the road to conquering their addiction. In the program, step four is the “moral inventory,” a fearless searching of self. In essence, it’s a person’s life-timeline and is one of the best ways to increase self-awareness.
Clinical psychologists also make use of this technique because it helps us think developmentally. You need to write it all down. Break it down into age groups. It doesn’t matter how big or small the experience was for you, write it down. You know what they say, hindsight is 20/20.
Self-awareness is a skill, you can work on it, you can increase it, you can step out of your own way, and let it help create the life you want.