The World of Work Project

Self Awareness and Developing Self Awareness

Self-aware people understand their personal motivations, values and drivers and are aware of their emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Self-awareness can be learned and helps both personal wellbeing and work success.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Self awareness

Self-awareness is the name given to your understanding of who you are, what you believe, what you value, what motivates you and generally what makes you tick. It is sometimes considered to be comprised of three components: self-image, self-esteem and the ideal-self. These components are themselves the product of an individual’s life journey and shaped by the influence of our families and parents, the society we grow up in, our careers and roles in society, our comparisons to our peer groups and the identities we’ve shaped for ourselves. To some extent they are also shaped by our biology.

Our life experiences help shape who we are.

Self-aware individuals understand how these underlying factors affect how they think, behave and emotionally respond in different situations. In addition, highly self-aware individuals are skilled at monitoring their thoughts, emotions and inner world in real time. This means they are aware of any changes to their underlying thoughts and emotions that could influence their behavior or decision making. This knowledge makes it possible for self-aware people to act consciously in-spite of their emotions, as opposed to passively as a slave to them. The more an individual appreciates the impact their own emotions have on their thoughts and behaviors, the more compassionate and empathetic the tend to be.

Why self awareness matters

Self-awareness is important for both personal fulfillment and for leading and working well with others.

Some people are blind to who they are. And some people don’t even know they have paper towels on their head.

At a personal level, the more an individual understands what they value and search for in life, the more able they are to shape a life that helps them achieve these goals. In addition, the more self-aware an individual is in real time, the more able they are to remain rational, to “weather the storm” of unwanted and unhelpful thoughts and emotions and to maintain a positive outlook on life. Individuals with higher self-awareness tend to be in relatively good psychological health and are often more compassionate with themselves than those with lower self-awareness.

Self-awareness is also very important for leadership and for managing relationships with others. The ability to understand when you are being influenced by unhelpful emotions helps you overcome unhelpful urges and potential actions that may be unhelpful in your work with others. For example, knowing that you’re annoyed may be enough in itself to help you bite your tongue and not say something that you later regret.

Improving self awareness

It’s possible for individuals to improve their self-awareness, provided they actually want to do so. It’s not always easy to do, and it takes time, but the following tools can all help:

External feedback

Getting honest feedback will help you understand how you’re perceived and how you behave in different situations, both of which will help develop your self-awareness. It’s not easy to find honest feedback and less positive messages may be hard to hear. Search hard for feedback, value it highly, overcome your fears of it and learn from it.

Self reflection

It’s not easy to get a good view of yourself.

Make time to assess how you feel. Reflect on key stages of your life journey, set aside time each day to think, keep a journal, meditate, create a personal vision and identify your personal values. Doing so can help you develop a deeper understanding of your emotions and help you develop the language to communicate them effectively. 

Personality assessment

Many questionnaire based tools exist that group people into “personality types”. These tools, often referred to as personality tests, all provide useful insight into the thoughts, behaviors and emotions of their specific types. Examples of such tools include: MBTI, DISC Insights and Birkman. They are all good starting points for developing self-awareness and the language around it.

Coaching or mentoring

Conversations can often help individuals accelerate the development of their self-awareness. A conversation partner with effective questioning skills can draw out insights that help individuals understand who they are. Coaches, mentors, friends and family members can all help you develop your self-awareness.

Learning from others

Observe those around you.  Watch how they behave and speak to them about how they think and feel and what motivates them. Their personal drivers may align with yours, helping you define who you are. Alternatively, their drivers may clash with your own views, which is equally valuable in helping you develop your self-awareness.

Life experience

It’s hard to know how we would really feel or how we would behave in situations that we’ve never been in. By broadening our experiences and increasing the variety of situations we have been in, the greater insights we can gain into ourselves and the greater self-awareness we develop. Try new things and challenge yourself to grow.

New Experiences, including experiencing the arts, can help develop self-awareness.

The World of Work Project View

Self-awareness is important in achieving fulfillment, mental well-being, strong relationships with others and success at work. Individuals and leaders should invest time in developing it.

Where possible, individuals should seek to make decisions and follow career paths that are concordant with who they think they are, the things they value and their sense of ideal self. Similarly, leaders should seek to be authentic and lead in a way concordant with who they think they are.

While leaders should also help the individuals that work for them develop their own self-awareness, they need to remember that not everyone wants to learn who they are, and not all those that do learn like what they find out about themselves. In addition, leaders should remember that the most effective teams contain a diverse set of personalities.

Sources and further reading

Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.

This post is based on our experiences delivering personal and leadership development courses. There are no specific references for it.

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