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4 reasons why self-awareness matters and 3 ways to develop it

Insider
Insider
 2022-01-20

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Becoming more self-aware can help you better identify obstacles, which can help you achieve your goals.
  • Self-awareness is the ability to understand your own thoughts, behaviors, and actions.
  • You can cultivate it by practicing mindfulness meditation and asking for feedback from your circle.
  • Improving self-awareness helps you achieve your goals, communicate more effectively, and more.
  • Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice .

Self-awareness is the ability to identify and understand your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and actions . It also includes the ability to recognize your impact on the world and those around you.

But becoming self-aware takes work and many of us are still learning. Signs you may not be very self-aware include :

  • Finding it difficult to take accountability for your mistakes
  • Feeling out of control of your emotions
  • Responding to others in ways that seem like knee-jerk reactions you may regret later
  • Acting without thinking or operating on auto-pilot

The good news is that self-awareness is a skill you can develop and improve on throughout your life, says Steven Sultanoff , PhD, a psychology professor at Pepperdine University .

Here's why self-awareness matters and how to cultivate it in your own life.

Why self-awareness matters

Being able to openly express your thoughts and feelings, including difficult ones like fear or anger, and the ability to take ownership for your mistakes are signs that you possess some level of self-awareness, says Elena Touroni , PsyD, co-founder and clinical director of the Chelsea Psychology Clinic .

1. The ability to make the right choices for yourself

The more you are able to identify your thoughts, feelings, and aspirations, the better you can make choices that align with your values, Touroni says.

2. Improved mental health

Self-awareness helps you recognize negative feelings and take action to improve how you feel, Sultanoff says.

For example: "When we are aware we are stressed, we can take steps to reduce stressful activities," he says. "[We can also] activate stress relievers such as engaging in pleasurable activities, seeking connections with others, resting, or being active."

3. Helps you achieve your goals

Research also shows that self-awareness plays a crucial role in identifying obstacles , allowing you to better overcome challenges and more effectively accomplish your goals.

A 2020 study found that people with higher levels of self-awareness were able to better identify obstacles to personal goals as well as obstacles affiliated with individual tasks.

4. Improves communication

Self-awareness also improves confidence and your ability to communicate with others. In fact, a 2015 study examining the role of self-awareness in the workplace found that full-time employees who participated in self-awareness training reported:

  • Improved communication with colleagues
  • Increased levels of confidence
  • An appreciation for diversity in the workplace

Types of self-awareness

Generally speaking, there are two main types of self-awareness , including:

  • External self-awareness . This is a recognition of how others may perceive you. This includes the ability to understand how you are affecting other people, your role in social situations, and how your actions affect your environment.
  • Internal self-awareness. This refers to the ability to recognize your thoughts and feelings and how they impact your actions. Internal self-awareness is also the ability to understand and acknowledge your values, passions, and aspirations and the role your values play in your behaviors.

Ways to cultivate self-awareness

There are many ways you can work on building self-awareness, but it's important to note that developing self-awareness is a constant process.

"It's not something you just achieve and then set aside," Touroni says. "We are changing all the time and it's something you need to be building on every day."

Here are three tips for developing self-awareness.

1. Practice mindfulness meditation

Meditation is the practice of improving your in-the-moment awareness. When you meditate you learn to observe your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, which can help you focus on the present and allow for deeper personal reflection .

You can practice mindfulness meditation by taking a few minutes to sit still and focus on your bodily sensations, the movement of your breath, the thoughts that come to your mind, and how those thoughts affect the way your body feels, says Deborah Orandon , MS, a licensed professional counselor, and owner of Self-Awareness Counseling .

"Practicing this for even five minutes a day is beneficial," Orandon says.

2. Ask for feedback from those closest to you

We can work on our self-awareness by ourselves, Orandon says, but since none of us can fully see ourselves from the outside, the best way to understand how our actions impact others is to ask and truly listen to those close to us about how they experience us.

"This kind of honest self-disclosure may be a rare experience for many," Orandon says. "But it can be very important to learn to ask for clarification rather than just defaulting to guessing what the other person thinks or brushing their response off. Assuming that we know how others experience us is probably the biggest blind spot that I see in people."

To understand how your behavior affects others, you can ask your friends or family things like:

  • Do you feel that I listen to you when you come to me with a problem?
  • How can I better support you?
  • How would you describe me?
  • What do you think are my strengths and weaknesses?
  • When do you think you see me at my best?

3. Work with a mental health professional

This isn't necessarily a requirement for developing self-awareness but working with someone who is trained in how the mind works can help you cultivate a deeper understanding of yourself and your actions.

The biggest advantage of working with a professional to develop self-awareness is that a counselor or therapist provides an objective viewpoint and feedback that can bring light to ways you may not even realize your feelings are affecting your behaviors, Touroni says.

Insider's takeaway

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize your thoughts, feelings, and actions. It also includes the ability to be conscious of your impact on those around you.

Self-awareness is associated with many positive outcomes , including increased confidence, emotional well-being, and improved communication.

You can improve your self-awareness through meditation, by asking for feedback from friends, family, and co-workers, and from working with a mental health professional.

Ultimately the best way to develop self-awareness is to become more curious about yourself, the sensations you are having in your body, and the emotions that arise.

"Notice what you like or don't like about situations you are in or what your senses are taking in around you," Orandon says.

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