Self-Awareness is about being conscious of our thoughts, feelings and behaviour and is the foundational emotional intelligence skill we all need to learn to live our lives in harmony with ourselves and others.
To develop your self-awareness, you can put into practice these five steps:
1. Know what triggers your negative emotions
We all experience negative emotions like anger, fear, shame and sadness which are triggered by people we know, situations we encounter and our own thoughts and feelings. The problem is that when we don’t practice self-awareness these triggers tend to trip us up time again for the same reason. The key is to go back into your memory bank and examine the source of the trigger.
More often than not, the reason for the trigger is many years old and probably out of date with the person you have become today. When you understand the trigger, which may for example, be something that someone said to you or did to you, it is up to you to change the language of that trigger and turn it into a positive affirmation. When you do this and truly believe your new perspective of who you are, the next time you are triggered by the same thing that stimulates a negative response in you, step back and put into play your new language before responding. By becoming conscious of the way our emotions are affected by our thoughts and felt in our body is the beginning of self-awareness and you can start to practice this straight away.
2. Reflect on the way you respond to things
Rather than becoming hostage to your own emotions which are caused by your thoughts and circumstances, take some time out every day to reflect on the way your are responding emotionally to the world around you.
You can do this at any moment in the day when you are alone and have a little time to think. Feel the emotion that you may have felt during an incident that concerns you and allow the emotion to pass through you without judging yourself. Consider the source of the emotion and decide whether you can change the negative self-talk you associate with the emotion. Design a new perspective, whether it’s the way you think about yourself or someone else, or a situation, and activate your new positive self-talk which will not only make you feel better but will also help you to develop awareness about your emotions.
3. Give yourself some lag time before responding to things
When you begin to practice conscious self-awareness you begin to observe yourself and affect changes to your behaviour in the moment because you are aware of what’s going on inside you and how your words, body language and behaviour is affecting those around you.
When you slow down and don’t respond immediately to things you give your pre-frontal cortex the lag time it needs to evaluate what’s in front of you and around you and then choose the most appropriate response.
Warren Buffet, often referred to as the Oracle of Omaha, says that you can get mad with someone tomorrow. Of course by then the moment will have passed and you would have avoided getting mad and perhaps hurting a relationship or even your reputation.
4. Know what makes you happy
Being self-aware is not only about understanding what triggers your negative emotions, it’s also about knowing what makes you happy. There are varying degrees of happiness, for example, to describe an intense feeling of happiness we may use a word like “ecstatic”, a medium intensity level of happiness as “cheerful” and a garden variety level of happiness as “pleasant”.
The key is to be able to label your feelings of happiness and work out what and who makes you feel that way. Then, once you have done this, plan moments, activities and interactions which will give you these feelings. After all, we only have a certain amount of time on this planet, we might as well make the best of it!
5. Don’t be fooled by a good mood or a bad mood
We often make decisions when we are in a good mood or in a bad mood and later on come to regret those decisions.
When we practice self-awareness we step back from making instant decisions no matter how much we might enjoy the shot of dopamine it gives us. The key is to reflect on how your heart wants to decide and how your head wants to decide before making a decision. When you let your mood decide for you, you remain at the mercy of your emotions.
A simple way to make a good decision is to draw a line down the centre of a page and on the left hand side write down all the things you feel about the decision and on the right hand side all the things you think about the decision, which will most often include the facts. Then, sleep on it before deciding. You will make a decision based on emotion and reason and will most likely not regret the decision you make.
Bringing it all together to develop your self-awareness
Self-Awareness is what we call a personal competency in emotional intelligence. The other three competencies are self-management, also a personal competency, and then there is social awareness and relationship management, the two areas of development we call social competency.
Try to practice these five ways to develop your self-awareness and you will begin the journey of developing your emotional intelligence on purpose. It’s not only a good thing to do, but also extremely important if you want to communicate more effectively and lead more effectively in the home and work environment.