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What is Self-Awareness? And How Do I Get More of It?

Self-awareness is our capacity for introspection.

It’s the ability to see our own thoughts, beliefs, perceptions and feelings as our own, as separate to others, as separate to the world around us, and as having consequences for the quality of the feedback we get from our world.

If someone is unaware that they are overly defensive, easily offended, easily moved to rage, and believes they are ‘entitled’ to ‘feel how they feel’, and that others are the ‘cause’ of their reactions, that person is going to have a lonely, frustrating, and limited experience of their world. No matter how justified they may think they are, their lack of awareness of their own agency in these patterns of reaction will conscript them to repeat the patterns over and over.

Self-awareness is also the ability to accurately compare our own behaviours/ reactions/ responses to our internal set of values, standards and beliefs about what is appropriate for us.

If I value ‘love’, and spend my time being angry, upset, and defensive, then my value of love is not being lived or expressed. My ability to see this accurately, and adjust my behaviour to match my value, is self-awareness. Alternatively, I may face that I don’t value ‘love’ as much as I value ‘upset’. This may be a more confronting reality, but the question isn’t about how confronting it is, it’s about how accurate it is.

Self-awareness is the beginnings of all progress.

Without self-awareness, there is no progress. Ultimately, we either cultivate our own ability to see ourselves accurately, warts and all, and make decisions from that accuracy, or we are operating with an inaccurate map of reality. If our map of reality is inaccurate, all decisions we make will be inaccurate. I would go further and say I am deluding myself when I deny the accuracy of the situation, no matter how painful a truth it is to face.

Pattern recognition, generalising, and consequentialism takes the ability to get our own egos out of the way and see the terrain accurately, rather than how we would like or prefer it to be. The less accurately we see the terrain, the more unreliable our pattern recognition, generalising, and consequential thinking is going to be. Each decision will be made with imprecise, flawed and misleading data.

If the pattern keeps occurring in your life, and not in the lives of everyone around you (reacting angrily to a street closure, constantly feeling defensive about what people say, getting upset when receiving feedback, having the same complaint about different people in your life, constantly changing jobs because of the boss, struggling to manage finances, struggling to manage a healthy diet), the gift is, it is most likely you.

If you keep getting similar results despite your belief that you’re doing ‘everything’ (generalisation) you can, you’re inaccurate. You’re probably doing the things you’re comfortable doing, and blocking out awareness of the harder, less comfortable stuff that you could be considering to change your circumstance and terrain. If you consistently fail to see the consequences of repeated actions, this is you, not someone or something else.

Self-awareness starts from the question: How much of myself and my life am I prepared to doubt, question, and change, in the pursuit of a happier, more meaningful life?

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The journey to self-awareness is filled with feedback to yourself, from others to you, from your environment to you.

It is delivered in easy-to-take messages and in difficult-to-take messages. The more of this feedback you can handle, welcome, enjoy, and act upon (when it is accurate) the greater your self-awareness, and thus the more empowered choices you will make.

The journey to self-awareness is also filled with contrasting frames.

A contrasting frame is when we compare our own frame of reference with another frame of reference. For example, to become proficient at sales from stage, I had to contrast my own woeful skill set with that of the experts. Studying the gaps revealed all manner of train-wrecking choices I had been making. I continued this contrastive analysis until my skill equalled the frames of reference I was studying. This required the decision to doubt, question, and change everything about my selling from stage techniques. It also required extraordinary amounts of feedback to myself, and from others. The ultimate feedback was, of course, the results I achieved. And finally it required that I continue to contrast my frame of reference with the frame of reference of those who also endeavoured to succeed on stage.