People often run away from psychological concepts such as mindfulness or self-awareness, as they exclaim, it’s not for me! But as humans living in this world, psychology is relevant to all of us so you can choose to stick your head in the mud or take advantage of it to grow as a person in all facets of life. So if you usually take comfort in reading about things that are easier to conceptualise, such as sets and reps of squats, take a deep mindful breath and bear with me.
Tasha Eurich, a psychologist who has researched self-awareness and recently published a book on the subject, reports that 95% of people think they are self-aware, but that only 10-15% of us really are. As the Guardian writer, Oliver Burkeman, points out, this isn’t surprising as we can assume that one thing people who are lacking self-awareness are going to be unaware about, is their lack of self-awareness.
We can all relate to someone who lacks self-awareness. There are those who are oblivious to the fact that in conversation they only every show interest in themselves, often coming to the party with a deluded sense of superiority. There’s the know-it-all who doesn’t take anything on board because they know everything already. Or maybe it’s someone you love who tends to overreact and lash out angrily when they feel threatened. Or maybe its you or me, beating ourselves up with negative inner dialogue, or showing impatience.
What exactly is self-awareness?
Being self-aware is being conscious of what makes us tick and of how we come across to others. It is the capacity for introspection and conscious knowledge of different aspects of the self including character traits, habits, and feelings. Your experiences, abilities and preferences all contribute to your personal idiosyncrasies which influence your behaviours. Daniel Goleman, who wrote the book on emotional intelligence, breaks self-awareness down into three components; emotional awareness, accurate self-assessment, and self-confidence.
It is crucial that we explore and cultivate this self-awareness, especially today in a ‘me’ focussed society, where it’s easier than ever to get lost in your own version of reality. We are seemingly becoming more self-obsessed and self-interested, constantly seeking and finding external validation, encouraging a sense of entitlement, all of which replaces authenticity with superficiality and a diminished sense of our true self.
The persona, as the famous psychiatrist Carl Jung described it, is a “kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual”. Are we in danger of losing touch with this genuine self in the social face we present to the world?
Social media is the perfect platform for self-promotion, but this can often come at the expense of being real. We all have ego’s, but the idea is that we do our best to control it with things like humility and selflessness, not let it run amok in a blaze of narcissism and Instagram selfies.
The Johari Window
The Johari Window model was a personal development tool created by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955 to help improve self-awareness and interpersonal relationships. We can use it to improve our understanding of ourselves. There are two factors at work within the Johari Window. What you know about yourself, and what you don’t know about yourself, which gives us four quadrants:1. Open Spot: This quadrant represents the things that you know about yourself, and the things others know about you. This includes your skills, behaviour, knowledge, known past.
2. Hidden Spot: The hidden-self are the things that you know about yourself, but that others do not. These are the things you keep to yourself, and may include past events, socially unacceptable beliefs, or things that you are ashamed about.
3. Blind Spot: These are the things that you aren’t aware of about yourself, but that are known to others. For example, a self-absorbed colleague might not realise that they never express interest in others when in conversation, but others in the workplace are well aware of it. On the flip side, perhaps you are a football player whom your team mates highly respect and look up, but you are not aware of the influence you have on others.
4. Unknown Spot: The unknown area represents those things not known by yourself or by others. Herein lies the unconscious mind. The hidden beliefs, fears, and attitudes that can influence your everyday life without your knowledge. Psychotherapy explores the unknown self, often aiming to bring conscious awareness to repressed emotions.
How we can use the Johari Window is by exploring each of the quadrants as a means of promoting self-discovery. Start with the Open Spot and Hidden Spot and make some notes about yourself. Then involve others in exploring areas Not Known to Self.
How can we improve self-awareness?
An accurate self-assessment can help us shore up some of those blind spots and unknown spots. Introspective examination and objective observation forces us to accept some uncomfortable truths about ourselves, but ultimately it may be the key to unlocking our potential to grow and thrive mentally, physically, in our careers or sport, and in our relationship with ourselves and with others.
Below are some of the ways in which we can learn about ourselves and become more self-aware.
Seek honest feedback from others
We are usually quick to defend ourselves when criticised in order to protect our ego. However, there is great value in being open to receiving constructive feedback without feeling attacked. We shouldn’t worry about what every Tom, Dick, and Harry thinks about us, or give too much credence to the opinion or judgement of others. But consider approaching someone who knows you well and who you trust and respect to help reduce your blind spot.
Understand your life story.
We are shaped by the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. A person’s internalised and evolving life story is known as narrative identity, and has become an emerging field of research in psychology.
The theory of narrative identity postulates that individuals form an identity by integrating their life experiences into an internalised, evolving story of the self that provides the individual with a sense of unity and purpose in life. Wikipedia
Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor from the University of Toronto, created the Past Authoring Program as a way to better understand our life story. It involves a series of online writing exercises, which acts as a guided autobiography.The Past Authoring Program was partly inspired by research conducted by James Pennebaker, a pioneer of writing therapy, in 1986. In his studies, participants wrote for 15 to 30 minutes per day, for a number of days or weeks, about past traumatic events, while control studies wrote about every day activities. The individuals assigned to write about past stressful occurrences typically experienced improvements in their psychological and physical health, compared to those who wrote about trivial events.
Pennebeaker and Peterson postulate that these positive consequences are related to the development of a coherent narrative, suggesting that thoughtful writing may help in the production of organised, structured memories, and in drawing more specific causal conclusions about what had happened to them in the past. In other words, this autobiographic exercise helps us to better understand the story of our lives and construct an improved narrative identity.
Carry out a personality test
These should be taken with a pinch of salt, but you would be amazed at how much you can learn about yourself by taking a personality test. Earlier this year, I carried out the Insights Discovery test and was amazed at how accurate the feedback report was, which allowed me to use the information to improve how I respond in certain situations in the workplace. Insights is based on the psychology of Carl Jung and is one of the most popular personality tests available, primarily used within business organisations. There are other similar personality tests including the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. 16 Personalities is a fun one which you can take online for free, and may help to bring awareness to things that are ‘Not Known to Self’.
Ask yourself self-reflective questions.
Self-reflection is crucial if we want to improve our self-awareness, and should really become a continuous process rather than a once off. Developing a regular practice of reflecting on yourself and on your life is an excellent habit, which a journal can be very useful for. Here are some examples of self-reflective questions to get you started:
What are my strengths?
What do I need to improve?
What are my core values?
How do I react in stressful situations?
Am I emotionally and socially intelligent?
What are my fears and insecurities?
Real progress on anything takes deep work, and it’s no different with our own growth. Personally, learning about self-awareness over the past few years has helped me better understand my own self-limiting beliefs as well as hopefully making me a more bearable and authentic human to deal with. I am far from perfect, but I am at least aware of my limitations and willing to work on them. This is as good a starting point as any.
Cairbre is the face behind Feed Me Strength. Currently the Head Strength and Conditioning coach for Arsenal Women FC. He has a passion for athletic performance and an endless curiosity about the inner workings of the body and mind.
UKSCA accredited, with a Sport and Exercise Sciences BSc, and Sports Performance MSc from the University of Limerick.