Welcome back and Happy August, Keep It Simple-ers!
At the beginning of this month, I (self) proclaimed August as Keep It Simple’s Self-Awareness month. My own journey to understanding myself better has been a long and arduous one – with many ups and downs, forks in the road, mountains, and billy goats and trolls (okay – so there weren’t any REAL goats or trolls – even though I have wanted pygmy goats for several years now). However, as many times as I have wished to go back to the “ignorance-is-bliss” state to avoid some of the pain and discomfort that comes along with this process, I really wouldn’t change anything I have learned or come to understand about myself. Much of it has been too valuable, enlightening, and validating!
As a change enthusiast, I get excited when people talk about making positive changes in their life. But I also know from personal experience that if the attempts at making those changes are not accompanied with some level of self-awareness, it is only a matter of time before old patterns and habits creep their way back in. And then we’re right back where we started, aren’t we? Believe me, I’ve been there many times!
So, what is self-awareness? How do we know if we have it or not? I know – self-awareness has become quite a buzz word (and yes, I admit, I’m guilty of using it often myself, assuming everyone knows what it means). But even when we simplify it as “being aware of oneself”, it still doesn’t really give us a good idea of what it’s all about! So, what they heck is it, Michelle? Stop beating around the bush for Pete’s sake! Well, psychologist Daniel Goleman, author of the best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence (1995), proposes that self-awareness is “knowing one’s internal states, preference, resources and intuitions”. His definition emphasizes the ability to monitor our inner world, our thoughts, and emotions as they arise. Another way of looking at it comes from psychologists Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund who first developed the theory of self-awareness in 1972.
They proposed that: “when we focus our attention on ourselves, we evaluate and compare our current behavior to our internal standards and values. We become self-conscious as objective evaluators of ourselves.”1
To break it down even further, I look at five areas to consider when working on developing self-awareness:
1. What do I think about myself or how do I view myself in my world? (self-perception)
2. What do I want and need in my life? (personal values)
3. How do I respond or react in varying emotional situations? (self-regulation)
4. What is my potential? What are my qualities as a human being? (self-identity)
5. What character traits and skills do I have? (self-development)
So, do we all have some level of self-awareness that intrinsically is part of who we are? Delightfully, for most people, the short answer is yes. Many of us are aware of when we are comfortable or uncomfortable in high stakes meeting, for example. Or, most of us know when we are telling a white-lie to someone we love (come on, you know we all do it sometimes!). However, there are often parts of our lives that are conducted on auto-pilot – doing some things mindlessly and without conscious knowledge of what is driving us to do them – and this is where we may get ourselves into trouble. For example, my auto-pilot tendencies lean toward food most of the time – especially during moments or periods of high or low emotions. When I’m feeling particularly tired or overwhelmed, I head for the fridge or the cupboard (even when I’m not hungry), or I’ll catch myself mindlessly munching from a bag of chips while I scroll through Facebook or Instagram (usually because I’m putting something off or because I don’t have the energy or gumption to get on with it). The cool thing is, now that I’m more aware of this automatic go-to, I catch myself that much more quickly (meaning, I don’t eat the whole bloody bag of chips before realizing what I’ve done). But it wasn’t until I started being curious about myself and what makes me ME that I even had the slightest idea of what was going on or WHY.
Now, did all this wherewithal just come to me in a dream one night and suddenly I was on the path of self-awareness? Gosh, no. Nothing that magical or instantly gratifying happened. Instead, I got tired of repeating the same old patterns (which usually meant that I screwed something up or greatly disappointed or hurt someone), and feeling ashamed and/or guilty as a result. I knew that I didn’t want my life to be a Bill Murray’s “Ground Hog Day” movie reel; so, I started reading books, watching videos, studying, and researching anything I could find about learning more about myself and understanding how I function. I also journal-ed often (for the record, I’ve kept a journal since I was a kid, although I’m not an every day contributor), especially during times of deepest angst, sorrow, joy, or curiosity. It wasn’t until during one of my Master’s program courses on “Mindfulness” that I came to also appreciate the eye-opening power of this incredible inner capacity-building self-awareness tool as well.
So where does Keep It Simple come into becoming more self-aware? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1. Find a quiet space to reflect on the question, “Who Am I?” – use a journal to jot down your thoughts or a voice recorder (most cell phones have this tool). Consider what you love about yourself and your life, and what you would like to improve upon.
2. Take time to ask the questions, “What is working well for me in my life?” and “What is not working well for me?” It may be beneficial to make two columns on a piece of paper and write the questions as each header.
3. Make a list of activities you love to currently do in your life. Once done, make a list of the activities you WANT to be doing in your life that you aren’t doing YET.
Becoming self-aware does not happen overnight, and there are so many techniques and activities to help along the way! By sharing my own experiences, knowledge, and understanding my goal is to help you start or continue your journey in a way that is meaningful and valuable to you.
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Until next time…
Keep It Simple,