Renowned leadership expert, the late Warren Bennis wrote that self-awareness is “the most difficult task any of us faces. But until you know your strengths and weaknesses, you cannot succeed in any but the most superficial sense of the word.” A well-developed sense of self-awareness allows you to regularly take stock of how you are “doing” based on your value system. On a basic level, you need to be able to “step outside” of yourself, to observe how you are doing and to be able to “coach” yourself in the right direction.
Tennis Hall of Fame member and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Billie Jean King said quite simply: “I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion.”
Here is a sports analogy that can help to explain this concept: Consider an athlete who makes a mistake during competition. So often, the mistake is followed by negative self-talk and replaying the mistake which, if left unchecked, can cycle for the remainder of the game. Yet, if that athlete can realize, in the moment the negative feeling arises, that it is arising, then he or she can use a strategy to move past it. This process of self-awareness and change is invaluable and is what successful athletes and teams do all the time. It is a fundamental of Human Reset.
Leaders need to have a keen sense of self-awareness. I recently read a case study describing a top executive who had a clear vision for her company to shift their marketing strategy as a necessary move to adapt to changing market conditions. While her management team generally agreed about the needed change in course, this top executive simply couldn’t affect the change. In the end, she was unaware that her arrogance and pushiness caused her colleagues to reject the shift despite generally agreeing that it could be good for the company.
Because so much of our lives is spent in relationships with others, you need to be aware of how your words, moods and body language influences others. Can you perceive feelings of bias toward someone? Can you recognize how your life experiences influence your outlook and behavior? Further, when you feel agitated about the way someone is acting, can you have the self-awareness to explore why that feeling occurs? “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves” – Carl Jung. Think about that quote a bit. Had the executive in the previous example taken a more thoughtful approach, she may well have created enthusiasm for her idea, while discovering a path towards her own self improvement. Your awareness can help you check your ego before it’s too late.
Self-awareness is like having an invisible coach whispering to you as you go about your day’s activities. A coach that is trying gently to hold you to your own version of standards and norms that you’ve set for yourself either consciously or unconsciously. A coach who also can help you evaluate those norms to ensure that they are fair and reasonable for you. A coach who can push you to be the best version of yourself. A coach who won’t let you give anything less than all you’ve got.
When we grow our self-awareness, we become better friends, spouses, partners and team mates as we are able to critique ourselves and also to grow empathy for others while we are in this process. Indeed, self awareness is the root of personal growth. It is your superpower.
If you’d like to improve your self awareness, there are a few things you can try:
Try writing in a journal at the end of each day – what did you do well? Where could you have behaved differently? What was the quality of your thinking? What biases may you have uncovered?Meditation can be very helpful. Even if you’ve never meditated before try simply sitting quietly while noticing sensations – sounds, physical sensations, visual sensations (even with eyes closed.) Try too to notice how thoughts and moods can come and go. By objectifying, we learn to become an observer of ourselves. We don’t need to “be” our thoughts.Ask for candid feedback from a trusted friend, coach or supervisor. Approach this with an open mind as the goal here is improvement. Set an alarm on your phone for a certain time of day, and take stock of how you are doing at that point. Step outside yourself and give yourself a quick evaluation.
Our reset bracelet can help remind you to practice self-awareness. When you notice the bracelet on your wrist, take stock of how you are feeling, and know that you can “reset” and come back to present.
Whatever you do, you’ll want to make a practice out of it. That’s really the only way to make gains here. How do you want to live the rest of your life?
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – Jung
For a deeper dive here, check out this excellent article by Coutney E. Ackerman. For an even deeper dive, read Dan Goleman’s bestseller Emotional Intelligence.
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