The power of self awareness, and how to cultivate it

Learning By Camille Pellicer

Fri, May 22, 20

Self awareness is a process. But by nurturing it, you can better understand yourself and your world.

According to the poet William Meredith, the worst thing that can happen in the life of a man is that “he did not pay attention”. In the busyness of modern life, rarely are we provided with safe spaces to step back and consciously reflect on our mental and emotional wellbeing. Without this ability to reflect and process the meaning in our everyday life and personal experience, we can easily become caught up in unhealthy unconscious behaviour and feel unfulfilled with how things are.

One of the biggest gifts of humankind is having the possibility to constantly reinvent yourself and to endlessly explore and learn about this collective human experience. As we develop a practice of self awareness, we can experience a richer life, we can allow deep healing and expand ourselves by opening up space within us to establish meaning and foster change.

What is self awareness?

Self awareness is a human faculty that enables us to become observers of our own life journey. It allows us to witness – without judgement – our mental, emotional and physical states. Through self awareness, we can make sense of and process our human experience with the powerful gift of conscious attention. By developing this natural aptitude, we can learn to regulate the quality of our reality and access an empowering sense of freedom and choice.

The insights we gain through self awareness can help to shape the life we want and motivate us to become the person we want to be.

For example, when we can connect to our authenticity, we gain clarity around the changes we want to make to support ourselves and have more meaningful relationships. Without self awareness, we can become unconscious to our behaviours, repress our feelings and intuitions and often depart from living in alignment with our true values and best interests.

Man is a social animal, as defined by Aristotle, and although our learning process is individual, there can also be value in others’ perception, essential to form a fuller sense of self. According to a study conducted by organisational therapist, researcher and New York Times bestselling author Tasha Eurich, there are two types of self awareness: internal self awareness (how clearly we see ourselves, our own values, our own thought process, passions, aspirations, emotions and behaviours) external self awareness (how other people view us and our place in the world).

In Western societies, some of the most popular methods used to develop self awareness are creative processes, physical exercise, meditation, journaling and therapy. The list goes on but there’s no right way to ‘pay attention’ or be ‘self aware’ – your own journey is unique to you.

At States of Mind, we’re passionate about the benefits of self awareness, so we create safe spaces for young people to learn about and develop it for themselves.The teenage and young adult years are an ideal time to explore and nurture self awareness, allowing us to grow in a direction of our choice. We believe that by giving more people the opportunity to develop self awareness from a young age, they can learn to manage difficult experiences with more confidence and live significantly happier, healthier lives.

Self awareness (Photo by Marwane Pallas).jpg

Cultivating self awareness: Our top 5 tips

1. Focus on the WHAT and not the WHY

This is essential to get started and to avoid unhealthy patterns and negative self talk. As you start reflecting on your journey so far and where you want to take it, you might feel moments of judgement towards yourself and the world around you. Observe, but don’t judge and focus on what it is you see instead of why it is as you see it. Be aware of rumination, which is a form of internal awareness linked to anxiety and depression where you focus on negative and painful stories around your past and present self.

2. Take the time

Self awareness can become a habit that we value and enjoy. Most of us already have moments of self awareness throughout our days when we have a chat (to another person, or with ourselves) about our mental state, when take a big deep breath, or when we write in our journal.

The process of developing self awareness becomes more powerful and sustainable when we set the time aside and feel committed to ourselves. Whether it’s a set time with a friend or a psychologist, a dedicated time to exercise or write, a day to take yourself on a date and reflect on your journey so far; set the time aside to develop self awareness and make it one of your healthy priorities. You may think that you have more important things to do, however look at it as a time investment that will eventually come back to you with a better life quality and feeling of authenticity in being yourself.

3. Create a safe space

We often hear the phrase “safe space” or “create a space” and we may wonder, “What makes a space safe?” A safe space can be a physical space (a sanctuary of your own, a bedroom, an altar, a garden, a café you love, a journal) and also a mental space (a space inside yourself that you can find by closing your eyes, through meditation, relaxation, breathing techniques – somewhere you feel safe to hear your inner voice). Ideally, you should try to find both a physical sanctuary and a mental space. You can find some guidance in how to develop a self reflective practice with our next article in the journal. This is a guided method to get started on your self reflective practice that will lead you to your safe space.

4. Ask questions

Get into the habit of checking in with yourself. Ask yourself a few times a day “How am I feeling right now?” Just sit with the question for a few moments, meditate on it, or write your immediate thoughts in a journal.

It can also be helpful to get external insight from those who know you. Identify some things about yourself that you would like more clarity on, and ask your friends, family members, psychologist, teachers their thoughts. It may seem counterintuitive to look to others for insight about yourself, but it can help to create a well-rounded perspective of yourself. But take a moment to imagine your awareness is a room. Naturally, you only have your own perception of this room, and the more you get another perspective, the more you’ll know it from all the different angles. There is no right or better angle, just a greater understanding of your own story.

5. Cultivate imagination and empathy

Self awareness allows you to become the observer of your thought process, of your mind, of your body and of the world around you. In short, it can help bring a different sense of consciousness and a greater attention to things in your life. But developing it takes time and effort, and so you want to have as many tools as possible to help you on this journey. Here are two of the key ones:

Ultimately, we all share a collective human experience. Self awareness is a gift that can expand our understanding of what it means to be human, and to be on this wild ride called life, together.

Learn more about how our programmes help to foster self awareness and emotional intelligence here.

References: Tascha Eurich, “What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)”, Harvard Business Review, 2018