If you want to learn what self-awareness is, how to benefit from it (not beat yourself up), and how to be more self-aware, this article is a “must read.”
If you have any questions after reading, let me know in the comments below 🙂
What is self-awareness?
Self-awareness is the ability to direct our attention toward ourselves and process what we observe (1).
There are two main types of self-awareness – situational and dispositional (2).
Situational self-awareness is comparing, and working to align, our actions with our internal standards.
That is, it’s how we see ourselves relative to who we aspire to be and our efforts to be that person.
Dispositional self-awareness, on the other hand, is reflecting on our thoughts and feelings and their relationships to others.
It’s more of a process of evaluating who we are compared to others, including how they might see us.
What are the benefits of self-awareness?
Self-awareness isn’t inherently beneficial or detrimental.
First, we’ll cover some of its benefits, then we’ll cover some of its potential downsides.
Then, we’ll discuss what you can do to make sure self-awareness is a positive force in your life.
Potential benefits of self-awareness
In a 2015 study, researchers explored the effects of self-awareness training on work satisfaction (3).
After six weeks, employees reported improved job-related well-being, appreciation of diversity, communication, and confidence.
In another study, this time in 2019, overweight and obese participants completed eight weeks of self-awareness training (4).
Afterward, they demonstrated lower stress, cortisol levels, and restrained, emotional, and external eating behaviors.
They also saw reduced BMI, waist-to-hip ratio, fasting blood sugar, LDL-C, triglycerides, HbA1c and body fat.
Multiple sclerosis patients in a 2021 study went through a training program similar to those in the 2019 study (5).
After eight weeks, they showed improved processing speed, fatigue, stress, and verbal memory.
However, their results did not appear to last long beyond the training period.
Of course, some of us benefit from self-awareness without any training whatsoever.
For example, in a 2016 study, psychology students were evaluated for self-awareness before a patient diagnosis and treatment exercise (6).
Those who were more self-aware at baseline made better decisions during the exercise.
That said, self-awareness isn’t a guaranteed ticket to a life of rainbows and roses.
Potential downsides of self-awareness
A 2005 paper, “Self-Awareness and Constructive Functioning: Revisiting “the Human Dilemma””, explores the upsides and the downsides of self-awareness (7).
It acknowledges that self-awareness helps us take the perspectives of others, exercise self-control, work creatively, feel pride, and build self-esteem.
However, it points out that self-awareness can exacerbate negative experiences and promote self-criticism.
Furthermore, it elaborates that self-awareness can lead to binge eating, masochism, alcoholism, and drug use.
Much of whether we benefit or suffer from self-awareness comes down to how we use it.
If our insights toward ourselves lead us to ruminate over our shortcomings, we might not benefit.
If, however, we see our shortcomings as opportunities for growth, we might benefit greatly.
So, let’s cover some steps you might take to make the most of a strong sense of self-awareness.
How to be more self-aware
Unfortunately, self-awareness is not something many of us do very well.
We’re alright at it when it comes to specific, objective, familiar, and simple tasks, but otherwise we’re not very good at it (8).
Fortunately, there are steps we can take to help build this skill.
If you’ll recall, a few of the studies we discussed earlier involved self-awareness training.
The 2015 study used two training methods.
The first was based on journaling, reflection, self-analysis, and cultivating awareness of other people’s perceptions.
The second training method involved the Enneagram personality test.
The Enneagram is based on understanding and recognizing internal motivations, according to nine character “types” (9).
However, there are a variety of personality tests you might consider exploring (10).
The 2019 and 2021 studies used a method known as the Pythagorean Self-Awareness Intervention.
The Pythagorean Self-Awareness Intervention comprises three stages (11):
- Recalling the day’s events in a sequential manner
- Reflecting on the thoughts and emotions related to each of the day’s events
- Appraising one’s attitude toward those events
If you’re looking for something simple and casual, consider journaling.
Another convenient option might be a free, online, self-led personality test.
If you’re looking for something more structured, consider formal training.
You might also consider a personality test led by a mental health professional.
Any of these will include reflecting on your thoughts, actions, and behaviors.
You’ll then want to evaluate how these thoughts, actions, and behaviors align with your values.
To minimize the risk of this leading to beating yourself up, consider a mindfulness practice.
That is, work to observe yourself without judgment.
For example, you might reframe your shortcomings as opportunities for growth, not static flaws.
This mindful approach can help foster a more beneficial, positive self-awareness experience (12).
What to do now
The steps above are only suggestions.
You’ll need to find what works best for you.
Journaling might be the simplest, most tangible strategy for getting started.
It requires nothing but you, your time, and a way to record your reflections.
This won’t just spontaneously happen, though, so make time for it.
Schedule it, if necessary.
Consider using the following questions to steer your efforts:
- What do you feel went well today?
- How do you wish the day would have gone differently?
- What role did you play in the day’s events?
- What patterns do you observe in your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors?
- How do these patterns align with your best life and who you want to be?
- Which patterns would you like to reinforce?
- Are there patterns of which you would like to let go?
- What steps can you take to make that happen?
It’s important to focus on what you can control.
Often, that’s only yourself.
That’s the point, though.
Your thoughts, emotions, and actions are your most powerful tools for affecting change.
This is by no means always comfortable or pleasant.
Self-awareness is hard and you might struggle.
Have some self-compassion when you fall short.
Approach this process mindfully, resisting harsh judgment.
You might not be who you want to be.
You can never be perfect, but you can always be better.
It will take work and patience.
You’re worth it.
You’ve got this.