They say the first step is admitting you have a problem, and that’s true in every aspect of life. Self-awareness and introspection have the ring of of a self-help guru’s empty promises, but they are the starting point that leads to every improvement.
As humans, we are inherently emotional beings. The brain reacts and responds to an event more quickly than the thinking brain which is why sometimes you may feel like you have reacted poorly to a particular situation during times of stress or emotional distress. Have you ever been in a situation where you yell at your spouse for absolutely no reason because you had a bad day at work? This is your brain not being able to rationalise the situation at work and telling you that your spouse is the cause of your anger and frustration.
The reason I bring this up is purely because emotions influence our decision-making, they motivate us, they help us survive and they play a huge role in interpersonal communication. To lead a better, happier and in turn more successful life, we must learn to better manage our emotions and to better manage our emotions we must be extremely self-aware and know what our internal triggers to frustration is and how we go from happy to sad.
So what is self-awareness and how do we get it?
Daniel Goleman says ‘If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are unable manage your distressing emotions and if you can’t hand empathy, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far’.
Increasing our self-awareness means recognising our personal strengths and weaknesses, along with such other things our motivational and deciton-making strategies, our communication patterns and, of course, our emotional tendencies.
In my experience, the internal silence when meditating can lead to self-awareness and better emotional management. I used to struggle when I was younger to silence my thoughts and find inner peace and it wasn’t until I started mediating that I ‘saw the light’ and was able to understand who I truly was, what my strengths were and what my weaknesses were. Once it became clear to me who I really was in this chaotic world, I was able to capitalise on my strengths and work extremely hard on the weaker areas when I needed them to shine.
Socrates’s phrase was “know thyself.” Though it may come as a surprise to some philosophers, self-knowledge requires more than intellectual self-examination. It demands knowing something about your feelings. In my experience philosophers are, in general, not the most emotionally attuned individuals. Many are prone to treat the ebb and flow of feelings as though our passions were nothing but impediments to reason.
First steps in becoming self-aware:
- Learn to meditate. If you are able to silence your mind for the first 20 minutes of every morning, you are on the path to understanding yourself better.
- Keep a journal. A journal is a great way to understand yourself if you are in the habit of writing in it each night before you go to bed. You can evaluate your day, write about what frustrated you the most and what your goals are for the following day.
- Ask the five people closest to you to list your strengths and weaknesses: This is a comforting task as you get an insight into how your friends view you. It’s a great task and should be taken when you are prepared to take on board the criticism.