Self-awareness is a superpower that unleashes your full potential.
The goal is to understand what drives your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors on a deep level.
Getting in sync with your most natural self allows you to play the game of life on easy mode. Are you ready to win? Let's go!
What is self-awareness?
"Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom." -Aristotle
Every human being forms habits throughout their lifetime.
Some habits, like brushing and flossing our teeth, are beneficial.
Other habits, like smoking and eating candy for breakfast, have consequences.
Changing a habit is hard. After you repeat a behavior many times, it becomes automatic.
At least 40% of your daily activity qualifies as a habit (read: you do the thing without any thought process).
Others argue habitual behavior patterns account for up to 90% of activity. The real total's probably in the middle.
For most of the day, you might as well be possessed by a spirit, because your mind isn't engaged in whatever you're doing.
Do you pause to reflect before you open a social media app and doom scroll through scary sounding headlines? No. You just do it.
This is the opposite of self-awareness, which is defined as: "Conscious knowledge of one's own character, feelings, motives, and desires."
The key word is "conscious." Without a conscious awareness of how your actions influence yourself and your loved ones, bad things will happen.
Why's it hard to be self-aware?
“Until you realize how easy it is for your mind to be manipulated, you remain the puppet of someone else's game.” -Evita Ochel
Let's return to doom scrolling for a moment.
The average American spends two hours on social media every day.
Social media apps are built to be addictive. Their creators borrowed tricks from casino slot machines.
Even worse, many people use Facebook and Twitter to follow news stories, which are overwhelmingly negative.
The media isn't here to inform you. They're here to frighten you. It's true. Every news outlet preys on your negativity bias.
People don't pay as much attention to positive news stories. Thus, positive stories aren't covered. And negative stories are exaggerated.
This is why Donald Trump's international peace deals and Nobel Peace Prize nominations got minimal coverage, while every tweet receives endless scrutiny.
For the record, I'm not a Trump supporter. But he is absolutely right about one thing. Our biased media outlets deserve the "fake news" label.
They aren't concerned with presenting an objective assessment of world events. Most "journalism" is PR or propaganda in disguise.
What's this have to do with self-awareness? Everything. We live in a world where people and entities try to manipulate us 24/7.
Advertisers. Government spooks. Fake news producers. Social media algorithms. There is no escape in the digital age.
Every time you look at a screen, assume you're being manipulated. Learn to program yourself or be programmed.
To become self-aware, you must first become situationally aware of how many lies you're being fed.
Why does self-awareness matter?
“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” -C.G. Jung
A lack of self-awareness causes many major problems.
The biggest one is an inability to admit or acknowledge your mistakes.
Failing to be open about your flaws will halt your progress faster than anything else.
Imagine a relationship with a partner who insists on being "right" all the time. It's pure misery.
You can't negotiate or have grown-up conversations with this individual, because their ego is too fragile.
The same tendency appears in professional collaborations. Freelance copywriters and web designers know what I mean.
You get hired by a client to build a new website or produce content for it. And then they insist on a ton of adjustments that make no sense.
"Let's change the color from blue to orange. Can the button say Purchase Today instead of Buy Now? Oh, here's a random cartoon my kid drew. Put that on top."
Never mind the reality your design and word choices were based on YEARS of practice. Some clients arrogantly assume their instinct is better than your expertise.
There's nothing wrong with trusting your instinct or intuition. But you have to earn the right. And your gut feeling should often be: "You know what? I'm not sure."
If that thought never occurs to you, I have bad news. Your self-awareness is on life support. You also might be suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect.
Being skilled in one aspect doesn't mean you're good at everything. I'm the best at writing and web design. But I sure suck at arts and crafts.
I'm not saying celebrities should never talk about politics, but it's astounding how confident they can be about an uneducated opinion.
It's better to be honest with yourself when you're not 100% sure about something, because then you can find the right answer.
Lastly, people who lack self-awareness identify with their feelings too much. Feeling an emotion doesn't mean it's accurate.
For two decades, I hated exercise. This feeling was based on nothing more than how out-of-shape I was at the time.
Today, I love exercise. It benefits my mood, self-esteem, energy levels, and mental health more than anything else.
The things that make you feel uncomfortable are often the very same things that prove to be rewarding.
How can you become more self-aware?
“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?” -Marcus Aurelius
Essentially, self-awareness requires five key components (use the BRAIN acronym to easily store this information in your mental memory):
-Receptive to feedback
-Ability to pay attention
As we age, our days begin to look exactly the same.
While this can be comforting, it also leads to overconfidence.
We become increasingly convinced that we have everything figured out.
The easiest way to escape this trap? Learn something new. The specifics don't matter.
It could be a foreign language. It could be a new skill like code, photography, or graphic design.
You could even incorporate health and fitness goals by learning to cook new meals or perform new exercises.
If you're constantly a "beginner" in one realm of life, you'll receive eternal reminders that you still have room to grow.
Receptive to Feedback
How do you react to criticism?
If you're like most people, you get defensive.
This creates serious problems in relationships and the workplace.
People might become afraid to speak up when the quality of your work or behavior is subpar.
In a worst case scenario, you might find yourself in divorce court or the unemployment line without understanding why.
We all have blind-spots: annoying habits, uneducated opinions, inefficient processes, and an extensive list of personality flaws.
Instead of shunning feedback, actively seek it. Start with something small like asking a housemate how they feel about your contributions to chores.
For now, show them you can listen without mounting an aggressive defense. Later, move onto bigger issues related to your overall character and attitude.
Ability to Pay Attention
Without attention, there can be no awareness.
Begin by being more conscious of your breathing pattern.
Taking a few deep breaths is the fastest way to calm your internal operating system.
Close your eyes. Inhale. Count to ten as your belly expands. Exhale. Count to ten as your belly contracts.
Repeat for ten cycles and open your eyes. Notice your mind isn't as loud as usual. Observe your body doesn't feel as tense.
Incredible, huh? A calm presence is a prerequisite to live in the present. You'll see small but important details more vividly from this headspace.
Your next challenge is to take a daily walk. I don't care where. Downtown, neighborhood, local park. Pick a location and stick with it for at least a month.
Before you exit your vehicle, repeat the breathing exercise above. Resist the urge to look at your phone. Scan your surroundings and search for something new.
"New" isn't meant to be taken literally. I really mean something new to you. A tree with an interesting shape. A storefront with beautiful art. A yard with a cute dog. Anything you've never noticed will do.
A wild thought appears.
You automatically give it weight.
This is the wrong approach to take.
At times, the human mind is a pathological liar.
Imposter syndrome isn't exclusive to novices. Even masters struggle with it.
You might feel as if you'll never get in shape, find a romantic partner, or obtain a lucrative career.
Train yourself to challenge thoughts like these. They are usually built on a rotten foundation or short-term perspective.
On the other hand, you might be overconfident. Positive thinking is great, but it's not enough to guarantee an astronomically successful future.
Here's a life hack I use. Before publishing an article, I read it from the POV of several friends or network connections I admire, and edit to improve the flow as I go.
See your opinions as a work in process. Don't be attached to them. I intentionally have conflicting opinions, because this exposes me to a wider range of arguments, and allows me to empathize with both sides.
Fresh experiences are an absolute must.
Our senses aren't fully engaged during routine tasks.
Why should they be? You've repeated the steps a thousand times.
We live in a weird world where travel is unsafe at best and impossible at worst.
That said, you don't have to book an international flight or take a cross country drive.
Long ago, I gave myself the goal of visiting every national park. It was too difficult at the time.
So I found an alternative. I made a list of every state park within a hundred miles and visited them all.
They weren't as majestic as Yosemite or Yellowstone. Nonetheless, they provided me with a novel experience.
Winter is coming, so this idea might not seem appealing. That's okay. You don't HAVE to go outside. Novelty comes in many forms.
Listen to a song or musician you've never heard. Even better, try a genre you're not familiar with. The same reasoning could be applied with books or movies.
Another option is to explore a new area from the comfort of your vehicle. There are hundreds or thousands of roads and neighborhoods in any city. Somehow I doubt you've seen them all.
Self-awareness: one small step today, one giant leap for your future.
Self-awareness sounds magical in theory.
The concept of being self-aware might even feel like voodoo.
No sorcery is needed. Just small, sequential steps like the ones outlined above.
I encourage you to make a list of takeaways (now, not later). This will cement the information inside your brain.
You should also bookmark this page for future reference. Come back next week, read it again, and make a brand new list.
Don't trust yourself to remember. Schedule this task in your daily planner or online calendar. Note the URL for convenience's sake.
Did I cause a flashback to school? My bad. Teacher mode activated! I just want to make sure you apply these concepts. Advice is worthless without application.