The famous tennis player Billie Jean King once said: “I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion.”
Self-awareness is having conscious knowledge of our thoughts and emotions. Those who are self-aware tend to act consciously rather than passively, meaning they make better decisions, have higher levels of psychological health, and have a more positive outlook on life.
So the fundamental question has to be: how do we help develop it?
1. Ask for feedback
One way in which we can improve self-awareness is through asking for feedback. Feedback is most useful when it is given by those who understand us and will be honest. It is important to be told what we need to hear, rather than what we want to hear.
When asking for feedback, either/or questions about our behaviours should be avoided, as they set the narrative and put words into the mouth of those providing feedback, stopping them from generating their own ideas.
Furthermore, when receiving feedback, we need to be open-minded – particularly if there is a difference of opinion as such situations foster learning. It may be necessary to question the feedback to enhance our understanding and to allow ourselves to make the necessary improvements.
2. Recognise strengths and weaknesses
Self-awareness can be improved through recognition of our strengths and weaknesses. Having awareness means that we can work on our weakness and seek help if it is needed to make the necessary improvements. Asking for help is often perceived in a negative way; but it should not be, as it can build a team around us and enhance our effort and motivation to work harder.
3. Better self-reflection
Carrying out 15 minutes of daily self-reflection is a good way to enhance self-awareness, as it allows us to understand ourselves on a deeper level. Using a diary is an effective way to carry this out, as it provides an opportunity for feelings to be communicated in a tangible way, and unlock thoughts and emotions that might otherwise be disregarded.
4. Monitor self-talk
Monitoring self-talk can improve self-awareness, as it makes our thoughts and emotions more obvious. Self-talk needs to be helpful, with wins being celebrated and failures not being excessively dwelt on. Saying ‘Stop’ after a negative thought can also act as a platform to halt a train of thought and follow it with more positive and helpful self-talk.
5. Practise saying “no”
The ability to say no to ourselves to put off short-term gratification in favour of long-term gain is an important life-skill, and practicing this can improve self-awareness. To master this skill, we should set ourselves goals for the number of temptations we will resist each day and increase this number as we improve.
The implications of being able to say ‘no’ are also far reaching. In the famous marshmallow experiment, children who were able to restrain from eating a marshmallow until the researcher returned were more academically and socially competent and better able to deal with stress 10 years later when compared with those who ate the marshmallow before the researcher returned.
6. Question decisions
Before acting on a decision, we should come up with three good reasons as to why we should pursue it. Stopping to ask yourself ‘why’ improves our self-awareness as it allows us to better understand the motives behind our decisions and explore them further, meaning that we can be confident that the decisions we make are good ones.
The development of self-awareness does not happen overnight and can be difficult, as we are ‘not there’ to observe ourselves. Often, we operate automatically; unconscious of our thoughts and feelings. However, through receiving honest feedback, enhancing our understanding of our strengths and weaknesses and monitoring our thoughts and emotions, we can work towards becoming more self-aware.