5 Reasons you Need Self-Awareness to Find Meaning

self-awareness to find meaning

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Learn why you need self-awareness to find meaning in your life.

Our culture is filled with things you can do to be happier. Go out and buy X, Y, and Z. Invest in your pursuits and change A, B, and C. We fill our to-do list with elaborate and diverse steps to bring some meaning into our lives.

This focus on outward actions, however, is pulling our attention away from where it needs to be.

To find meaning in life, we need to look inward.

We need self-awareness to find meaning in our lives. Only when we know ourselves can we understand what we need on our happiness to-do list (or, you know, whatever organizational management system you use).

to-do list for meaning

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Self-Awareness to Find Meaning

Self-awareness is our ability to notice our thoughts and feelings and how they influence our behaviors. In doing so, we can monitor ourselves because we have a better understanding of what our internal preferences are.

I’ve written all about self-awareness in my “Find Clarity” series. For the purpose of this post, we need to understand that self-awareness includes a broad range of personal insight, including values, passions, ambitions, fit, reactions, patterns, and impact.

Additionally, self-awareness involves a) knowing what we’re feeling, and b) what caused this feeling.

So what does this have to do with finding meaning? After all, the oft-repeated question is, “What is the meaning of life?” It’s not “What’s the meaning of our life?”

But maybe it should be.

Why do we need Self-Awareness to find meaning?

Marketing experts estimate that the average American is exposed to somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 advertisements and brand exposure a day. Seem high? If you consider that the average adult gets over 8 hours of media consumption a day, it becomes believable. Well that, and the fact that $240 billion was spent on media advertising in the United States in 2019 (and to think I hesitated to spend $8 on a Pinterest ad).

Think back to our meaning of life question. It’s like asking, “What is the meaning of life?” and having millions of people (and $240 billion worth of answers) scream back at you. Even if you can hear a couple of voices amongst the inaudible noise, how do you know they will work for you?

Also, take a moment to think about the intention of these media salesmen. They don’t actually want you to find meaning – because if you did, you’d stop spending money in your searches.

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Therefore, if you can’t trust others, you need to rely on one voice you can trust: your own.

You need to possess the self-awareness to find meaning in your individual life. First, you need to distinguish from the onslaught of cultural messages that work for you and what doesn’t. Second, you need to use your self-awareness to center your life around the meaning once you find it.

Sound difficult? It doesn’t have to be. Self-awareness is a never-ending journey, but one you can start right now.

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6 Reasons You Need Self-Awareness to Find Meaning in Your Life

1. Identify your emotions

Human emotions are incredibly complicated. In fact, our brain is trying to trick us almost as much as the media advertisers are (damn, we’re getting double-teamed!). Our emotions make us focus on the short-term: feeling temporary pleasure and avoiding pain.

Until we identify our emotions, we won’t be able to understand how we’re feeling about certain aspects of our lives.

Let’s say Susie is feeling a bit down about the current status of her life. She regularly goes through periods of anger, depression, and guilt. What she might not realize is that the anger comes from her poor relationship with her mother, the depression comes from unhappiness at work, and the guilt comes from a misguided sense of self.

The reason she doesn’t realize these causes is because she isn’t even aware of what emotion she is feeling. She needs emotional self-awareness to find meaning in her life.

Once she can identify her emotion, she can start to look at its underlying causes. Then, she can begin to shape her life around the things that bring her positive emotion (i.e., joy and happiness) and avoid the things that bring her negative emotion (i.e., anger and guilt).

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2. Understand your motivation

Motivation is the reason behind why we do certain things. You may have heard the distinction between extrinsic motivation (“I do this because I will be rewarded/punished if I don’t”) and intrinsic motivation (“I do this because I genuinely enjoy it”).

It should be no surprise that we derive more meaning from things we are intrinsically motivated to do.

You need self-awareness to find meaning in why you are doing certain things. Are you genuinely interested in the work? Or are you doing it because of other people? Furthermore, studies have proven that external rewards and punishments can actually destroy our intrinsic motivation over time. We can lose enjoyment in activities we once loved.

What drives you to get up in the morning? What core values guide your daily pursuits?

Meaning doesn’t just appear in our lives. It needs to be cultivated in the actions we take and the reasons we make them.

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3. Evaluate your time and priorities

Time is the most precious commodity we have. While money can be earned and exchanged, the time we have in our lives can’t be traded. Therefore, time is a critical feature in creating a meaningful life.

We need to be self-aware of how we allocate our time to find more meaning in our lives.

You may have seen the famous Youtube video in which a man shows the amount of time you have with Jellybeans. He quantifies the days of your life into categories like sleeping, working, doing chores, and commuting. In the end, he leaves 2,740 days “undetermined.” The purpose of the video is to get you to think of how you use your time.

Imagine if, instead of labeled activities, he divided up the jelly beans into two simple categories: “meaningful activities” and “non-meaningful activities.” This division would not be universal. Instead, it would depend entirely on each individual.

We need self-awareness to find meaning in our lives with our time. If we have our own jellybean graph, how much of it would show activities that we care about, enjoy, and find purpose in?

The first step is realizing our priorities. The second step is prioritizing our time around them.

time in your life

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4. Understand and utilize your strengths

We must recognize what we want out of life. Developing self-awareness to discover what gives us meaning can be incredibly difficult. In our media-consumed world, it’s no small feat to distinguish our own voice above the crowd.

But knowing what we want doesn’t give us anything if we don’t know how to achieve it.

Let’s say I realize that I derive meaning from the study of mushrooms and want to dedicate my life to them (in all of their spongy, spotted glory). Now, if I’m not aware of my own strengths and weaknesses, I might set out in my pursuits in the wrong way entirely.

Perhaps I apply to a science program, despite my abysmal record with formal education. Or maybe I try to write a blog about mushrooms, even though I’m a horrible writer and have minimal computer skills. In both scenarios, I fail – even with having such clarity in my goal.

Understanding our strengths allows us to utilize them in pursuit of our life’s meaning.

In our mushroom example, I might be aware that management is my strength. It’d serve me best to apply to managerial jobs at mushroom factories. That way, I can follow my passion and be successful.

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5. Make changes toward growth

There are a lot of theories out there about what meaning is and how to achieve it. Science and philosophy buddy up on the “meaningful” playground at times, and willfully fight on the seesaw at other times. That being said, they come together for one crucial truth (despite advertisers’ best efforts to squash it).

A meaningful life is not achieved by any specific end goal or accomplishment. Instead, to find meaning in life, we need to have our sight set on the growth process.

Too often, we think statements like, “I’ll be happy when I achieve X” or “My life will have meaning once I do Y.” The thing is, X and Y will never be enough. The alphabet of life doesn’t actually stop at Z, despite our cultural narratives (and hours spent hooked on phonics).

True meaning comes from striving to reach our highest potential.

Of course, there are certain things we’ll never be able to do. (For example, I can’t increase my vertical jump by 12 inches, regardless of how badly I want to dunk the basketball). This is why we need to possess the self-awareness to find meaning in our growth and the changes we can make.

self-awareness to find meaning

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Conclusion

We’re hit with thousands of messages and advertisements a day, all targeted to craft an ever-elusive ideal of what a meaningful life looks like. It can be easy to buy into these voices. After all, our emotions often lead us to the question, “What is the meaning of life?”

In reality, we need to stop looking outward for this answer. Instead, we need to be looking inward. The key is to develop our self-awareness to find meaning in our lives.

There are five steps to developing self-awareness to find meaning:

  1. Identify your emotions
  2. Understand your motivation
  3. Evaluate your time and priorities
  4. Utilize your strengths
  5. Make changes toward growth

Consider each layer of self-awareness by answering the questions in the comments below. Want to learn more about how you can find meaning in your own life? Sign up with your email to receive weekly newsletters and a personal email from me, chock full of questions individualized to your story!

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FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS

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Comment below with answers, ideas, and more questions, or contact me to collaborate on a future post!

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EXPLORING YOURSELF

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What step do you think will be the most difficult for you?

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What core values guide your daily pursuits?

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How is your time divided up each day?

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EXPANDING YOUR WORLD

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How can we increase our intrinsic motivation?

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What effect do cultural narratives have on our mindset?

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How much time does the average person spend working? Sleeping? Watching TV?

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