Self-awareness drastically improves your life.
Do you ever feel out of touch with yourself or your place in the world? You’ve probably heard of the term self-awareness before, but do you know how much it can benefit you?
If you’re like I used to be, you might be associating self-awareness with a whole hippie-dippie, monk-esque, silence-and-incense type vibe. Or maybe you think you know yourself just fine, thank you very much.
You probably do know a lot about yourself. You’ve carefully selected your most important family memories, meticulously chosen your enjoyable pastimes, and publicly declared your favorite ice cream flavor (Moosetracks, anyone?).
But this doesn’t mean that you’re self-aware.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: we humans suck at understanding ourselves. In fact, a buttload of science proves the many ways that our brains are irrational and our emotions affect our thinking.
But I bet I don’t need science to convince you of this fact. Can you think of a time you felt stressed? Indecisive? Yeah… all situations that probably stemmed from a lack of self-awareness. I’ve certainly had my fair share.
But fortunately for us, it’s something we can develop.
What Is Self-Awareness?
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.
Self-awareness doesn’t need to be overly complicated.
For example, realizing, “I’m hungry” is a very basic level of awareness. Your stomach rumbles, you identify your hunger, and you are aware that you need food.
Pretty easy, right?
It gets complicated, however, when more emotions are at play.
Let’s say you’re running between meetings, stressed and anxious, when your mom calls you. You answer her call and then go on to listen to a five-minute story about your mom’s hairdresser’s niece’s dance recital and the funny thing that happened to her shoe.
Midway through your mom’s description (the shoe landed on the man’s head!), you snap at her.
Did the thought of a ballerina shoe hitting a man’s head make you angry? Probably not. Did the fact that your mom called you to share a funny part of her day set you off? Again, not likely.
Instead, your anger probably had something to do with your heightened stress levels and how unimportant your mom’s story seemed to you in your current hyper-focused state.
Self-awareness in the present requires two basic levels.
The first level of present self-awareness is that we need to understand what we are feeling.
While straightforward, it can be extremely challenging to identify and name the emotions we are experiencing in every moment – especially when they’re strong.
In the mom-call example, you answered the phone without taking inventory of your emotional state. Had you had the self-awareness to know that you were stressed and irritable, you might have known better than to answer the phone.
Self-awareness requires us to step back, take pause, and label what is happening inside of us.
Once we do this, the second level of self-awareness involves understanding why we are feeling a certain way.
This one can be trickier, and sometimes very complicated to answer. For the sake of our definition, though, it means that we can identify the source of our internal state.
If you are experiencing negative emotions, it is crucial to identify where these emotions are coming from. If you’re feeling anxious, what is causing your anxiety? If you’re stressed, what triggered your stress?
Knowing where your emotions stem from is the first step to finding solutions.
The same applies for positive emotions, too. If you are energized, what is it that created such positive anticipation? If you are joyful, what is inspiring your joy?
The sooner you recognize your positive emotions, the sooner you can replicate the situations and choices that caused them.
Self-awareness is also understanding who you are as a person
Without even knowing all of these insights, it’s clear that self-awareness encompasses many aspects of your life.
By this point, hopefully I’ve helped teach you what self-awareness is. Or perhaps your mouse is already moving to find the next Kylie Jenner Tik Tok post.
If you are committed to sticking with me, though (thanks mom and dad!), read below to learn the reasons that self-awareness can benefit your life.
9 Reasons Why Self-Awareness is So Important
It takes practice to develop your self-awareness fully. However, in doing so, you are setting yourself up for a happier, healthier life in a number of ways.
1. Gives you a better understanding of what you want and/or need
In our fast-paced world, we are continually being bombarded with external messages for what we “should have” and what we “should do.”
Billions of dollars go into some of these messages, so it’s no wonder we can’t help but listen (think about it: somehow makeup companies have convinced us to pay $35 to get our eyebrows waxed every month).
Additionally, some of the societal norms have been so deeply ingrained into society, we don’t even think to question them.
I mean, who tricked us into going into $50,000 of debt for a college degree that won’t even guarantee us a job?
Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have perfect eyebrows and undergrad degrees. What I am saying is that we need to be more aware of our role in these predefined pathways we follow.
As if these external messages aren’t enough, we are also profoundly influenced by internal emotions.
Fear and shame are two of our biggest and most evolutionary motivators. Some of us will literally do anything to avoid these feelings, even if it’ll bring us unhappiness in the long run.
During my senior year of college, I almost accepted a job at a school I didn’t want to work at in a city I didn’t want to live in all because I felt like I needed a job.
Fortunately, I was able to step back and realize, while I wanted a job, that was not the one for me.
It can be easy to get caught up in the information overload and the world of “should.” Taking the time to build our self-awareness can help us break free of this pressure and find our own answers.
2. Increases your chances of getting what you want and/or need
Once you have a better understanding of what you want and need, it goes without saying that you’ll have a better chance of getting it.
Rarely does life sit back and say, “Kara’s been running around like a crazy person looking for a method to pursue her writing. Let’s cut the confusion and give her a blog domain so she quits it with the journaling, sticky notes, and self-created memoir studies.”
I had to possess the self-awareness to know what I wanted to start working toward how I could get it.
(Sidenote: self-awareness in deciding what we want is perhaps the most difficult, so I don’t mean to underscore the work it takes to get there).
Self-awareness isn’t just tied to pursuing our own goals; it also helps in our interactions with other people.
For a species that has figured out how to create a Me-emoji that moves with our faces, it’s surprising how bad we still are at communicating with each other.
A significant reason behind these miscommunications is the fact that we often don’t actually know what we’re trying to say.
Sometimes we think we do. Or, worse yet, we think we’ll figure it out as we’re talking. Just like a person strolling down every single aisle of the grocery store because he’ll “know what he needs when he sees it,” we hope we will stumble upon our point somewhere between sentences three or four.
Greater self-awareness can allow us to say precisely what we want, increasing our chances of getting it.
3. Improves your decision making
We are faced with an enormous number of decisions every week. In fact, some reports say that the average adult makes about 35,000 conscious decisions a day.
In case you didn’t know, that’s a lot (especially considering the fact we’re only awake for 17ish hours a day, equating to over 2,000 decisions a waking hour).
If I spent as much time on each decision as I do on buying a new pair of shoes, I’d quite literally be paralyzed (my record is 2 hours 45 minutes; my parents still rue the day they brought me to the mall).
Because the number of decisions is so large, our brains use shortcuts to try to help us make decisions.
Human brains divide up our decision-making into two systems: instinctive and more deliberate.
For basic choices, our instinctive brain can make snap judgments based on previous experiences and prior knowledge. Not surprisingly, this can yield poor decisions.
When our critical thinking is activated, however, we still are often wrong. We’re easily influenced by cognitive biases, emotions, and sales tricks.
Self-awareness will help us to cut back on these outside and irrational influences on our brains. By knowing what we want, we can train our instinctive and critical thinking brain to rely more heavily on what we know we want.
Ultimately, we can make deliberate decisions that help lead us to happier, healthier lives.
4. Helps you manage your emotions
We all know what emotions are, at least in the sense of how they apply to our lives. For us humans, emotions have developed over time and are deeply rooted in our biological makeup.
You’ve probably all heard of fight-or-flight. At one point in our lives, the ability to identify an emotion – fear – could make or break if we survived a threat (Oh hey Sabertooth tiger, it’s me, a tasty human. I think I’ll run away from you now.)
It’s no wonder, then, that emotions still have a powerful effect on us.
Emotions can give us many advantages, but they can also make us act irrationally. Do I need to remind you of that time you said ________ to _______ because you were _______ and then regretted it later?
This was your “feeling brain” talking.
Let’s say Jimmy took the last cupcake that you were saving for an afternoon treat. Your feeling brain might trigger a response of intense sadness (crying in the bathroom) or erratic anger (throwing Jimmy’s computer out the third-story window).
This is generally when your “thinking brain” will come in, talk you down, and put things into perspective.
You will be able to get a handle on your emotions and reach a happier state.
Self-awareness can help you find this balance between your emotional “feeling brain” and your rational “thinking brain.” This ability, also referred to as Emotional Intelligence, has proven to lead to boosted health and success.
(Throwing Jimmy’s computer out the window has not proven to lead to such positive results.)
5. Leads to healthier reactions to external factors
Just as self-awareness can help you manage your emotions in the moment, it can also help you manage your reactions more proactively.
As we know, life never goes as planned. We are constantly hit with unforeseen events.
Often, we cannot control these external factors. That being said, they don’t need to come as such a big shock.
Being more self-aware can help you to anticipate your emotional reactions better, and ultimately, better control your behaviors.
For instance, I know I don’t do well when plans change (especially if I’m the one who made them). I’ve had angry outbursts before when someone tells me about the change; usually, I react irrationally (like, come on Kara, did the dinner plans being moved from Wednesday to Thursday really have that big of an impact my life?).
By knowing this about myself, I can more quickly recognize what I’m going to feel when I hear that a plan changes.
While I might not be able to eliminate my anger, I can certainly prepare for its coming and subdue it in the moment (even if I need to go blow off steam in another way).
This use of self-awareness will not only benefit you, but also the people around you.
6. Boosts your productivity and success
Did you know that the average person is only productive for about three hours of their eight-hour workday? Yikes. I can only imagine how many cat videos and snap stories are viewed in those other five hours.
The first reason we are so unproductive is that we are not self-aware of how we are using our time.
When we are working, our work has a funny way of tricking us into thinking we are productive when we are not. Sure, you spent two hours sending fifteen beautifully-crafted emails, but could you have spent twenty minutes picking up the phone to say the same things?
Also, when we are “working,” we often are spending way more time than we realize on distractions. Every distraction pulls us from our peak workflow and sets our attention back considerably.
Self-awareness can help you better understand your behaviors and improve your efficiency of time.
The other leading cause of unproductivity is that we are not setting ourselves up for success.
We need to be aware of our strengths and weaknesses to best tailor our work performance.
For example, if I’m a rockstar at organizing, shouldn’t I be taking on more of the planning tasks? And if I suck at proofreading, isn’t that an important thing to know so I can find a way to combat this?
It can be challenging to get this feedback. Still, successful people need to know what their strengths, weaknesses, behaviors, and habits are to be the most efficient they can be.
7. Enhances your ability to make positive change
You’ve undoubtedly heard the mantra, “Learn from your mistakes.” It’s simple, catchy, and makes us feel better about when we mess up. It also allows us to look toward the future with a growth mindset, which is proven to help increase happiness.
As straightforward as “Learn from your mistakes” may seem, it actually requires quite a bit of self-awareness to put into action.
First, you need to be aware of your mistakes. In some instances, this is easy. I got a 76 on my math test; I can clearly see what sections I got wrong.
Life, however, is not full of situations with instantaneous feedback loops. I can’t know the impact of all of my decisions right away, and sometimes not at all.
Let’s say I choose to make a joke at my friend Shelley’s expense. Everyone laughs, including Shelley, so I think I did nothing wrong. It’s not until one week later when Sally tells me that my joke upset Shelley. And that’s if Sally or Shelley choose to talk in the first place; otherwise, I would have no idea.
Humans hate being vulnerable. The self-awareness to admit mistakes – even if just to yourself – takes some courage.
Once you acknowledge your mistakes, you need to learn from them.
Here’s self-awareness on a whole different level. It requires you to put away your pride and put on your questioning hat. What could you have done better? What worked well? How did it make you feel?
The sooner you can embrace your imperfections and understand how to improve, the sooner you’ll be able to make positive changes in your life.
8. Bolsters your self-esteem
Many people hide from introspection because they’re afraid of what they will see. It can be scary to look in the mirror, fully aware of all of our behaviors, actions, thoughts, feelings, and decisions.
I’ve certainly been ashamed of some of my decisions. Did I really need to seek out my college crush five months after we stopped talking and repeatedly ask, “Why don’t you like me more?” (Or something of that sentiment; honestly I think my brain repressed most of the conversation to save my pride).
Too often, we associate self-awareness with these embarrassing and shameful moments.
In doing so, we are completely neglecting all of the positives in our life.
Being self-aware of your strengths, your joys, and your accomplishments can enhance your well-being and life happiness.
I mean, don’t you feel better when you reflect on something you are proud of?
Positive psychology shows that we can actually bolster our self-esteem and strengthen our psychological immune system by focusing on the good aspects of our life.
9. Strengthens your relationships
Self-awareness not only helps us as individuals. By developing our self-awareness, we can drastically improve our relationships as well.
The more we understand ourselves, manage our emotions, and know what we want, the more authentic we will present ourselves to others.
Have you ever been with a group of people where you don’t feel entirely comfortable? Humans are wired to try to fit in, yet frequently this desire to belong conflicts with who we really want to be.
By knowing what you want out of a relationship, you can better find – and maintain – what you’re looking for.
You also can develop greater empathy for others. By knowing all of the factors that go into your life, you will be able to acknowledge that the people in your life have their own stories, too.
For example, some days I show up to teach stressed and emotionally drained. As a result, I don’t work at my optimum performance. Should I really expect my students to work at their best every day?
Self-awareness is necessary to forge and maintain secure connections in life.
Self-awareness is our ability to understand our thoughts, behaviors, and actions on a conscious level. It involves identifying how we are feeling, as well as what we want.
In developing our self-awareness, we can bring a number of positive benefits to our lives.
- Gives you a better understanding of what you want and/or need
- Increases your chances of getting what you want and/or need
- Improves your decision making
- Helps you manage your emotions
- Leads to healthier reactions to external factors
- Boosts your productivity and success
- Enhances your ability to make positive change
- Bolsters your self-esteem
- Strengthens your relationships
Self-awareness is not something that can happen overnight. It takes deliberate practice, and there are many ways for you to develop your self-awareness.
Do you want the benefits of self-awareness in your life? If so, take the first step by choosing one of the follow-up questions below and posting an answer in the comment box.