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What is Self-Awareness?

Although most people believe they are self-aware, true self-awareness is a rare.

Self-awareness has become a popular buzzword — and for good reason. Research suggests that when we see ourselves clearly. We make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, communicate more effectively. We’re less likely to lie, cheat or steal.

As a psychologist and executive coach, I’ve had a ringside seat to self-awareness for years. I’ve also seen how attainable this skill is. Yet, when I first began to delve into the research on self-awareness, I was surprised by the striking gap between the science and the practice of self-awareness. All things considered, we knew surprisingly little about improving this critical skill.

There are many surprising roadblocks, myths, and truths. Most people believe they are self-aware, self-awareness is a truly rare quality.

There Are Two Types of Self-Awareness

The first, internal self-awareness, represents how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions (including thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses), and impact on others. We’ve found that internal self-awareness is associated with higher job and relationship satisfaction, personal and social control, and happiness.

The second, external self-awareness, means understanding how other people view us, in terms of those same factors listed above. Research shows that people who know how others see them are more skilled at showing empathy and others’ perspectives. For those who see themselves as others do, tend to have better relationships, feel more satisfied with them, and are seen as more effective in general.

The bottom line is that self-awareness isn’t one truth. It’s a delicate balance of two distinct, even competing, viewpoints.

Just as experience can lead to a false sense of confidence about our performance, it can also make us overconfident about our level of self-knowledge.

As it turns out, a popular myth is asking why? “Why” is a surprisingly ineffective self-awareness question. We don’t have access to many of the unconscious thoughts, feelings, and motives we are searching for. And because so much is trapped outside of our conscious awareness, we tend to create answers that feel true but are often wrong.

Another negative consequence of asking why — especially when trying to explain an undesired outcome — is that it creates unproductive negative thoughts.

So if why isn’t the right introspective question, is there a better one? Therefore, to increase productive self-insight and decrease unproductive rumination. “What” questions help us stay objective. Yes, ask WHAT?

And no matter how much progress we make, there’s always more to learn. That’s one of the things that makes the journey to self-awareness so exciting.

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