How to develop self-awareness

Self-awareness is defined by Adrian Furnham as the accurate appraisal and understanding of your abilities and preferences, their implications for your behaviour and their impact on others. It is an important facet in the development process, and is one of the core dimensions of learning agility.

Those with higher self-awareness are more likely to improve their performance and learn more about themselves and the environment they find themselves in. An important first step to developing self-awareness is the development of emotional self-awareness. This is an awareness of what you are feeling and why you are feeling this way. However, this itself may be a challenge for those of us with lower self-awareness scores.

Start with self-care

It may therefore be necessary to start at a more practical level by first ensuring that one engages in self-care by setting aside time for activities that one enjoys and finds relaxing. The possible effects are two-fold, namely the very act of considering what one finds enjoyable is exercising emotional self-awareness, and secondly physically removing oneself from the usual daily environment creates the opportunity that may be needed to focus on one’s own needs, reactions and impact. For example, setting aside time for a 20-minute walk every other day can be the perfect time during which you can ponder the events of the day.

Other self-awareness strategies

Once you are more comfortable with the process of introspection, you could consider the following strategies to further enhance your emotional awareness:

  • Keep a journal of your feelings. Indicate which situation gives rise to which feelings and what your reactions are. Become aware of the physical symptoms of your feelings — stiff neck, sweating, heart palpitations, etc. What emotions are you experiencing and what gave rise to it?
  • Draw up a list of the roles that you take on at work and in your personal life. Determine the feelings that are associated with each role, e.g. employee (frustration), housewife (fulfilled), student (anxiety), etc.
  • Try to generate feelings. In this way you can imagine which feelings you will experience in which situation and what your reaction to this will be. If you have to deliver a presentation soon, experience the situation and feelings beforehand in a safe place through visualisation.
  • By keeping a journal of your dreams, you can become aware of the unprocessed feelings in your subconscious mind. It is the feelings in your dreams that are important and not the situation in which they occur.

Applying self-awareness in the workplace

The next step is to challenge your own beliefs and assumptions about yourself and your performance. The best way in which to do this is to seek external verification via tools such as assessments (which you have already participated in) or from others’ observations of you. Seeking others feedback on your strengths and weaknesses demonstrates a willingness to learn and gives you objective data to confirm whether your self-beliefs are in line with what others see. However, be sure to ask for feedback only from those you are reasonably sure are able to provide constructive feedback in the development context intended.

  • Identify those at work (colleague, manager) who know you well enough to comment on your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Ask them to list your strengths and weaknesses with specific observations or examples.
  • Without looking at their list, write what you believe your strengths and weaknesses are. Then compare lists. Look for disconnects and similarities between lists. Are there examples where others didn’t agree with your listed strengths?
  • Own up to your Weaknesses. Although challenging, openly admitting your weaknesses can help keep your self-confidence in check with how your colleagues see you.
  • Record your reaction to any mistakes or errors you make over the next few weeks. If you find yourself blaming the system or others for your mistakes, you might want to start openly admitting your points of weaknesses.
  • Rather than placing blame, use mistakes as opportunities to show you know and accept your weaknesses and put in place strategies that manage them, rather than pretending they don t exist.

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