To live a full life is more than just about how much money you have, or how successful you are. For many, this is enough, but for some, it is not. Disillusioned with the material and superficial, people long for meaning and purpose in their lives. In the beginning, there may be just a sense of dissatisfaction. Or a lack of joy and fulfillment. As if they are simply going through the motions of living, but not truly living. I like to liken it, to looking at a picture that has all the lines, proportions and form, to create an image; but no depth, colour and texture, to bring it to life. I believe, becoming self aware, is the colour, light and texture, that breathes ‘life, into life’.
What is self awareness – One definition is, that we become more self aware when we focus our attention inward, directing it towards understanding what makes us tick. Our likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, judgements and preconceptions. Discovering our emotional triggers and coming to see, why we react in the way that we do, to external influences, and internal. To see how all this connects to our own feelings of self belief, via the positive and negative inner dialogue or self talk, that we all experience to some degree.
An important part of self awareness is ‘emotional intelligence’, which is the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions. As well as acknowledging our ability to recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.
The author and Psychologist Daniel Goldman, said in his best selling book Emotional Intelligence. “In my view, it is important to recognise that self-awareness is not only about what we notice about ourselves but also how we notice and monitor our inner world. The non-judgmental quality is an essential component to self-awareness. As we notice what’s happening inside us, we acknowledge and accept them as the inevitable part of being human, rather than giving ourselves a hard time about it.
Furthermore, self-awareness goes beyond merely accumulating knowledge about ourselves. It is also about paying attention to our inner state with a beginner’s mind and an open heart. Our mind is extremely skillful at storing information about how we react to a certain event to form a blueprint of our emotional life. Such information often ends up conditioning our mind to react in a certain way as we encounter a similar event in the future. Self-awareness allows us be conscious of these conditioning and preconceptions of the mind, which can form the foundation of freeing the mind from it.”
How often have we all looked back on our lives and cringed when we remembered the many times in which we have hurt others with our thoughtless remarks, or through our lack of empathy and understanding. And asked ourselves how we could have been so unkind or hurtful. But we are no longer the person we were then. Life, experience has taught us many lessons. Those lessons have heightened our self awareness and emotional intelligence. If we were confronted with the same situation again, we would not now act, or behave in the way we once had.
Becoming self aware is not easy, in fact it can be very hard. Looking at ourselves honestly requires courage and the willingness to see ourselves as we truly are. For unless something is faced it cannot be changed. One could ask, why is self awareness not an automatic thing that comes as we age. Why is it that two people can have a similar experience, and that one will learn something from it and the other will not. I believe it is because we are all at different points in our lives. Some have felt that feeling of dissatisfaction, and experienced a powerful inner yearning to become more then they currently are. Another, is still entrenched in their own inner world and and perceptions, and have not expanded their thoughts and emotions outward, to encompass all.
Some simple ways to cultivate self awareness.
Create a space for yourself. Every day, perhaps first thing in the morning or half an hour before sleep when you stay away from the digital distractions and spend some time with yourself, reading, writing, meditating, and connecting with yourself.
Practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the key to self-awareness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”. Through mindfulness practice, you will be more present with yourself so that you can “be there” to observe what’s going on inside and around you.
Keep a diary. Writing not only helps us process our thoughts but also makes us feel connected and at peace with ourselves. Writing can also create more head-space as you let your thoughts flow out onto paper. Research shows that writing down things we are grateful for or even things we are struggling with helps increase happiness and satisfaction.
I believe there are different levels of self awareness, from the beginnings of self understanding, to someone who becomes deeply in tune with themselves and the world around them. However, regardless of where you are at, living a life that is self aware cannot help but enrich your life in many different ways. People who are self aware tend to be more giving, understanding, and have the most fulfilling, honest interpersonal relationships. They have a strong sense of who they are and are less likely to be deceived or overly influenced by the thoughts and opinions of others. And most importantly, live a life that is balanced and in harmony, mind, body and spirit – full and purposeful in every sense of the word.