Self-Awareness: How To Develop It & Why It’s Important

When chimpanzees find mirrors, they make weird faces and check body parts they cannot see otherwise. This intuitive exploration of their reflections is a quest to know themselves better.

Humans, with their highly evolved brains, have a much stronger urge for this knowledge of the self, or self-awareness. It is a critical human quality for living satisfying lives. So, how self-aware are you?

Now, most of us believe we’re self-aware, but true self-awareness is rare. Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist who surveyed hundreds of people and studied 800+ research papers on the subject, came up with a surprising find:

On any given day, 95% of people believe they are self-aware, but only 10-15% actually are.

So, most of us need to become self-aware in life. So, let’s explore the power of self-awareness through these questions: what self-awareness really is, why is it important, and how can we develop it?

What is self-awareness?

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand our own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behavior. It is our capacity to realize who we are, to know how others view us, and to interpret how we fit into the world. It allows us to gain insight into our unique talents, strengths, and limitations.

According to Sutton, 2016, self-awareness is the degree to which a person is aware of their internal states as well as their connections or interactions with others. The American Psychological Association (APA) dictionary of psychology defines self-awareness as “self-focused attention or knowledge.”

Self-awareness is to know how you perceive yourself, as well as how others perceive you. This knowledge allows you to make a sense of who you are to yourself, even if you don’t always like what you find.

Self-awareness can be of two types:

  1. Internal self-awareness: it’s about how well do we understand our own passions, aspirations, thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and flaws. It shows how we interact with our surroundings and impact others. People with this type are more satisfied with their job and relationships, as well as have more personal and social control. They are happier and have less anxiety, stress, and depression.
  2. External self-awareness: it’s about how well we understand the way other people see us in terms of our values, goals, opinions, and responses. Research shows people who accurately understand how others perceive them are better at showing empathy and understanding others’ points of view.

Simply said, being self-aware means being conscious of what’s happening in your life, identifying your needs and dreams, evaluating whether you’re happy with your life, and finding out what you want to be.


How do you develop self-awareness?

As humans, we strive to know what we’re good at, and what we aren’t, so that we may realize the meaning of our life and the worthiness of our existence.

Self-awareness is a state of awareness of your feelings, thoughts, and emotions. It is also a skill that all of us can develop with practice. In fact, it is a quality we must possess to make better judgments at critical points in our lives.

Remember, developing greater self-awareness is best done when we treat it as a life-long process. We need to build for life a habit of self-reflection and self-introspection.

Here are the four main ways to develop self-awareness:

1. Self-reflection and Self-introspection: What?

Self-reflection refers to how much we pay attention to and how clearly we evaluate and understand our internal states.

Self-introspection is trying to directly access your inner psychological processes, perceptions, judgments, moods, and states. You do it mostly through self-questioning and self-scrutiny.

Psychologist Tasha Eurich feels the problem with self-introspection is that most people do it incorrectly. They mostly ask themselves “Why?” questions to get a deeper understanding of their emotions, behaviors, and attitudes.

However, “Why” questions are unhelpful for gaining self-awareness, as they hatch a cognitive bias – illusory correlation. This bias then makes you connect two things that aren’t connectable, or exaggerate the extent to which two things are related to each other.

The “Why” inquiries can make us invent answers, form unhelpful beliefs about ourselves, and remain stuck in the past.

Dr. Eurich suggests we must ask ourselves “What” questions to become self-aware. When we ask “what,” it increases our productive self-insight and decreases unproductive overthinking. “What” questions force us to remain objective, future-focused, and motivated to act on our new insights.

So, to develop self-awareness, ask yourself questions like:

  • What is the most important thing to me?
  • What am I good at? What I am not so good at?
  • What do I enjoy doing? Why do I enjoy doing those?
  • What can I do to make myself the best person for this job?
  • What situations make me feel bad, and what do they have in common?

2. Taking personality tests.

Self-awareness can also be increased by taking personality tests that assess self-awareness.

Self-Reflection and Insight Scale (SRIS) developed by Grant, Franklin, & Langford, 2002, is a tool for assessing private self-awareness. It evaluates one’s internal state of awareness or insight, distinctly from their self-reflection.

Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Compliance (DISC) personality test claims to help people become more self-aware and achieve greater personal and professional success. It predicts one’s behavior towards others, as well as the things one does on a daily basis.

Jung Personality test, based on the work of Carl Gustav Jung, can help us explore how we think, make decisions, and deal with others. It is similar to the Myers-Briggs type model, which was created by Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a free test based on Carl Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myers’ personality type ideas. MBTI identifies four aspects of a personality.

  1. Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I): Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world?.
  2. Sensing (S) or Intuition (N): Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you absorb, or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning to it?.
  3. Thinking (T) or Feeling (F): When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances?.
  4. Judging (J) or Perceiving (P): In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options?

Cognitive scientist Scott Barry Kaufman, the author of Transcend, feels that the Myers-Briggs test has a flaw – it keeps Thinking and Feeling are on the same continuum, making them a zero-sum game, while, in fact, humans can have both.

True Colors is a temperament-based personality model for understanding yourself and others. It highlights a person’s strengths and weaknesses. The colors Orange, Gold, Green, and Blue are used to distinguish the four major personality types.

Enneagram, is a typology system that describes human personality as nine interconnected personality types. You may take the test here.

3. Opening up to diverse viewpoints.

Self-awareness is recognizing what perspectives we lack and appreciating other people’s experiences and points of view. Listening to others without prejudice allows you to peek into their origins and learn where their viewpoints are coming from.

So, when we actively listen to other people, we open ourselves to a wide range of perspectives and opinions. It helps us build better ideas and beliefs on a subject.

This allows us to see multiple viewpoints on an issue that we were previously unaware of. This helps leaders build more diverse and inclusive organizations.

Reading biographies and personal mission statements of successful people can also help with this.

4. Meditating regularly: Mindful self-awareness.

Meditation practice improves one’s ability to observe and perceive oneself in a more healthy, present-moment-mindful manner. Mindful self-awareness is a nonjudgmental awareness of the body and mind in the present moment.

A study published in Biological Psychology found that long-time meditators who were in mindful self-awareness states had less activity in brain areas implicated in rumination (or overthinking).

At a neurological level, this form of awareness shuts down the parts of the brain related to inner monologue, self-thoughts, and rumination, while activating regions associated with bodily perception.

Meditation can be done in many ways, such as going for a mindful walk, writing mindful thoughts, or sitting down with your eyes closed. Read and download this 7-Step Mindfulness Meditation Guide.

What is the concept of the Johari Window?

The Johari window is a self-awareness model designed to help us better understand our relationship with ourselves and others. It was created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955, who named the model by combining their first names.

The concept of Johari Window

The window consists of four panes of human interaction:

  1. Open – information that is known to us as well as people we’re interacting with,
  2. Hidden – information that is known to only us,
  3. Blind – information that is known to only the person you’re communicating with, and
  4. Unknown – information that is known to neither of the persons interacting.

All four come together to provide a comprehensive view of the individual, as well as increase their self-awareness. The four panes can be unequal in size how well you know yourself, and how well others know you.

The Johari window can help you enhance your self-awareness. For example, here’s how you may become aware of your blind spots.

Blind spots are things about yourself that you’re unaware of, but that other people see and know. These spots obstruct you from becoming fully self-aware. However, working in a different cultural setting forces you to notice your everyday behaviors and experiences stick out like a sore thumb among people of diverse cultures, exposing your blind spots.

Why is self-awareness important?

Research shows self-aware people are more fulfilled and have deeper relationships. They have a low tendency to cheat, lie, or steal. They communicate better and are more self-confident. Also, they are more creative, perform better at work, and are more likely to get promoted. Their companies profit from their effective leadership.

A high level of self-awareness helps you live a happy and wholesome life. It equips you to recognize and meet your own needs better. With it, you understand how to respond appropriately to situations and express yourself rationally.

A self-aware person recognizes when they are becoming angry or frustrated and, instead of reacting, embraces those negative feelings and rationally works through them.

Self-awareness provides us with the tools we need to become better versions of ourselves and live the life we want. It helps us understand why we do what we do when we interact with others.

People with low self-awareness are unsure of what they truly feel and want from life. They may not recognize it well when they feel angry or frustrated, which makes them lash out at others or self-sabotage themselves.

Do you know of these 13 biases that lead us to bad decisions?

What are the benefits of developing self-awareness?

Studies show that self-awareness is generally linked with positive psychological well-being, though the outcomes vary from person to person.

Self-awareness lets us understand our thoughts, emotions, desires, and motivations. Being self-aware is being truly conscious of who we are and what we believe about ourselves when no one is watching.

Achieving good self-awareness is something we all should strive for. There are many benefits of developing self-awareness, and it can help us in the following ways:

1. Recognizing our strengths and weaknesses.

Everyone has their own set of strengths and weaknesses. Learning about them is an important part of understanding ourselves so that we can reach success quickly and efficiently.

Self-awareness helps us build on our strengths, improve our self-esteem, grow our self-confidence, and lead us to the optimal performance required for our highest achievements.

2. Identifying our values, beliefs, and goals.

Identifying our values, beliefs, and goals is a crucial step in living a fulfilling life. A person who lacks principles and values will not achieve much for himself or others, and therefore will be of little value to themselves and society.

They can help us determine what we truly want out of life and how to get there. Only when we are fully aware of our thoughts and feelings about ourselves and others can we find our true path and create positive changes in our lives.

3. Knowing what motivates us to stay on our path of goals.

Many people are unaware of the hidden motivations that keep them on their path to goal achievement. These motivations are often related to one’s personality, experiences, and current circumstances.

Motivation can be defined as the reason or reasons for acting in a certain way to attain a goal.

Some people are motivated to do good things because they want to be seen as decent people. Others may be motivated to avoid doing evil by fear or even guilt.

It is important to know what motivates you so that you can work more effectively towards your goals.

4. Decision-making based on what matters most to us.

Knowing how to make the right decision is one of the most valuable skills that we can have. It’s not enough to know what matters; you need to know how to make decisions based on what matters most, which is often different for different people.

5. Better Self-knowledge.

Knowing what you want in life and how to get it. The world is full of opportunities and your life is full of choices. Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start. But the first step is always knowing what you want.

Emotional intelligence

6. Greater self-confidence.

Knowing that you can do anything that you set your mind to.

Learning to have more self-confidence is something that can be achieved by anyone. Many people are unaware of the fact that they are capable of doing anything they set their minds to, but this is something that needs to be learned.

7. Challenge identification.

You will be able to identify the challenges that may come your way and develop strategies to overcome them. Advances in technology have made it possible for people to work remotely. While there are many benefits of working remotely, there are also some challenges that come with this arrangement. Self-awareness helps you develop strategies to overcome them.

8. Better decisions.

You will be able to understand yourself better, which will help you make better decisions. It’s no secret that we all have flaws and shortcomings. The only way to understand what is holding us back and what we need to change is to look inward. We can do this by exploring our thoughts, feelings, motivations, and desires through journaling. When we’re able to take the time to look inward, we can remove the blinders that often prevent us from seeing ourselves as accurately as possible.

9. Clarity of goals.

You will be aware of what you want from life and where you want to go. If you have an idea of what you want from your life and where you want to go, then you know the most important things. It’s often difficult to know what we want from our lives because everything is so new. There are unlimited opportunities for us to choose from, and every day there are new options that come up. So it’s a good idea to make a plan and think ahead and properly prepare yourself for any situation that you may face.

10. Understanding of others.

You will have a better understanding of what makes other people tick. If you want to be able to understand what other people are thinking, you need to understand what drives them. This means understanding their motivations, needs, wants, fears, and dreams. You’ll also have a better understanding of your own motivations and desires, too.

11. Understanding your feelings and managing them.

Emotional intelligence is our ability to understand and empathize with the feelings of others. It includes our ability to pursue our goals in a manner that considers the needs of others. Emotional intelligence is critical for success at work, home, and school.

5 advantages of being more self-aware

The first advantage of being more self-aware is that it can help you become more confident in yourself. When you know what you want and how to get it, then you feel empowered to do it. This confidence can help you to take risks and try new things without fear of failure.

The second advantage of being self-aware is that it helps with empathy towards others. You become more understanding and less judgmental because you know what it’s like to be on the other side of the situation.

The third advantage of self-awareness is that it can help you better manage your emotions. Emotions are triggered by personal responses to external stimuli. When we become more aware of our own emotions, we can then choose how to respond to them. This ability to control our emotions is an important part of what makes us human.

The fourth advantage of having more self-awareness is that it leads to greater happiness. One study found that people who are more self-aware are less likely to experience negative emotions like anger, envy, guilt, or sadness. They also find it easier to cope with difficulties.

The fifth advantage of self-awareness is the ability to make better decisions. This happens because once you are aware of your thoughts, feelings, and goals, you can analyze the pros and cons of available options to make an informed decision.

Contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that people do not always learn from experience, that expertise does not help people root out false information, and that seeing ourselves as highly experienced can keep us from … questioning our assumptions. — Tasha Eurich

Final Words

Self-awareness is a critical factor in achieving success in life. It directs us to make wise choices about how we spend our time on Earth, so we do not stray from our self-actualization goals. It helps in making lives more cheerful and helpful to ourselves and others.

The good news is it’s not only a state but also a skill that we can hone with practice.

We should become more self-aware to figure out what we want for ourselves in the future, as well as what we want in our relationships, friends, and coworkers. This will enrich our lives and careers, and help us find people who will support us in the long run.

Finally, here are three quick tips to increase your self-awareness:

1) Be more open to and observant of others.
2) Accept new ideas, approaches, and experiences.
3) Learn a few skills that you might not use regularly.

• • •

Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism)

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