The Hidden Benefit of Being Self-Aware
How paying conscious attention to our thoughts, motives, and actions can propel us into happiness
One day, I was talking to a close friend who said something that caught me off guard: “These days, you’re usually very negative.” I paused. I didn’t think of myself as a pessimistic person. In fact, I had just recently started posting uplifting thoughts on Instagram. I viewed myself as an optimist at the core, and I really wanted to share some of my positivity with friends and family.
I tried to brush my friend’s comment off as a superfluous one. My self-perception was so different from her comment that I wanted to prove her wrong. I figured I would collect some evidence and share it with her. I decided I would try to be aware of my attitude and objectively categorize my statements in my conversations as “optimistic” and “pessimistic.”
After a week, this is what I discovered:
My own data showed that I was missing an obvious pattern in myself! I definitely had spent the week having and sharing more negative, pessimistic thoughts than I had thought I would! Maybe my friend’s comment wasn’t superfluous after all.
I realized that it is easy to identify trends in other people’s behavior but much harder to do so in our own selves.
But, when one takes the time to actively focus on their own self-perception, it can make all the difference.
Self-awareness is a hidden superpower.
We have to be willing to analyze our own weaknesses otherwise we will keep missing opportunities for self-improvement. This requires a high degree of vulnerability with yourself. You can also grow this superpower by investing in the following tactics:
- Try to self-identify patterns in your behavior. Keep a journal or a log where you honestly track these patterns and reflect on them after a week.
- Analyze any feedback that you get — do not ignore it right away. Do not go into confirmation bias. Treat feedback like a gift. It can be a true opportunity to grow.
- Proactively ask for critical feedback from diverse sources so that you do not get caught up in your own self-perception.
After intense internal scrutiny, the awareness sunk in that I was caught up in a vicious circle in my conversations that looked something like this:
- I don’t like this aspect of my life
- Claim that I really want to change it
- Take no action to start change
- Feel more negative
- Dislike the negativity
Just being self-aware is not enough. Without relevant action, one can easily get stuck in a vicious cycle. Here was the vicious cycle I realized I was in:
Don’t make your circumstances all-controlling.
While in this low state of mind, on an exhausting day during an unusually hard month, I saw a quote in a teacher's room that made me stop in my tracks:
My first reaction was to disregard the statement. After all, happiness has to depend on one’s circumstances. Of course, in sad and tragic circumstances, we all need to have compassion for ourselves and must give ourselves the time and emotional strength needed to heal. However, as I thought more and more about it, I started seeing the other side.
In our day-to-day lives, we can choose to have an optimistic outlook based on what we have and the liveliness of our imagination, or we can be a disgruntled mass of protoplasm that perpetually revisits all our failures and brings ourselves down.
I was slowly realizing that I needed to shift my mindset, to remind myself that even when things do not go as planned, our circumstances do not define us, how we react to them does. This gives us more power and agency. We really can control how we react, and what we allow to take space in our minds.
Turn self-awareness into positive action.
I decided that I was going to change my attitude. Not just in thoughts but in my actions too. Realization is just the first step. Action is the mover. It is also the harder part.
Changing our day-to-day requires:
- Proactively becoming self-aware (as shared above)
- Visualizing where we want to be in the“future state”
- Taking specific action to fill the gap
Whatever your self-selected goal is, be serious about your commitment to it. My growth has been excruciatingly slow. But every day I have taken a small step. I looked for the glass half-full and proactively focused on the drops there. Here is a sample of actions that helped me:
- Affirmations: If you are feeling low -you can start the day with affirmations, such as “Today I will be calm and peaceful” or “I will enjoy the micro-steps I make.”
- Journaling: Write a journal to enable yourself to be vulnerable with yourself.
- Metric-driven growth: Measure your success. Collect data to see change. Use data from your own perception as well as that from those around you. even if you do not agree with them, factor their opinions in.
- Community: Find a setting where you can interact with and learn from people with similar concerns. Join a like-minded group or take a class.
- Mentors: Find a mentor, or ask those around you to call you out and help keep you honest.
- Share your journey: Seek someone (person/blog/text/talk) to share your self-reflection and often you will find that you can learn from constructive feedback. Many times simply having to report to external sources makes us more on task.
Unlocking the superpower of self-awareness leads to understanding oneself. This insight guides you to leap towards your goal. Take the first step today and now!