If asked, so many of us would say that yeah, of course we’re self-aware; but that’s probably not true as true as we think. The fact is that we have what you might call “blind spots” when it comes to seeing our own nature, seeing what we want to see and missing less desirable traits or things that we don’t deem important. But being more self-aware has its benefits and it’s important if you want to improve yourself; we can’t change what we don’t know is there. But once you do see your own shortcomings, strengths, and quirks, you can start to make changes to yourself, take advantage of your assets, and know how to accommodate your unique needs and preferences. These things can help you to thrive in your personal relationships and careers so you can move toward living the life you really want. But first, you have to work on learning to see the way you are more fully.
Ask for feedback.
Asking people around you for feedback is a good way to gain perspective on yourself. While it’s simple to do, it can be hard to hear what they have to say. Realize going into it that it might hurt if they offer criticism, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It’s possible that your friends, family, and colleagues see traits in you that your conscious mind has chosen to overlook, so their feedback can be eye-opening and help you see new things in yourself. It’s best if you’re specific when you ask for feedback so that they can be more helpful; asking how they see you is pretty vague and can leave them unsure of how to answer. Instead, ask your friends what they see as your strengths and weakness as a friend or in terms of skills or hobbies, or ask your co-workers or boss if there’s an area you could improve in. If they identify a trait or behaviour they see in you that you don’t, look for it as you go about your day and try to become aware of it. It can be surprising, but once you recognize that you often leave work supplies all over the place or you laugh at inappropriate times, you’re a step closer to self-awareness.
Take a reputable personality test.
If you’re not ready to hear what others have to say about you, try taking a personality test. Not just any personality test, though—you don’t need to take a quiz to find out what kind of pizza you are. Try a more reputable personality test like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. There is an official website that offers a thorough assessment and report for $50, but there are other sites that will give you a good enough look into your personality type for this purpose for free. It’ll give you a rundown of the personality type your answers have aligned you with so give it a read and think about your results. Some parts of it may seem untrue for you, and that might be the case; there are 16 personality types that you might fall into, but it’s unlikely any one will describe you with 100% accuracy. Regardless, pay attention to the things you see as being inaccurate as much as the things you see as accurate. Consider that the things you think are inaccurate you may just not be aware of. Jot down a few of them down and pay close attention to your behaviour in the coming days, looking for any evidence of those traits. You may find that they were, in fact, inaccurate, but you may also find that they’re true and you just never noticed. In either case, you’ll become more self-aware by watching yourself closely, looking out for certain behaviours or thought patterns.
Practice self-exploration with a journal.
Journaling is a great exercise for exploring your personality and gives you an opportunity to focus on developing your self-awareness in a set time. Sitting down daily and writing allows you to investigate your thoughts and feelings thoroughly which can lead you from the most basic knowledge of yourself to a deeper understanding of your fears, hopes, and motivations. Sit down with a notebook or in front of your computer and start writing about whatever is on your mind, whether it’s things you’re excited about or things that are upsetting you. Simply write about the situation objectively at first, then start to look into how you feel. Write about why you feel that way, relate it back to previous experiences, and what you think would help you hold onto the positive feelings or move past the negative ones. Write quickly, allowing thoughts to flow naturally without being held back by uncertainty or judgement. As you get used to writing this way, you’ll be able to dig deeper and deeper into your psyche and will learn a lot about who you are and what influences you from below the surface.
You might also consider taking up a regular meditation practice. It’s a common recommendation for all kinds of reasons and there’s no exception here. Meditation allows you to access your subconscious a little more than you normally can and you can learn things about yourself that you might not realize. The reason is your brain waves. There are four main types: alpha, which are seen when you’re awake and alert; beta, which are seen when you’re calm and relaxed; delta, which you experience during deep, dreamless sleep; and finally, theta, the ones you’re after in this instance. Your brain waves are in theta when you’re in a state of deep relaxation, like during hypnosis or meditation, and the veil between your conscious and subconscious is a bit thinner.
So when it comes to gaining self-awareness, theta waves are what you want. Sit down in a quiet space and take deep, slow breaths. Relax your body and your mind, focusing on your breaths for the first couple of minutes or so. It’s a common misconception that meditating is all about clearing your mind, but keeping it clear for any length of time is incredibly hard to do; instead, let your thoughts flow without actively following them or exploring them. Just let them come and go and observe them as they do. You might be surprised at what shows up because your subconscious thoughts will start to come though. That’s great though—you might have feelings that you didn’t realize were there or that are different from what you thought you felt. Experts estimate that about 95% of our thoughts are subconscious, so getting a glimpse into them can really help you understand yourself better. In your conscious life, you can look for evidence of the subconscious feelings you discovered and it might help explain the way you behave or think in certain situations. You’ll have a better idea of the reasons behind your feelings, actions, and reactions.
Analyze what comes up in your dreams.
Your dreams can also give you a peek into your subconscious mind. It might sound a bit bizarre, but is a fairly common concept and even Sigmund Feud, the founder of psychoanalysis, believed in the value of interpreting dreams. Start by keeping a dream journal. As soon as you wake up, write down everything you can remember of your dream in it so you can look at it again later. This is important, since dreams tend to fade away very quickly once awake, and you can’t do this exercise without an idea of what you dreamed about. Pick out some of the most prevalent images from your dream and jot them down; the images can be symbolic of feelings that are held in the subconscious. One by one, do a “free association” exercise where you consider the image and what other ideas it brings up for you. Jot down anything that comes up quickly without discrimination—one of those things might be relevant and tell you about something that’s on your mind though you may not have realized it consciously. Exploring the images that you subconscious creates while you’re asleep helps you become self-aware because you’re paying more attention to what’s hidden under the surface and, as mentioned, the subconscious is a huge part of us. Freud’s ideas about dream analysis and how it can be done are quite in-depth and might be something to look into if you find it interesting, but this simple exercise will be enough to help you get an idea of what is lurking in the deeper levels of your mind.
Self-awareness is all about learning who you really are beyond your own perception of yourself. It helps you realize what kinds of behaviours you demonstrate without noticing and what kinds of things influence your feelings. These are just a few methods to help you start seeing yourself more completely and practicing even one of them will develop your self-awareness. With time, you’ll be able to better understand yourself and see more clearly what you need to be happy and successful.