It’s amazing how many people think they know themselves quite well, but have only scratched the surface of self-awareness. This is a terrible shame, because knowing yourself in-depth opens the door to a great deal of extra productivity and success.
One reason is that knowing yourself allows you to take the fullest advantage of opportunities that come your way. It also helps you avoid missteps, errors of judgment, and foolish choices that glitter but are not real gold.
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.” – Lao Tzu
According to the experts, self-awareness can most accurately be divided into two parts: knowing yourself, and knowing how others perceive you. Studies show there is little correlation between these two. In other words, it’s possible – even common – to have great insight into one part of self-awareness and not the other.
Unfortunately, it’s even more common to be relatively ignorant – or downright wrong – about both parts. Fortunately, you can increase your self-awareness through introspection and frank conversations with people you trust.
Let’s take a deeper look into each of these branches of self-awareness, and how to explore them:
Knowledge of who you are and how you operate is the most obvious part of self-awareness. It involves recognizing lots of details about yourself, such as your skills, knowledge, and experience, as well as your values, strengths, weaknesses, aspirations, and goals.
When you know yourself well, you put yourself in position to make more accurate judgments about what you can and cannot accomplish. You can also better direct your energies toward activities, projects, and goals that will help you feel successful, fulfilled, and happy.
Without this self-awareness, it‘s common for people to flail around, drift or lurch from one thing to another, change direction for short bursts of activity, and generally feel bad about their work and their life.
Introspection is the process of investigating your own actions and emotions in hopes of understanding what they are and what drives them. It’s not an easy process, and many people fool themselves by accepting favorable descriptions and easy explanations that make them feel good, even if they are somewhat off the mark.
You can, however, improve the results of your introspection by side-stepping internal conversations and looking instead for objectively accurate patterns of behavior.
For example, you may display one or more behavior patterns of frequently:
- Avoiding challenges and difficult tasks,
- Striving for goals that are beyond your current level of knowledge, skills, and talents,
- Deflecting credit you deserve for your legitimate accomplishments,
- Under-valuing ideas, advice, and assistance that others offer you,
(This is certainly not a complete list.)
Whatever your patterns of behavior, each one may lead to such feelings as:
- Satisfaction and success,
- Uncertainty and distress,
- “Imposter syndrome,”
(This list is also incomplete.)
It takes a certain amount of courage to dig into your history of behaviors and emotions and accept them as a fair representation of who you currently are. Yet doing this is important, because without such honest self-awareness it’s difficult or impossible to improve yourself and your success.
Knowing How Others Perceive You
The other part of self-awareness is understanding how others react to you, and why. Not surprisingly, you can’t learn this by introspection. Instead, you must look outward to other people’s perceptions of you.
But you can’t ask people at random.
Why? Because there are people in the world who are disposed to like you a lot, and others who are equally disposed to dislike you a lot. Too much feedback from either of these groups can lead you astray in your efforts to gain self-awareness.
That’s why it’s important to talk to some of the vast numbers of people with no pre-disposition who react to you based on their own subjective criteria.
To cover the broad spectrum of perceptions, you want a fair mix of opinions from all three groups.
Adding more complexity is the trust factor. Trust is important because feedback is worthless and possibly even destructive when you get it from untrustworthy sources: people who slant what they tell you out of fear, jealousy, self-interest, or some other hidden agenda.
Of course, very few of us have trusting relationships with sufficient numbers of people in all three groups, so investigating how others perceive us is always somewhat time-consuming and problematic.
Nevertheless, learning more about who you are and how you appear to others is important, because accurate self-awareness helps you make better choices, enjoy better relationships, and generally improve. Self-awareness also provides extra power to fully apply your knowledge, skills, and talents to the activities, projects, and goals that seem more important to you and will ultimately prove more satisfying.
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