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Unlocking Our Full Potential: The Power of Self-Awareness

Illustration of a small sappling growing out of the soil in the palm of a hand

When we think of phrases like "personal growth" or "healing", we may find ourselves thinking of images much like the one above. We instantly begin thinking of pleasant imagery like seedlings beginning to sprout or a silhouette of someone practicing yoga. In fact, take a moment to do a quick search engine check with those words...healing, personal growth, journey, etc. I'm sure you saw plenty of pleasant images that bring about feelings of hope and determination.

However, one thing that people miss on their personal growth journey is the not-so-fun stuff. Self-love and self-acceptance are great concepts, but we miss out on a lot when we don't take time to self-reflect. Truthfully, we can't really say we're on a personal growth journey if we aren't, at some point, challenged and stretched beyond our comfort.

What is Self-Awareness, Exactly?

As "deep" as it may sound, self-awareness isn't that complex of a concept. At its core, Self-Awareness is the ability to understand that we are separate from others. That sounds pretty basic, doesn't it? But when someone becomes Self-Aware, they are able to recognize and label their own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.

High vs. Low Self-Awareness

When someone has high self-awareness, they're more tuned into how they are perceived by others. This doesn't necessarily equate to being worried about how people perceive you, just that you know what type of impact those perceptions could have on you. It's no coincidence that people with a higher sense of Self-Awareness are a lot more pleasant to be around. More often than not, people with a high sense of self-awareness:

  • Learn from their mistakes

  • Know when and how to apologize

  • Easily take responsibility for their actions

  • Are able to articulate their feelings

  • Seek feedback and keep an open mind to constructive criticism

  • Take time to think about what they value, as values can change over time.

  • Think about their own thought process

There are other traits of someone who is Highly Self-Aware, but in a nutshell this is a person who has embraced that growth isn't always comfortable. In fact, they likely understand that growth can be painful to an extent. Don't misunderstand: people who are highly self-aware aren't emotionless robots who do no wrong. Rather, they have grown to understand that their feelings being hurt does not equate to them being less-than. They still feel their feelings, but they understand that their actions don't need to be driven by those feelings. They understand that things like constructive criticism or crucial conversations are ultimately helpful for their development, even if they don't necessarily make us feel good.

Two brown eggs with faces drawn on them, one with a worried look and the other with a serious look.

People tend to understand the concept of being Self-Aware when they encounter someone who doesn't have much Self-Awareness at all. Just like a person with high Self-Awareness tends to be pleasant to be around, a person with low Self-Awareness is someone who people tend to avoid. More often than not, people with a low sense of self-awareness:

  • Repeat the same mistakes

  • Reluctant to admit their faults

  • Are out of touch with their emotions

  • Only seek out positive feedback

  • Take constructive criticism very personally and become defensive

  • Avoid thinking deeply about their views or actions

I'm sure people will read that short list and the image of an unpleasant person they know comes to mind immediately. If you've ever seen a comment section online filled with hateful rhetoric, you're likely just seeing a bunch of people who lack self-awareness. People who lack self awareness are usually hypercritical (but not towards themselves, just to everyone else). But we can't forget that some of us have (or had) these traits as well.

What Can We Do?

Mindfulness isn't just a buzzword, it's a learned behavior. The very first step of becoming more self-aware is understanding that mindfulness is a practice, and that learning about yourself doesn't really feel good. We have to be accepting of the fact that when we start the journey of self-awareness, we will likely run into some hurt feelings and possibly some unresolved traumas. Yes, the images we see of "healing" and "growth" are likely young women smiling while doing yoga in the sunshine but in reality it can be a range of emotions: sadness, despair, anger, bitterness, apathy, etc.

When we practice mindfulness, we focus on being intensely aware of what we're sensing and feeling in the moment. A common mindfulness practice is journaling, an activity that requires you to recall the events of your day, as well as any emotions or moments of significance. A few years ago, I learned that there are people who literally take time out of their day to literally sit and think. No phones, no social media, no music; it's literally just them and their thoughts. I wondered if it was at all possible to just sit like that for 30 minutes to an hour without falling asleep, but you'd be surprised how easy it is once you become intentional about your thoughts.

A young Black woman wearing a cream colored sweater sits and journals and writes on a desk in front of a window.

By no means do I believe myself to be a "master" of self-awareness, but I'd like to think that over the years I've gotten pretty good at it. I'm not afraid to look at my flaws (or "points of correction" for a more positive outlook) and how they impact my life as well as the lives of people around me. I've said it before: I can be a pretty irritable person. But after time to reflect, think, read, etc. I came to find out a lot of that can be attributed to my previous need/desire to be in control of things. I also found that the "little things" that I would get angry about weren't the actual things I was angry about. In fact, there was a moment when I was expressing petty anger about something only to literally stop in my tracks and ask myself:

"Wait...why am I even mad right now?"

Another method that has helped me build up my awareness muscle is being in the company of people who I've allowed to be honest with me. It's great being around friends who rally around a common interest or hobby, but it's even more valuable to be around friends who stretch us. Surface level friendships will only center around fun and enjoyment, which isn't a problem. The problem is when these are the only friendships we have. The best thing we can do for our own personal growth is to befriend people who can hold up a mirror to us and let us know when we are, in fact, the problem in our situation. These are friends that tell you what you need to hear, rather than what's going to make you feel better. If need be, they will definitely tell you about yourself (with love and grace, of course).

Recommended Reading

I'm always going to recommend a book or two when it comes to the subject of growth. Here are a few that have helped me and I hope it can help you too:

  • Wired That Way - For me, this is beyond a simple "personality" book. I truly feel that reading this has helped me understand myself better, as well as the people around me. It emphasizes how we aren't meant to change who we are at our core. Rather, we should strive to push our strengths to the forefront while also actively working on where we fall short.

  • The Friendship Factor - What I love about this book is that it helped me understand how to communicate better and how to relieve tension in my relationships. Because, wouldn't you know it? When we work on ourselves, we become better friends.

  • The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth - Even as someone who doesn't assign to "listicals", I find this to be a valuable read. Maxwell breaks down growth into core "laws" that we should follow in order to better know ourselves, to increase our self-awareness, and to add value to the people around us.

Growth, healing, self-awareness...they are buzz words, yes, but they are very real concepts we need to improve our way of life. I hope that you'll find time today to think deeply and to be honest with yourself. And please, don't do what I did and beat yourself up for not being the person you want to be yet. Instead, find joy in the fact that you have a chance to start searching for that person if you haven't already. Your friends, family, co-workers, and (most importantly) your future self will thank you for it.

Thanks for reading!


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