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Self-awareness is a term that we toss around as if its meaning is as clear as the sky is blue. We use it in casual conversations, self-help books and motivational seminars, yet its definition remains mysterious for many. Am I self aware? Are you? Is my self-awareness different to yours? How do we measure it, and why does it even matter?

In today’s article, we're looking deeper into the concept of self-awareness and its importance in our lives and personal development.

So, what is self awareness?

Self awareness is one of the five aspects of emotional intelligence. Truity defines it as the ability to effectively recognize and identify your own emotional experiences, which is the starting point for navigating your inner world with clarity.

Why is this important? Well, we all experience a wide range of emotions and often they're confusing. We may not be sure exactly what we're feeling or what triggered us into feeling that way, which can lead to impulsive reactions and poor decision making.

If we can name those emotions and understand why we’re experiencing them, then we can respond consciously and productively instead of reacting in possibly damaging ways. 

What are the different types of self awareness?

According to research overseen by organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich, while many people think of themselves as self-aware, only an estimated 10-15 percent of those studied were found to be truly self aware.

Her research also identified two main kinds of self awareness: internal self-awareness and external self-awareness. 

Internal self-awareness relates to “how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions (including thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses), and impact on others.” Those with high internal self-awareness were found to have higher job and relationship satisfaction and lower anxiety and depression.

External self awareness “means understanding how other people view us, in terms of those same factors listed above.” Eurich’s research showed that people who know how others see them are more skilled at showing empathy and understanding where others are coming from. 

Eurich found that these two aspects of self-awareness are not necessarily related. You can be high in one and low in the other. However, it is important to cultivate both. 

What if your self awareness isn’t that great?

An unexpected finding in Eurich's research was that introspection – the process of looking inwards to figure out why we feel a certain way – isn’t necessarily helpful in increasing our self awareness. So what can you do instead? The following strategies may help:

1: Track your emotional patterns

Make a point of paying attention to what you’re feeling in the moment, perhaps by keeping a journal and writing down what you’re feeling at various points throughout the day. Now ask yourself questions to gain insights into your patterns and responses. It's helpful to focus on “what” questions, such as “what are the situations that make me feel terrible, and what do they have in common?” This will help you get a better handle on the situation next time. 

2: Take an EQ test

Observing your own behavior is essential but, for a more accurate measurement, take a research-backed emotional intelligence test. Among other things, this will give you a specific score for self awareness.

Use your test results as a baseline. Once you know where you’re starting from, you’ll have additional tools to help you assess your behavior and measure progress over time.

3: Seek feedback

You can also ask others who know you well to give you honest feedback on how they see you, to help uncover any blind spots or areas where your self-awareness may be lacking. This can shine a light on both aspects of self-awareness, but is especially helpful in raising external self-awareness.

So, ask a friend or co-worker how they perceive their interactions with you, and really listen. Maybe have this same conversation a few times, making note of any responses or inconsistencies others have noticed in you that may have fallen under your radar.

According to Anthony K. Tjan, in a Harvard Business Review article, a useful tool is to tell a friend what you’re trying to work on, and ask them to bring it to your attention if they see you falling back on an unhelpful pattern. Sometimes we need a mirror, a partner, someone to broaden our vision of ourselves. 

4: Hit the pause button.

Another simple thing you can do if you find yourself about to react negatively, is just slow down. View it as hitting a pause button when someone or something pushes your buttons. Take a moment to calm yourself and try to look at the situation as an observer. This slightly detached approach can help you both to manage your experience in the moment and to learn about yourself and what you want to do moving forward.

5: Invest in long-term self-management practices.

A skill that works along with self awareness is self-management, also known as emotional control, where we learn to manage our emotional responses, thoughts and behaviors in a more productive way. Truity's EQ test measures emotional control as one of the five aspects of emotional intelligence. People who score high on this construct are more skilled at directing their emotions in ways that serve their goals. 

You'll need to take specific steps to consciously improve your self-management, even when it takes you out of our comfort zone in the short term. The tips in this article may help. For broader resources on emotional self-management, consider following established psychology blogs, participating in online forums, or reading books on the subject from renowned authors in the field.

Summing up

One final thing to take away from all this is that we’re all works in progress. Self awareness, as part of emotional intelligence, is a skill that can be learned and improved on – and the journey may be lifelong. Is it worth it? Undoubtedly. As the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates once said, "To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom." This powerful quote serves as a fitting conclusion, reminding us to keep learning, keep growing and, most importantly, keep discovering ourselves.

Diane Fanucchi
Diane Fanucchi is a freelance writer and Smart-Blogger certified content marketing writer. She lives on California’s central coast in a purple apartment. She reads, writes, walks, and eats dark chocolate whenever she can. A true INFP, she spends more time thinking about the way things should be than what others call the “real” world. You can visit her at www.dianefanucchi.naiwe.com or https://writer.me/diane-fanucchi/.