Part 3: Building Your Self-Awareness
Would you like to be more satisfied in life? Studies have shown that as self-awareness increases so does satisfaction with life. Even more, in a study by TalentSmart, 83 percent of top performers, compared to just 2 percent of bottom performers, were high in self-awareness. What does it mean to be self-aware? How do you know when you are self-aware? Can you tell the difference when you are self-aware and when you are not? To answer these questions, we must learn what it means to be self-aware, how to recognize it, and what we can do to maintain self-awareness.
Now that I have covered the definition of emotional intelligence (EI) in part 1 where I showed you how mindfulness can help build a foundation of EI and how to counteract the effects of stress on EI in part 2, it’s time to focus on the first skill of EI, self-awareness. Self-awareness is your ability to recognize your emotions and your emotional tendencies, or what tends to set your emotions off in one direction or another, at any moment. People with high self-awareness understand what they are good at and what they are not so good at. Self-aware people not only understand what motivates them and will make them happy, but what gets under their skin and pushes their buttons too. Self-awareness is not just about being mindful of your current emotional state and knowing what you like and don’t like, but also about predicting your emotional state in any situation. When you can do that, then you can learn to control your emotions.
So how do you recognize and understand your emotions? You need to spend time with your emotions, getting to know them and understanding why they are here. Emotions serve a purpose in your life. They don’t just pop up out of nowhere. Emotions are reactions, reacting to something or someone. Why does something or someone get a reaction out of you? If you understand why something gets you worked up, then you can recognize the feeling and intervene before the emotion takes over. Just thinking about being self-aware can help you become more self-aware of your emotions and feelings. Next time you find yourself in a situation that has your emotions running, stop for a moment and ask yourself: How is this situation affecting me? Why is this situation affecting me? What are my emotions trying to tell me?
How do you maintain self-awareness? Maintaining self-awareness takes being diligent with your practice, constantly self-reflecting, and becoming comfortable with your uncomfortableness. The more you self-reflect, the longer periods of time you will have of being self-aware. The more time you spend and invest in reflecting and getting to know yourself inside and out, the more you will peel back the layers of you, much like peeling an onion, eventually getting to the core of you. When you don’t take the time to understand your emotions, your triggers, and why the emotion surfaces, then it will keep coming up, sometimes when you least expect it, until you pay attention to it and do something about it. The emotion is surfacing for a reason. What is it trying to tell you? Here are three different strategies you can practice to help increase your self-awareness.
Strategy 1: Appreciatively notice. This strategy can be practiced any time, any place. First notice your emotions, and then feel good about noticing your emotions. No matter what the emotion- positive or negative, good or bad, just notice how you feel, and then imagine feeling good about recognizing how you feel. For simply being aware, smile, breathe deeply, and appreciate yourself for noticing. Try these times and any other ones throughout your day: when you wake up in the morning, brushing your teeth, driving to and from work, talking to your co-workers and other people throughout your day, waiting in line, before and after eating a meal, and when you go to bed. Take an inventory at the end of each day to recognize and congratulate yourself for the many times that you were aware of your emotions throughout your day. Set a new goal each night to increase the number of times or length of time you will be aware the following day.
Strategy 2: Permission to feel. This strategy is good to practice any time you find yourself in a situation where your negative or not-so-pleasant emotions start to surface, such as fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, depression, sadness, shame, guilt, or anything else. Stop for a moment, and breathe deeply as you give yourself permission to feel and allow the emotion to surface, saying to yourself, “I feel (whatever you feel)”. Repeat to yourself several times while breathing deeply allowing yourself to feel the way you do. If the feeling physically manifests in your body, then notice where that is and send your breath there, breathe into it deeply, pause, exhale completely, and then repeat as needed. The point is to recognize, allow, and accept without passing judgment, and when you accept, then you can move on. If you cannot move on after 10-15 minutes of breathing deeply, then ask yourself how you would rather feel and repeat the phrase “I feel (whatever you want to feel such as happy)”. Continue breathing deeply.
Strategy 3: Reaction to action. Refer to the list you made in part 1 or start a new list jotting down your emotional triggers, all the things that spike your emotions- good and bad. These could be waiting in line, traffic, stupid people or just certain people, movies/books/music that suck you in (ever cried watching a movie or feel your heart racing watching a car chase?), arguing with others, being late, kids screaming or crying, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of my emotional triggers! Next to each of the triggers, jot down your reaction in one column and then your desired action in another column. So for the screaming kids, I would write down, “yelled at kids to stop screaming” in the reaction column and then “gently walk over to kids to understand the purpose of said screaming” in the desired action column. This exercise gives you a chance to understand yourself better while setting goals for future behaviors, which inevitably increases your self-awareness.
How would it feel to have the ability to reach your personal and professional goals? You can reach your greatest potential by becoming self-aware. When you start increasing your self-awareness, you start making the right decisions that make the most sense for you and make you feel satisfied. Here are a few tips to leave you with as you embark on your journey of self-awareness.
Be patient with yourself. Building a practice of self-awareness takes time and effort.
Be courageous! What is the worst that could happen by looking at yourself in the mirror? Become comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Be kind to yourself and love yourself no matter what! Recognize your progress, even the small steps you have taken. Congratulate yourself for taking a breath and moment of silence rather than firing back at someone.
Last, be real and be in the moment. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes and we all have weaknesses. Understand that your best today will be different than tomorrow. Just do your best, keep practicing, and remember to breathe.
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Bradberry, T., & Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional intelligence 2.0. San Diego, CA: TalentSmart, Inc.
Groves, K. S., McEnrue, M. P., & Shen, W. (2008). Developing and measuring the emotional intelligence of leaders. The Journal of Management Development, 27(2), 225-250. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/02621710810849353
Mayer, J., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. (2008). Emotional intelligence: New ability or eclectic traits? American Psychologist, 63(6), 503–517. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.63.6.503
TalentSmart, Inc. (2009). The business case for emotional intelligence (EQ). [PDF] Retrieved from https://www.talentsmart.com/media/uploads/pdfs/The_Business_Case_For_EQ.pdf