Why is self-awareness so important?

I have vivid memories of those special moments I heard those words – “you just make me so happy”.  I can also remember when I said them and who said them to me.  The pleasure they brought, that warm fuzzy feeling.

What an amazing compliment it is to be the person to bring happiness to another colleague, friend or loved one.  If you have heard these words before and felt great joy and pride, now is the time to stop reading, enjoy the burst of serotonin and brace yourself for what is about to come.

Here is why those words are a trap.  If you have the special ability to make someone happy, the opposite should also be true – you have the ability to make the same person unhappy, sad and angry.  Such power.  As we know with great power comes great responsibility.

When you give the power of making you happy to someone else you are saying to yourself and them that your emotional wellbeing is in their hands.  I’m not sure about you, but I don’t think I would like to saddle anyone else with that responsibility and frankly, I am not sure anyone else is better equipped than I am to manage  my emotional wellbeing.

In walks self-awareness – the first and most important part of Emotional Intelligence.  Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection and the ability to recognise oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals.  It is important because when we become self-aware, we are empowered to make changes and to build on our areas of strength as well as identify areas where we would like to make improvements.

A self-aware individual is in the position to make their own happiness no matter where and with who they are.  These individuals allow others to be who they are because they don’t need others to fulfil their emotional needs.  Their comfort in knowing themselves means that they aren’t threatened by people who disagree with them or who are different than them.  They don’t need continuous approval, recognition and affirmation from others.  Before we go on it is important to note that I said they ‘don’t need’ approval, recognition and affirmation – it’s okay to want these things but if you need them you are placing your happiness in the hands of those that can give this to you.

Imagine a world where everyone is self-aware and confident enough to be willing to allow others, especially those we care for, to be who they choose for themselves, without any insistence that they satisfy us.  By becoming self-aware, feeling important, and worthy we don’t need to have others reinforce our value or values.  We will neither want or need others to be like us.  For one thing, we will realise that we are unique.  For another, our expectations would rob others of their own uniqueness and what we love in them are just those traits that make them special and separate.

Now we may not be able to change the world, but I have ultimate faith in an individual’s ability to change the little part of the world they are in.  So here are 3 practices to help you develop your  self-awareness:

Accept yourself

First you must destroy the myth that have one single self-concept, and that it is either positive of negative all of the time. You have feelings about yourself physically, intellectually, socially and emotionally.  You have an opinion about your abilities at work, as a parent, as a husband.  Your self-portraits are as numerous as your activities and roles, and through all of these behaviours there is always YOU, the person that you either accept or reject.  Your self-worth, must be unrelated to your self-assessments.  Your worth is determined by you, and with no need for an explanation to anyone.  Your worthiness has nothing to do with your behaviour, feelings or past mistakes.  You may not like your behaviour in a given instance, but that has nothing to do with your self-worth.  You can choose to be worthy to yourself, and then get on with the task of working on your self-images.

Keep a decision journal

If you have decisions to make, write them down and then write down why you would take a certain course of action. For example, you have been invited to attend a family event and your friends are having a get-together on the same day.  You know that both your in-laws and your friends really want you to attend their events but you have had several tough weeks at work and would rather spend your Saturday in your pyjamas reading a book.  Write down the decision you are taking and if it is different from your preference, reflect on whether your decisions are based on your own needs or your concern about what others may say or think. This way you will become aware of your own thoughts and feelings about your actions and what actually drives your behaviour – self or others.

Date yourself

Like in any relationship, if we really want to get to know someone personally we have to spend alone-time with them. Make a daily appointment with yourself – you can start with 20 minutes a day where you sit in your garden or on your favourite chair (no TV or mobile phone in sight – it’s rude to be checking Facebook while on a date) and simply sit in silence listening to your thoughts.  As a thought comes up write it down and then go back to being still and listening. At the end of the 20 minutes, take a look at the list you have put together and respond to these thoughts.  This is how we develop the practice of metacognition – thinking about what we are thinking – and become aware of those thoughts and feelings that need to be adjusted.

Building self-awareness is a life-long effort. You’re never “done.”  However, if you ever want to hear those 5 words – “you make me so happy” – from the person who is ultimately and solely responsible  for your happiness and in the position to actually make you happy, it is definitely worth the effort.

Emotional intelligence which starts with self-awareness can evolve over time, as long as you have the desire to increase it. Every person, challenge, or situation faced is a prime learning opportunity to test your EQ. It takes practice, but you can start reaping the benefits immediately.

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