Improve your self-awareness and live a more fulfilling life. Three questions answered
This is the third in a series of articles. The second week focused on how to take practical steps to improve your self-awareness.
The first blog post, an overview of the subject of self-awareness, raised six questions. In this post, I explore my search for answers to three of them. Let's dive into the first one.
Exactly how can we tell whether or not we are self-aware?
When I ran this question through Google, it provided me with a definition of self-awareness that differs from the previous ones in one significant way (I added the underlines):
If you're highly self-aware, you can objectively evaluate yourself, manage your emotions, align your behavior with your values, and understand correctly how others perceive you. Put simply, those who are highly self-aware can interpret their actions, feelings, and thoughts objectively.
This reminds me of the detached awareness aspect of a person with a quiet ego as described on the Scientific American blog:
They attempt to see reality as clearly as possible. This requires openness and acceptance to whatever one might discover about the self or others in the present moment and letting the moment unfold as naturally as possible. It also involves the ability to revisit thoughts and feelings that have already occurred, examine them more objectively than perhaps one was able to in the moment, and make the appropriate adjustments that will lead to further growth.
I will discuss this new aspect, objectivity, shortly. I will also explore the idea of revisiting thoughts and feelings.
This quote suggests that somebody with a quiet ego would be highly self-aware. Furthermore, it is also considered a key component of emotional intelligence, as well as an integral component of authenticity.
In a 2013 HBR article, Lisa Rosh and Lynn Offermann agreed:
Authenticity begins with self-awareness: knowing who you are—your values, emotions, and competencies—and how you're perceived by others.
Also note this Wikipedia quote:
There appears to be some consensus in the literature about the qualities an authentic leader must have. These include self-awareness, the ability to trust one's thoughts, feelings, motives and values, self reflection, responsiveness to feedback, and the ability to resolve conflict in honest and non-manipulative ways.
Two things about this quote intrigue me. First, consensus adds credibility. In addition, there is something about authenticity that I haven't seen in the literature about self-awareness: trusting one's inner knowledge. In my opinion, one could easily argue that a self-aware individual is confident that they know themselves, so I think we should include that in our definition.
Thus, I would argue that both the "awareness" and the "unbiased processing" aspects of authenticity can reasonably be included in a comprehensive definition of self-awareness.
I'm trying to picture a person who is self-aware but not completely authentic. That means the person knows and trusts their feelings, preferences, values, and standards, but may not act consistently with them. Or, they may choose not to disclose these to their close relationships. What would you call such a person?
Therefore, if you are high in emotional intelligence, authenticity, or quiet ego, or all three, you are also high in self-awareness.In harmony with the need for objectivity I specified above, a person can determine their degree of the above by using validated instruments such as the following: KGAI for authenticity, QES for quiet ego, and EQ-i for emotional intelligence. I learned about the EQ-i, Emotional Quotient Inventory, during my research for this post. It claims to be the world's leading measure of emotional intelligence. So far I haven't found a scientifically validated instrument for measuring self-awareness directly.
Based on what I've discussed so far, I would describe self-awareness as follows:
Those who are truly self-aware are confident that they can accurately identify their emotions and are honest with themselves about their thoughts. They are able to connect emotions and behavior and to compare their behavior with their own values and moral standards.
Is it possible to quantify all the ways we can be self-aware? Is there a self-awareness "map?"
I could not locate an article or study that details a comprehensive map of all known aspects of self-awareness. I did, however, find an article on LinkedIn with the title Creating Your Self-Awareness Map. Author John Dwyer chose six characteristics to use as a basis for mapping one's self-awareness: Strengths, Weaknesses, Passions, Roles, People, and Events. I find it gratifying that someone else has at least given consideration to this idea, even if it does not appear to be science-based.
Dwyer suggests creating a diagram and using it to find connections between the six areas.
Dwyer's Strengths and Weaknesses remind me of SWOT, a concept I've seen referenced in other self-awareness resources. In a SWOT analysis chart, Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats are mapped out in four quadrants. The horizontal axis represents pros and cons, and the vertical axis represents internal and external aspects of self-awareness.Niklas Göke lists some more "mind mapping" suggestions in his Medium post about self-awareness.
Now it's time for me to add some science to the mix. So far, I have not found a scientific instrument that attempts to measure self-awareness objectively, that is, in terms of units of measurement that can be quantified and compared statistically. They all use subjective determinations, such as the following questions from Tasha Eurich's own self-awareness assessment. You can take a free quiz based on the full assessment here.
Examples of questions include:
I have clearly defined values that outline what is most important to me.
I know what I want out of life.
One instrument focuses on the outcomes of self-awareness. In other words, subjective, sometimes hard-to-determine aspects of self-awareness can be linked to outcomes that may be easier to grasp and comprehend.
Anna Sutton undertook to develop the Self-Awareness Outcomes Questionnaire (SAOQ).Sutton, A. (2016). Measuring the effects of self-awareness: Construction of the Self-Awareness Outcomes Questionnaire. In *Europe’s Journal of Psychology* (Vol. 12, Issue 4, pp. 645–658). Leibniz Institute for Psychology (ZPID). https://doi.org/10.5964/ejop.v12i4.1178 You can see the instrument for yourself here.
Sutton's paper draws sometimes surprising conclusions about the relationship between self-reflection (monitoring and evaluating one's own internal states and behaviors) and insight. An individual's insight in this case refers to their ability to clearly understand these states and behaviors.
According to research results, both self-reflection and the insights it generates are associated with reduced depression. However, while insight is associated with enhanced psychological well-being, self-reflection is associated with higher levels of anxiety. This produces a ‘self-absorption paradox’.
Self-reflection, then, is a valuable tool for insight (self-awareness), but it comes with an emotional cost. Having insight leads to greater acceptance of self and others, proactivity at work, and lower emotional costs. This reminds me of the way having money improves happiness but trying to get more reduces it.
It takes courage… to endure the sharp pains of self discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives. – Marianne Williamson
According to Sutton's study, journaling without the skills or resources to move from self-reflection to action and insight reduces insight. This confirms what I wrote, "It is less effective to write about a single aspect, event, or emotion than to tie them together."
Self-awareness, it seems, is not something that we completely achieve, but rather something we strive for throughout our lives. Even experts in the field hesitate to list every aspect of self-awareness.
The identity map project I am currently working on seems to be a good first step in that direction. You can use it to document how you set goals and overcome obstacles. Or how you failed to overcome them, so you can learn from your mistakes. Your identity map journal can also give your future selves access to revisit your thoughts and feelings (and decisions) and to process them objectively. Just be sure not to trust your memory. All of these can contribute to greater self-awareness.
After revisiting my blog posts, I have one last thought: Self-concept clarity may be a more accurate phrase than self-awareness.Just like self-efficacy is more specific and measurable than self-confidence.
Is there a way to make predictions about myself and then test those predictions?
The reason I asked this question is because the scientific method involves making predictions, or hypotheses, and then testing those predictions to see if the evidence confirms or contradicts them. I have found that, based on my research, this method isn't very useful when it comes to determining individual human behavior.
We'll talk about the answers to the final three questions next week.