Understand perceptions, perspectives, and social influences to increase self-awareness
This article concludes a series of four articles about self-awareness. I'm trying to break my habit of writing long, irrelevant introductions, so let's dive right in.This is a departure from my recent method of writing from memory, using my bank of notes to find more information, and then searching Google for more information. To write this article, I used Google to find information and then added information from my bank of knowledge (in this case, mainly previous blog posts on this website).
My question was prompted by the desire to learn more about this topic from credible sources, even though I believed I already knew the answer. As of 2022, no answer to this question is readily available. That is, neither a Google search nor an AI-powered inquiry was able to quickly point me in the right direction.Artificial intelligence (AI) in 2022 has advanced to the point where it can answer simple questions with seemingly well-thought-out responses. For example, just now I asked a certain AI-powered writing app the question, "Is the earth flat?" Two clicks later, it produced this paragraph: "The Flat Earth Theory is a theory that the earth is not round, but instead flat. There are many people who believe in this theory and they have different reasons for believing in it. Some of the people who believe in this theory are conspiracy theorists and they think that NASA has been lying to us all along." Not bad, eh? However, most of the topics I discuss on this blog are too deep to be understood by AI in its present form. As of now, it's easy to imagine that one day computers will be able to answer some questions better than humans. However, we are definitely not there yet. However, I did find one useful lead.
Google led me to a 2012 post by Go Bolovan, which makes these interesting statements:
Self-Perception is the most foundational and the least visible part of Emotional Intelligence. This is about our inner world and how we perceive and view ourselves, how motivated we are, the meaning we attach to what we do.
While I couldn't find any solid evidence to support such claims, they sound reasonable to me. I really like what I found a little further down the page:
The problem is that what we don’t recognize we can’t manage.
I really like the way it's worded. It reminds me of a statement I've heard before, "If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it." The latter statement is open to debate, but I do not think we can argue with the way Bolovan expressed it.
It also reminds me of something I wrote, "You can't think about something you haven't observed."Yes, this one is easier to argue against. We can think about purely imaginary things. But can we really form a concept of something we've never seen or heard of before? For, example, a sphygg on planet Tusarok zizes a fratzer to glybbl its kalomov. Let's think for a moment just how much thought we can give to any of that. (Yes, I'm stealing heavily from Jabberwocky here. Lewis Carroll's poem makes some sense despite the nonsense words because there are enough familiar English words interspersed to give us context. I've removed all but the word planet so try to fit meaning into it if you can. I'd love to hear what you come up with.)
My opinion is that any definition of self-awareness is flawed if it does not include frequently comparing our perceptions to reality.
Speaking of what I've already written, I've discovered that searching my own website can be more informative than a Google search, in some cases. I was surprised how many times I've already written about perception.Then again, I shouldn't be. The mere fact that I asked the question under consideration indicates that my subconscious was well aware that it is a key aspect. This is true even if my conscious mind had completely forgotten about it. Let's review some of the ways I have already talked about the importance of being aware of our perceptions:
- Perception drives our thinking, emotions, and actions. Our perceptions of reality are strongly influenced by our past experiences. Likewise, our perception of reality is influenced by the information we receive from others.
- As we act, we are guided by our beliefs, which are influenced by our experiences and perceptions.
- Then there's the element of judgment. We tend to make snap judgments that alter our perceptions.
- In many cases, perceptions of social expectations play the biggest role. We often prefer to disappoint ourselves than disappoint others.
- According to what I have researched so far, self-esteem might be a very useful indicator of self-awareness (although the jury is still out).
- Compassion changes our perceptions. It can make us kinder and gentler.
- The peak-and-end effect affects our perception of past events in a very direct way. Our perceptions can also be affected by availability bias.
- Self-perception affects our ability to present a desired self-image and our ability to deal with daily challenges.
- Perception is the basis of trust. Despite the fact that trust is built over time, it is possible to misperceive someone's real trustworthiness.
- Our perceptions have a real and direct effect on our emotions.
- We are better equipped to give advice than we think.
- Our perception of the world may be distorted in ways we cannot even notice.
- Often we misperceive, underestimate, or overestimate our peers' behaviors and attitudes, which in turn affects our own behavior.
- Like optical illusions or distortions at the edges of eyeglasses, social norms skew our perceptions. We tend to misjudge how similar or different we are to others. The fear of defying social norms can influence our judgments. Also, the perceptions we form tend to last a long time.
Stop and think for a moment before I move on to the second question. How do you react when you encounter an optical illusion? Consider the following image. Are the horizontal lines straight? They don't seem to be. Whether they are or not does not affect your daily activities, but many perceptions you form each day do. Many of them won't be obvious illusions like this one. Think about it for a moment: how can you tell if the image is fooling you or not? Take your time to consider it before scrolling down the page.
What method did you use to determine whether the lines are horizontal? Perhaps you had a level lying around. (Make sure your screen is level, too.) You can also do as I did and scroll the page up until one of the lines is even with the top of your browser window. If you come up with a method that's different from the two I've thought of, you get bonus points.
What did you do? You found a reference point you could rely on. Next, you compared the two carefully until you were satisfied. It is this process that should be used to verify all our perceptions, especially those that lead to major decisions in life. I'll leave it up to you to consider how to extend this analogy to other types of perception, including those mentioned above.
OK, next question.
In searching for scientific research on the topic, I found some, but it led me down a rabbit hole too deep to finish this blog post on time. Google was not very helpful for unearthing connections between perspectives and self-awareness on standard websites either. However, I did find one insightful blog post. According to Tracey Burns, "Being conscious of our perspective and context is the state of being 'self aware'." This statement intrigued me. What did she mean by "context"? She explains:
[C]ontext is the lens through which we view the world, ourselves, and others. We form these lenses based on circumstances from our past and often we can pick up clues to our contexts from our use of language. Some common examples of “context” include, “life is hard”, “money is tight”, “she’s impossible”. Similar to perspective, context can limit our abilities to achieve our goals, however, once distinguished, context can be shifted, expanded, and overcome thereby shifting our behaviour.
I might be succumbing to confirmation bias, but her usage of the word "context" seems quite similar to my explanation of perceptions above. Her examples are ultimately examples of beliefs, which, as I already stated, color our perceptions. I can't say she is expressing a scientifically-validated viewpoint. I'm just hoping that "great minds think alike."It just occurred to me that her examples of contexts would also fit the description of "stories" we tell ourselves that influence our behavior. I suppose we could use the concepts of stories, beliefs, and perceptions interchangeably to some extent.
To provide insight into the answer(s) to this question I once again turned to my own writing. Let's see what I found:
- We build trust with others when we understand their perspectives. How does that relate to self-awareness? Perhaps someone who trusts me more will be more likely to provide useful feedback, an essential element of self-awareness.
- To use another shade of the word's meaning: Putting risks into perspective can reduce both fear and danger by increasing our awareness.
- No matter how authoritative something sounds, it might be wrong. You can still be wrong no matter how sure you are that you are right. Critical thinkers are interested in hearing as many perspectives as possible, even those that disagree with their own.
- If you keep track of your decisions in a journal, your own future selves will be able to look at the decision from different emotional perspectives.
- An egocentric person is unable or unwilling to understand any perspective other than their own. This is the opposite of awareness.
- An individual high in emotional intelligence is able to see emotional situations from multiple, conflicting perspectives.
- By gaining the right perspective, you can recognize which of your decisions are your own (and which are influenced by outside factors).
- Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats is a useful tool for considering multiple perspectives, for either individuals or groups. "It’s the perfect, practical tool whenever diverse perspectives are in-demand," according to the website You Can Now.
Our final question for today:
Are self-awareness and social awareness interconnected?I also added a sub-question, "How much of it relates to my own values and goals?" But I've decided that wasn't a useful question.
During my research for this article, I noticed a pattern: the first section above, about perceptions, provides alerts to help us avoid the negative effects of social influences. In this section as well as the one on perspectives, we discuss how social influences can positively affect us.
In this case, I was fortunate to find some relatively authoritative sources to provide insight.
Being socially aware means that you understand how you react to different social situations, and effectively modify your interactions with other people so that you achieve the best results. Empathy is the most important and essential EQ component of social awareness and is directly related to self-awareness. It is the ability to put oneself in another’s place (or “shoes”), to understand him as a person, to feel him and to take into account this perspective related to this person or with any person at a time.Drigas, A., & Papoutsi, C. (2018). A New Layered Model on Emotional Intelligence. In Behavioral Sciences (Vol. 8, Issue 5, p. 45). MDPI AG. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs8050045
Cap Aguilar and Clarissa Bridges, writing for Panorama Education, express a similar viewpoint:
Social awareness is the ability to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
Their website identifies self-awareness and social awareness as two of five "core competencies" of "social and emotional learning." Additionally, their article provides examples of thinking and communication that demonstrate self-awareness, social awareness, and the other competencies.As I was researching these questions, I came across the CASEL project, which claims to have "first introduced the term 'social and emotional learning (SEL)' to the education world." Having spent some time myself researching the subject of developing literacies, I was surprised and gratified to discover that this organization has been promoting the inclusion of "social and emotional learning (SEL)" in the classroom since 1994. However, the movement still has a long way to go until it becomes part of mainstream education. At this point, there is no standardized system of testing and measurement for all institutions to use. Thinking about this, it struck me as another case of "going meta." After all, self-awareness (as I see it) is a process of continually looking for ways to measure our perceptions against reality, and SEL includes teaching self-awareness. /end of geek session
- Empathy, understanding and acknowledging people's emotions, is a critical component of being able to build connections with them.
- Service Orientation: being helpful, contributing to the group effort, and demonstrating good listening skills.
- A person with Organisational Awareness is able to explain themselves well, recognize how they are being understood, and are aware of their audience's level of comprehension.
We'll end this survey of search results with this one:
If you focus too much on yourself, you do not possess enough self-awareness. A truly self-aware person realizes he or she needs others to succeed and values their contributions. This type of person is confident enough to respect themselves while also honoring others as unique, capable and valuable.According to this article, the "top 4 indicators of self-awareness" are wisdom, honesty, humility, and confidence. I haven't seen any effort to back it up with scientific evidence, but I'd say they are on the right track. The article also ends with a quote from Henry Cloud, “Reality is always your friend.” I know nothing about Dr. Cloud's philosophies but I definitely agree with that statement.
- A thorough understanding of perception and perspectives is crucial to achieving self-awareness.
- Empathy is the key to social awareness, which shows our need to help others and rely on them, and is essential for true self-awareness.