Discover your true self: gain the prize of self-awareness

Imagine a small airplane, a Piper Navajo with 6 people on board, flying through the clouds when one by one the instruments start to fail.

Here I am with a compass and my vertical speed and altimeter. No radio, one engine out and my head is telling me to turn right and turn right hard. Every sensation in my mind tells me I’m at like a 45 degree left bank. But careful study of the compass (not moving left or right) and the altimeter and vertical speed confirm I cannot be in such a left turn.

The seasoned pilot Mark Holbrook was flying an old plane when Murphy's Law caught up with him: Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Even though Mark is not the best storyteller, he had an incredible story to share. 

It is vital that a pilot knows his plane, especially when things go wrong. Mark shares these lessons:

  • Believe the instruments.
  • With few instruments slower is better.
  • ALWAYS ALWAYS know where you are.
  • A bunch of little things all added up to put me in a really bad situation. But training and backups got me through it.

When I started to write this post this morning, I knew nothing about Mark Holbrook or his harrying experience. But flying an airplane seemed to me like a good metaphor for self-awareness. Pilots who rely on their instincts more than their instruments have often got into trouble. Likewise, most people overestimate their level of self-awareness. We may not literally crash and burn, but we can certainly end up in bad shape. So let's get on with the subject. Here are the questions I will try to answer:

  • What is self-awareness?
  • Why is it important?
  • What are the benefits?
  • What is the relationship between self-awareness, mindfulness, and authenticity?
  • What other concepts are related?

What is self-awareness?

As usual, I started out by free writing for 25 minutes to see just how much I could recall from memory about the subject. The following is my on-the-fly definition:

Self-awareness is knowing myself. It involves knowing my values, my attributes, my emotions, my goals and intentions, my aspirations, my habits, my tendencies, my ideals. 

I felt sort of proud for thinking of so many related aspects. In fact, I cheated: the facets are based on a list of topics I created in my journal. I call it my identity map. It's part of my efforts to become more self-aware. But I'll get to that later.

After finishing my essay I opened my electronic brain and dug up more definitions. Let's see what I got right and what I missed.

I found the following references in my notes. Self-awareness is:

  • The ability to look inside yourself, reflect on your behavior, and think about how it aligns with your moral standards and values.From (paywalled)
  • The degree to which you are tuned into your own physical-emotional experience.Fishbane, M. D. (2016). The neurobiology of relationships. In T. L. Sexton & J. Lebow (Eds.), Handbook of family therapy (pp. 48–65). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group
  • Being aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions.Russ Harris
  • A way of introspection that does not shut out the world, but rather brings it in to be weighed against your own feelings and behavior.Gabriel Alcala - NBC News Nov. 6, 2019
  • Focusing our attention on your inner world of thoughts and feelings.Daniel Goleman: The Case For Teaching Emotional Literacy In Schools (retrieved from the Internet Archive)
  • The foundation on which all else is built.Helen Brown rewrote the Emotional Intelligence web article for Positive Psychology, originally written by Courtney Ackerman, released 09-12-2021. She quotes Andy Lothian from an article he wrote for CEO Today magazine.

I think the third one, Russ Harris' definition, complements mine fairly well. I missed two of the three points he touched on. Despite identifying emotions as closely connected to self-awareness, I failed to explicitly mention thoughts and actions. Additionally, I enjoy Gabriel Alcala's definition, in which he pointed out that self-awareness does not shut out the outside world, but rather invites it in for assessment. Like most things I write about on this blog, self-awareness is closely linked to understanding reality.

Why is self-awareness important?

My definition neglected to mention reality, though I did mention it in my essay. In addition, I correctly associated self-awareness with self-control and self-regulation. 

"It is a well-documented (but rarely discussed) fact that, in any domain of competence, most people think they are better than they actually are," wrote Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, in a Harvard Business Review article I've quoted from in another of my articles. Take, for instance, the fact that more than 75 percent of drivers in many countries consider themselves to be above average, a statistical impossibility.Here are some sources: Wikipedia, Business Insider/AAA. However, this could possibly be true, depending on how you define "average." See what Will Koehrsen and Adam Campbell have to say, if you're a devil's advocate type.

Among those who have devoted much time to studying self-awareness are Tasha Eurich and Robert Greene. Eurich estimates that 95% of people think they're self-aware, but only 10 to 15% actually are. In case you have any doubts, search Google for "what are many people not aware of?" The results are almost entirely about self-awareness. This is amazing, considering we live with ourselves every day.

In The Laws of Human Nature, Greene writes:

Generally what causes us to go astray in the first place, what leads to bad decisions and miscalculations, is our deep-rooted irrationality, the extent to which our minds are governed by emotion.

Greene identifies what he calls "low-grade irrationality," which reminds me of the temptation for pilots to distrust their instruments because of their body sensations, as Holbrook experienced above. Also, "high-grade irrationality" is a danger when we encounter anger, excitement, resentment, or suspicion, and it can escalate into a reactive state where we lose emotional control.

For Daniel Goleman, who introduced the term Emotional Intelligence, self-awareness must precede social awareness, self-management, and relationship management, which are all essential elements of EI.

Taking the claim that very few people are truly self-aware, along with the fact that it is so closely related to being able to use your strengths intentionally, manage or eliminate your weaknesses, and achieve social and professional success, it appears that self-awareness is a kind of superpower. It reminds me of the one-eyed man in last week's blog post.

What are the benefits?

  • When your behavior and values are aligned, you feel positive and self-confident.
  • Furthermore, self-awareness allows you to better understand your own attitudes, opinions, and knowledge.
  • You will be able to understand and control your own emotions and actions, and you will be able to understand how these affect others' emotions and actions.
  • Leaders who know their strengths have higher self-confidence, are more highly paid, and are happier at work.
  • It helps you to be in control of your own life, experiences, and destiny.The preceding all came from the MindTools article cited above.
  • As a result, you can cultivate deeper and more fulfilling relationships with those around you.The Laws of Human Nature
  • You can avoid making decisions you will regret.The Laws of Human Nature
  • You'll be able to better manage your emotions.MindTools

Research suggests that when we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and more creative. We make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. We’re less likely to lie, cheat, and steal. We are better workers who get more promotions. And we’re more-effective leaders with more-satisfied employees and more-profitable companies. - Tasha Eurich

Self-aware people are self-assured people. They make better decisions, quicker. They understand their workstyle to become more productive. They conduct relationships in a way that’s mutually beneficial and respectful. Their communications are designed for those around them, helping key messages land better. They know how to influence peers and leaders, can develop higher-value customer relationships, and are a voice of positivity within teams. - Andy Lothian

What is the relationship between self-awareness, mindfulness, and authenticity?

As I wrote this question this morning, I vaguely remembered that there is a connection. This reveals how weak my memory is. I took another look at the Kernis-Goldman Authenticity Inventory (KGAI) and found that almost everything in it is related to self-awareness.For an overview of the Kernis-Goldman model of authenticity, go here. In fact, "awareness" is the first component. The KGAI measures subjective awareness of:

  • Feelings
  • Self-beliefs
  • Core self
  • Motivations
  • Values
  • Aspirations
  • Self-assessment ability
  • Acceptance of personal faults and limitations
  • The ability to process unpleasant feelings
  • Willingness to accept compliments and criticism

According to Eurich, self-awareness is divided into two types: internal and external. I believe all of the preceding would fall under internal self-awareness. Additionally, KGAI measures behaviors and relationships with close friends and family members. In Eurich's definition, external self-awareness is the ability to understand yourself from the outside in, i.e. understanding how others see you. I think KGAI would be a useful instrument for measuring external self-awareness, because it examines whether a person:

  • Is honest about what they enjoy
  • Is true to themselves regardless of potential rewards
  • Acts in ways that are consistent with their own values
  • Is willing to say no to things they don't want to do even if it disappoints others
  • Pursues goals of their choosing or those that matter to others
  • Has the courage to express their true beliefs in the face of negative consequences
  • Wants close others to understand their strengths
  • Expresses care for close others
  • Attempts to objectively see others as they truly are rather than idealizing them
  • Aims to understand others' needs and desires and to resolve conflict and disagreement constructively
  • Demonstrates openness and honesty in close relationships

I found the answer to my question about the relationship between mindfulness and self-awareness in the blog post I wrote about mindfulness:

Awareness is the primary function of mindfulness.

What other concepts are related?

To save time, I'll just make a list.

Here are the ones I thought of in my essay:

Others I found in my notes:

  • Self-consciousness"Self-consciousness is a hypersensitized state of self-awareness; it's the excessive preoccupation with your own manners, behavior, or appearance, and is often seen as negative. Self-awareness is focused on the impact your behavior has on other people, and, as such, is much more positive." MindTools
  • Self-accountability
  • Willpower
  • Social awareness"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." Drigas, A., & Papoutsi, C. (2018). A New Layered Model on Emotional Intelligence. In Behavioral Sciences (Vol. 8, Issue 5, p. 45). MDPI AG. 
  • "Generational awareness""First we must understand the actual profound effect that our generation has on how we view the world, and second we must understand the larger generational patterns that shape history and recognize where our time period fits into the overall scheme." The Laws of Human Nature
  • WisdomThe reflective component of wisdom, according to one model, covers global/general self-awareness (tolerance of ambiguity, not denying reality), internal self-awareness (introspection, insight into one's own motives and behavior, not feeling cheated and victimized by life), and external self-awareness (not transferring or projecting blame, not being not vulnerable to anything that can be construed as criticism or an interpersonal slight).
  • HumorAcquired through self-awareness

As further proof of my imperfect memory, I came across the following I'd jotted down from a random epiphany I had just three days ago:

  • Possible selvesWe make decisions based on our possible selves. These are the sum of our hopes, fears, and ideals. Certainly, there's a strong connection to self-awareness.
  • Relationship bank accountsFeelings about another person are fairly easy to gauge. To know how they feel about us, we need strong external self-awareness.

Questions to answer

In addition to the question, what is the relationship between authenticity and self-awareness?, I also came up with the following questions during my brainstorm session:

  • Exactly how can we tell whether or not we are self-aware?
  • Is it possible to quantify all the ways we can be self-aware? Is there a self-awareness "map?"
  • Is there a way to make predictions about myself and then test those predictions?
  • Would knowing more about perception increase my self-awareness?
  • What are some ways that knowing more about perspectives can improve my self-awareness?
  • Are self-awareness and social awareness interconnected? How much of it relates to my own values and goals?

While I have found some answers to these questions, I have already written so much here today that I will leave the answers to these questions until another time. In the meantime, I will leave you on a cliffhanger.