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).

Would knowing more about perception increase my self-awareness?

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.

The horizontal lines are straight. Or are they?

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.

What are some ways that knowing more about perspectives can improve my self-awareness?

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

According to a "fact sheet" issued by Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, social awareness includes:

  • 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.

Links to other articles in the series

  1. Discover Your True Self: Gain The Prize Of Self-Awareness
  2. How To Look, Think, Feel, And Act With Clarity And Awareness
  3. Improve Your Self-Awareness and Live a More Fulfilling Life. Three Questions Answered

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.Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threatsNiklas 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. 

An article about self-predictions turned up during my search.Poon, C.S., Koehler, D.J., & Buehler, R. (2014). On the psychology of self-prediction: Consideration of situational barriers to intended actions. Judgment and Decision Making, 9, 207-225. According to the paper, we tend to overestimate the influence of our intentions on future behavior. Oftentimes we forget that situational factors can present obstacles that prevent us from achieving our goals. For example, someone who predicts donating to a particular charitable cause may only consider the benefits of doing so. People often forget about the constraints on their time that make it difficult, as well as distractions and other more immediate concerns.
People still tend to give too much weight to their intentions even when they are reminded of such situational factors. Additionally, we tend to think of others' actions more as a result of their intentions than as a result of the circumstances. 
If we find ourselves unable to achieve a desired or predicted outcome, we are often quick to point out the situational factors that prevented us from reaching our goal. Traffic, scheduling conflicts, unexpected workloads, and many more factors may cause delays. 
As a way to combat this tendency, allow much more time than initially expected to complete a task, and divide the task into small units as possible, and try to identify what obstacles may prevent each unit from being completed. Goal tracking is also helpful. We can track our progress toward a goal we continually aim for, and then look back at how we did. We will identify ways to improve our process and our time estimates by doing this.
On this very website, I found another answer to my question. Making predictions about how we'll feel about future events or possible scenarios and then reading them afterward can help us to get to know ourselves better.

We'll talk about the answers to the final three questions next week.

How to look, think, feel, and act with clarity and awareness

Imagine yourself playing a flight-sim style video game. But the airplane does not behave as you would expect. Occasionally it does not respond, and sometimes it overcorrects. Sometimes the enemy fires at you and a direct hit does no damage. In other cases, you are knocked out of the sky when it misses. Are you likely to keep playing?

On the other hand, what if the game is 100% responsive but at the end you realize you have been fighting the wrong army, and you have been 100% successful in inflicting damage on your own forces? For whatever reason, you were unaware. Neither of those games would be fun.

In real life, lack of awareness doesn't just make life less fun. It can lead to tragedy.

I am having great difficulty living with the sorrow of this accident, since I am a loving father and can only imagine the horror this has brought you. - Lt. Col. Ralph Hayles

Col. Hayles wrote this message to the parents of a young man who was killed when he pulled the trigger on his AH-64A Apache gunship during the Gulf War in 1991. Hayles and the young man both served in the same army, making this death particularly poignant. At the time he was unaware that, as a result of the strong desert winds, his helicopter had drifted away from the enemy targets and that the armored vehicles in his sights were actually his fellow soldiers.

I share this merely to emphasize, as an extreme example, how devastating lack of self-awareness can be. Col. Hayles wasn't only unaware of his physical circumstances, but he had a reputation for overconfidence that he was also likely unaware of.


This is the second in a series of articles discussing self-awareness. In the first article, the meaning of self-awareness as well as its benefits and related concepts were explained. In short, self-awareness does more than prevent regrets such as those of Col. Hayles. It also helps us make better decisions, reach our goals, and stay in control of our lives. 

This article discusses concrete ways to develop and maintain self-awareness. Let's review a few points:

  • There are two types of self-awareness: internal and external
    • Internal self-awareness involves knowing who you are, including your values and how you behave in different situations.
    • External self-awareness means understanding how other people see you.
  • Self-awareness is closely related to having a strong grasp of reality in general. 

These principles will become evident as we go over the following ways of developing self-awareness.

Pay attention

Obviously, this is the first step in awareness. We must understand, however, that everything we think about ourselves is based on a mental model we have constructed. With this mental model, we can navigate the world effectively without having to constantly check our assumptions. For example, stretch your hand out in front of you. Close your eyes, and then touch your nose. This was probably easy for you since you have a mental model of your body in space.

However, the map is not the territory. Just as every map leaves out details by necessity, our mental models of ourselves contain omissions and errors. With the recognition of this fact, we can progressively improve the quality of our mental map, and by doing so, we become self-aware.

The next step is curiosity. “To be self-aware, a person needs to be curious about themselves,” as Ana Jovanovic, psychologist and life coach at Parenting Pod, puts it.

Curiosity will move us to be mindful of what we observe, without interference from ego. Those who value curiosity and self-awareness will be interested to learn about their own mental and emotional blind spots. Discovering a weakness or a failed belief becomes an opportunity for growth, not a liability. As a result, our perceptions become more in line with reality.

Curiosity, in turn, moves us to ask questions. For instance, why did I lose my temper? Why do I feel so bad in certain situations? And what kind of person am I striving to be?

As a next step, we determine how to identify and measure our thoughts, feelings, and actions. A person prone to sudden temper outbursts can learn to notice their own clenched teeth, for example, or a rapid heartbeat, before it gets out of control.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

We can continue to develop our self-awareness skills by thinking like scientists. Observation allows us to test hypotheses and make predictions. The key to success is finding easy and consistent ways to collect observations. The more accurately we are able to measure our observations, the more confident we can be in our conclusions. In a later section, we'll look at specific ways to do this.

Be realistic

This includes recognizing that:

  • Life does not owe me any special privileges.
  • Although I can't realize all my dreams, I can continue to grow wiser. 
  • There will always be more things that I don't know than those that I do know.
  • My listening skills are probably not as good as I think.

Honesty and realism go hand in hand. I will not hide my preferences if I am being honest. While I won't insist on them all the time, I will stand up for my needs when necessary. In the same vein, I will take responsibility for my actions, even those I'm not proud of.

According to Amy McManus, a marriage and family therapist:

You become self-aware through a willingness to let go of defensiveness and an openness to seeing yourself in a way that is different from what you have always assumed. Often this means you have to be willing to see yourself in a less-than-positive light.

Control your emotions

The last article highlighted the connection between self-awareness and emotional intelligence. John Duffy, a clinical psychologist and author, identifies self-awareness as "the recognition of one's own emotional state at any given point in time."

Self-aware people:

  • Say what they mean.
  • Are able to laugh at themselves.
  • Don't try to numb their emotions or escape from them.
  • Take the time to understand their feelings and express them openly.
  • Avoid getting defensive.
  • Don't hesitate to apologize.

You can greatly increase your emotional self-awareness by following the tips in this article and the articles it links to.

Here are a few quick tips: 

  • The more often we can ask ourselves, "How am I feeling right now? ", and analyze the circumstances surrounding our feelings, the sooner we will begin to gain a better understanding and control over our emotions.
  • The same holds true for analyzing situations that lead to emotional reactions.
  • Many people dislike criticism and find it hard to accept. However, criticism is gold. How often are people willing to give us useful feedback? When we realize that only a small percentage of information that would benefit us is shared with us, we'll be more inclined to mine critical feedback for useful information rather than getting defensive.

Think things through

A self-aware person understands:

  • How they tend to think.
  • How they best absorb information.
  • Their values.
  • Their strengths and weaknesses.

Ask "What?", not "Why?"

According to self-awareness expert Tasha Eurich, When looking for underlying causes, there are several pitfalls to be aware of:

  • The reasons for our actions are usually complex and hard to understand, but our minds are drawn to simplistic explanations.
  • Rather than a rational assessment of our strengths and weaknesses, our perceived explanations often focus on our fears, shortcomings, or insecurities.
  • When we think like this, we tend to rationalize and deny what we've learned.

It is more productive, instead, to ask, "What?":

  • What did I do well?
  • What could I have done better?
  • In what ways did I contribute to the outcome?
  • If I were a caring friend watching my behavior, what advice would I give?
  • To do a better job in the future, what steps should I take?

In the end, we become more open to new information and how we might learn from it. As a result, we are able to move forward and find solutions, rather than focusing on unproductive patterns.

Charles Munger once said, “To get what you want, you have to deserve what you want. The world is not yet a crazy enough place to reward a whole bunch of undeserving people.” Niklas Göke suggests using this idea to create a "What?" question that can help us find our personal values:

What would the guy do who deserves everything I want?

Focus on others

People who are highly self-aware:

  • Listen more than they talk.
  • Are humble.
  • Consider the impact of their words and actions on others.
  • Carefully consider their words.
  • Pay attention to others instead of themselves.
  • Take into account others' opinions and look at things from different perspectives.

Get feedback

McManus defines self-awareness as "the ability to look at your own words and actions from a perspective outside of yourself; to see yourself as others see you."

How can we develop this ability? The main way is by asking them how they see us.

It takes courage to receive feedback graciously, the courage to let others have an advantage over us, at least temporarily. It also takes courage to ask for feedback. Actually, asking for anything requires courage. The person who provides the feedback should be rewarded by the fact that we accept it graciously, even if we do not agree with it. 

Eurich suggests that we only offer two possible responses to those who provide us with feedback:

  • "Thank you," or
  • "Tell me more."

She recommends executives ask 8-12 people for feedback each month: I was wondering if you could give me some feedback on how I performed with this goal in the past 30 days. The second question is, what do you think I should do in the next 30 days?

Göke suggests sending a message to the last person you spoke to and asking: "Hey, remember when we talked about X? Is there anything I can improve on?"

Use tools

We live in an era where technology can distract us from what is important, thereby reducing self-awareness. But it can also increase it. For instance, machines and devices can provide accurate feedback about our health. Blood pressure monitors, health trackers, and other such devices alert us to potential problems and help us make improvements. 

We can use technology in many ways to increase our self-awareness. One example is RescueTime, an app that informs the user how much time they spend on their devices and what they do with that time. By carefully analyzing such data, we can determine whether we are spending our time effectively and find ways to increase productivity and reduce distractions. Tracking your time, with or without a computer, can also be a useful tool.

Journaling is also closely related to time tracking, and I often recommend it. Productivity expert James Clear recommends asking, What did I do last week? How can I improve by just a little bit this week?

You can also use journaling to increase self-awareness in the following ways:

  • Describe your day, what you did, the reactions and feelings you experienced, and their consequences.
  • Include some of each. It is less effective to write about a single aspect, event, or emotion, than to tie them together.
  • Think about what does and doesn't work for you.
  • If you have a disagreement with someone else, try writing about the disagreement from the other person's point of view.
  • Divide your life into categories, such as business, health, and travel. Periodically summarize the progress you've made in each.
  • Make a habit of providing evidence of how you are living out your values.
  • Make decisions based on what you've learned and write about them.

Other tests, such as the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale and the Satisfaction With Life Scale, can also help us understand ourselves better.

Learn from mistakes

Billy Joel sang that mistakes are the only thing you can truly call your own. Self-aware individuals know how valuable it is to learn from their failures. Instead of hiding their mistakes, they turn them into valuable learning experiences. They don't hesitate to apologize, realizing that acknowledging the mistake and making amends is the best way to follow up. Göke exemplified this with his personal experience:

I recently blamed my family for something that was actually my fault. Apologizing didn’t just clear the air and nurture these relationships, but in the following conversation, each member gave me valuable advice for how I could solve the real underlying problem.

My best wishes to you on your journey to self-awareness. Next week, we will look for answers to the questions I posed at the end of the last article.

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 MindTools.com (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. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs8050045 
  • "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.

What is priming? Wield its secret by learning how it controls you

In regione caecorum rex est luscus - In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.  - Desiderius Erasmus

This phrase is often used to convey the idea that even people with limited abilities and opportunities are considered special by those with even fewer capabilities and opportunities. To me, this phrase is particularly relevant to understanding our inability to comprehend our own subconscious thoughts.

Imagine for a moment having an artificial intelligence augment your consciousness. Think J.A.R.V.I.S. from the Iron Man and Avengers movies. It constantly alerts Tony Stark to threats in his environment, giving him real-time information about potential targets and adversaries as well as background information.

How would it feel to have your own J.A.R.V.I.S., always available to assist you?

What if you knew that this hypothetical AI augmentation would not only provide you with constant updates, but it would also influence and control your thinking and actions, often in ways you wouldn't be aware of? Every single decision you make would be influenced, and your perception of the world would be skewed in ways that you cannot even detect.

How would you feel about such an augmentation? It sounds scary, doesn't it?

Often, the real world is stranger than fiction. We do have such a system in our brains, and it affects and controls us in ways that we don't understand and often can't even detect. We call it associative memory. We benefit from it by automatically retrieving concepts that relate to whatever we are focusing on, but it also results in an effect called priming.

As usual, I began this week by writing as much as I could think of on this subject for 25 minutes. An essay was also contributed by a guest writer: my April self. I discovered I had written a brainstorming essay back in April, so I'll combine the two and then add what I discovered when I mined my notes rather than relying on my feeble remembering self.My AI-augmented version of J.A.R.V.I.S. is much less glamorous and efficient than the movie version, but it still gives me superpowers compared to the old days. My "second brain" is mostly made up of text files linked together using the Obsidian app.

What is priming?

Here are my two definitions, first, from April: "The fact that whenever your brain identifies a concept in your environment, it makes connections with everything related to it," and from this morning: "Priming is the tendency to think about certain thoughts based on their relationship to other thoughts."

Those are reasonably good definitions of associative memory, but priming goes beyond that. Now let's take a look at the textbook definition:

Priming is a phenomenon whereby exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a subsequent stimulus, without conscious guidance or intention.

Can you see what I missed? Both of my off-the-cuff definitions leave out any reference to stimulus or response. I find this interesting since what drew my attention to priming in the first place was its largely unconscious nature. A 2004 neurology article makes this point very well:

One reason why priming interests cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists is that priming effects can be dissociated from explicit recall and recognition.Schacter, D. L., Dobbins, I. G., & Schnyer, D. M. (2004). Specificity of priming: a cognitive neuroscience perspective. In Nature Reviews Neuroscience (Vol. 5, Issue 11, pp. 853–862). Springer Science and Business Media LLC. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn1534 

In other words, priming works on our brains without us even being aware of it.

It's a fact I've known for some time; I've written about it on this blog before. However, it seems my focus on priming recently has been more on the mechanics than the effects.

While we're still on the subject of definitions, let's get a few more from scientific papers:

Using the analogy of priming a water pump to get the water ready for use, priming in social science research refers to the “activation” of an idea in a person’s mind, readying that idea for use in later activities, such as making a judgment or reacting to someone else’s action.Dillman Carpentier, F. R. (2011). Priming. In Communication. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0012 

Priming is a nonconscious form of memory that involves a change in a person’s ability to identify, produce or classify an item as a result of a previous encounter with that item or a related item. [It is] a change in a person’s ability to identify, produce or classify an item as a result of a previous encounter with that item or a related item.Schacter, Dobbins, & Schnyer (2004)

Why is this subject worth consideration?

Since priming is a subconscious function of the mind - influencing our thoughts and actions without our conscious awareness - it seems wise to take the time to learn how it works. There are other important reasons to understand priming. Among them is the learning process itself. It seems I have been concentrating lately on that aspect. Back in April, I wrote:

We need to use the natural power of our minds to make new connections in a useful way. That's why language learning is most effective in the context where it is used. For example, you will be more likely to remember and be able to use a word relating to something in an office context if you learn it while in an office.

This morning: 

Because of the way the brain works. It appears that "chunking" and "priming" are related concepts. As a result of thinking about one topic (a chunk), related topics are activated. Otherwise, it would be impossible to engage in a fluent, spontaneous discussion. We would constantly have to stop to retrieve related information. We tend to connect words together easily when we speak because remembering one word triggers memories of similar words. We can fill in the blanks easily when other people speak, even when we don't understand everything they say.

This, I believe, is a crucial aspect of knowledge. How can we truly comprehend the world unless we understand how the lenses through which we view it blur our perception?

In reviewing my notes, I was reminded just how remarkable the priming effect can be. I rediscovered a study I cited more than a year ago. The statement in that study had a profound effect on me at the time, and I am still awed by it when I read it now:

This research has produced unexpected results, showing that subtle, imperceptible primes can produce strong and perceptible changes in behavior.Nolan, J. M., Schultz, P. W., Cialdini, R. B., Goldstein, N. J., & Griskevicius, V. (2008). Normative Social Influence is Underdetected. In Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (Vol. 34, Issue 7, pp. 913–923). SAGE Publications. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167208316691 

It almost sends chills up my spine. Another paper states:

There is an extensive body of research showing that memories unavailable to consciousness nevertheless influence conscious memory and task performance. Such implicit memory is demonstrated in priming experiments.Cramer, P. (2000). Defense mechanisms in psychology today: Further processes for adaptation. In American Psychologist (Vol. 55, Issue 6, pp. 637–646). American Psychological Association (APA). https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066x.55.6.637 

I only made one related statement in my pre-research essay, which now sounds completely understated:

In theory, if you can prime someone you can subconsciously influence them.

On the topic of learning, I found a reference to the Einstellung effect, discovered by Abraham Luchins in 1942 and elaborated in a very technical paper. The article that brought this paper to my attention used a form of the verb to prime in referring to the instructions given to the participants. The same article also introduced me to the related concept of functional fixedness.Luchins, A. S. (1942). Mechanization in problem solving: The effect of Einstellung. Psychological Monographs, 54(6), i–95. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0093502 

Karl Duncker, a German Gestalt psychologist, defined functional fixedness as a mental barrier to using an object in a new way that is needed to solve a problem. We get used to using an object for a particular purpose and fail to realize that it can be used for other purposes. Here's how he demonstrated this effect:

As part of the activity, participants were given a candle, a box of thumbtacks, and a book of matches. They were instructed to attach the candle to the wall so that it would not drip onto the table below.

Duncker found that participants either attempted to attach the candle directly to the wall with tacks or to glue it to the wall by melting it. Almost no one thought of using the inside of the box as a candle holder and tacking it to the wall. They were too fixated on the box's normal function of holding thumbtacks to rethink it in a way that enabled them to solve the problem.

When thumbtacks and an empty tack box were presented a separate items, people were twice as likely to solve the problem as they were when the thumbtacks were given them inside the tack box.Duncker, K. (1945). On problem-solving. In L. S. Lees (Trans.), Psychological Monographs (Vol. 58, Issue 5, pp. i–113). American Psychological Association (APA). https://doi.org/10.1037/h0093599 

Duncker's experiment

The image above shows the items given to the participants of the study at the top and the desired outcome below.

It appears that priming in this instance is more of a hindrance than a help.

Answers to my questions

Here are the questions I wrote down before starting research for this article. Let's see how well I was able to find answers to my questions using references in my notes.

  • What other concepts are connected?
  • Is there research about the effects of priming on self-concept?
  • What are some surprising effects of priming?
  • How can we prime ourselves in other positive ways?
  • Are the results replicable?
  • How is priming related to cognitive biases?

Let's start with this one:

Can priming lead to changes in one's self-concept?

If you need a refresher on what self-concept is, go here.

The priming technique has been used frequently in experiments concerning power perception, that is, how one perceives their power over others. Studies have shown that priming power affects:

  • OptimismFast, N. J., Gruenfeld, D. H., Sivanathan, N., & Galinsky, A. D. (2009). Illusory control: A generative force behind power's far-reaching effects. Psychological Science, 20(4), 502–508.
  • Self-esteemFast, Gruenfeld, Sivanathan, Galinsky (2009)
  • Action orientation: the practice of taking quick, decisive actions in response to dilemmas or conflicts in order to achieve mental and behavioral change whether the actions had prosocial or antisocial consequencesGalinsky, A. D., Gruenfeld, D. H., & Magee, J. C. (2003). From power to action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(3), 453–466.
  • The sense that the power holder has control over outcomes that are beyond their reachFast, Gruenfeld, Sivanathan, Galinsky (2009)
  • When priming high power, more abstract processing occurred, even when this negatively affected performanceSmith, P. K., & Trope, Y. (2006). You focus on the forest when you're in charge of the trees: Power priming and abstract information processing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(4), 578–596.
  • A participant primed with a high level of power was likely to act against a distracting stimulus (a fan) in the environment, suggesting the experience of power leads to goal-directed behaviorGalinsky, A. D., Gruenfeld, D. H., & Magee, J. C. (2003). From power to action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(3), 453–466.

A 2020 study concluded that unconscious goal priming improved explicit self-confidence for athletes and that multi-unconscious goal priming improved both explicit self-confidence and implicit self-confidence for athletes. In this study, it was suggested that unconscious goal priming can improve self-confidence in athletes in an immediate, rapid, and economical manner.Lyu, W., & Zhang, L. (2020). Effect of Unconscious Goal Priming on Athletes’ Self-Confidence. In Journal of Science in Sport and Exercise (Vol. 2, Issue 2, pp. 120–131). Springer Science and Business Media LLC. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42978-020-00056-3 

What other concepts are connected?

Here's one I recalled from memory:

I remember that people tend to not only think of similar concepts (what do three words have in common), but they also subconsciously prime actions as well. For example, when people read a list of words relating to old age (hospital, cane, rocking chair etc) even without explicitly mentioning anything having to do with old age, they tended to walk more slowly down the hall outside.

With the benefit of my notes I can add:

All of them insisted that nothing they did after the first experiment could have been affected by the words they encountered. The idea of old age had not come to their conscious awareness. Even so, their actions had changed.Mussweiler, T. (2006). Doing Is for Thinking!. Stereotype Activation by Stereotypic Movements. In Psychological Science (Vol. 17, Issue 1, pp. 17–21). SAGE Publications. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2005.01659.x - reference in Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, page 53

Thus, I recalled some aspects of the priming process this morning: its influence on thinking, learning, and actions. However, there are also many aspects I did not recall.  I found a wealth of them in my notes.

The Cramer (2000) paper I quoted from above directed me to other works that describe how repressed memories, once only the domain of psychoanalytic methods reminiscent of Freud and the early 20th century, could be understood and recovered by using implicit memory traces.

In cognitive psychology, the Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm is a procedure used to study false memories in humans. The approach relies on the fact that people tend to group similar ideas together. Participants will often identify words that were not on the list when given a list of words and later asked to recall them, thus producing "false memories." Personally, I don't see how this could be a practical test, but I haven't studied it in depth.

According to Daniel Kahneman, other priming effects include:

  • When people are primed with ideas about money, they become more independent.Vohs, K. D., Mead, N. L., & Goode, M. R. (2006). The Psychological Consequences of Money. Science, 314(5802), 1154–1156. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1132491 - however, see Rohrer, D., Pashler, H., & Harris, C. R. (2019). Discrepant data and improbable results: An examination of Vohs, Mead, and Goode (2006). Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 41(4), 263–271. https://doi.org/10.1080/01973533.2019.1624965 which highlights issues with reproducing the first study's results.
  • Bringing people's mortality to their attention increases the appeal of authoritarian ideas.Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., Rosenblatt, A., Veeder, M., Kirkland, S., & Lyon, D. (1990). Evidence for terror management theory II: The effects of mortality salience on reactions to those who threaten or bolster the cultural worldview. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(2), 308–318. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.58.2.308 
  • People who think about committing a crime are primed to think of ideas pertaining to washing or cleaning. It has been called the "Lady Macbeth" effect.Zhong, C.-B., & Liljenquist, K. (2006). Washing Away Your Sins: Threatened Morality and Physical Cleansing. In Science (Vol. 313, Issue 5792, pp. 1451–1452). American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1130726 

Following exposure to words related to conformity (e.g., adhere, agree, comply), participants seemed more likely to conform to the opinions expressed by confederates who gave a positive assessment of a boring task.Epley, N., & Gilovich, T. (1999). Just Going Along: Nonconscious Priming and Conformity to Social Pressure. In Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 35, Issue 6, pp. 578–589). Elsevier BV. https://doi.org/10.1006/jesp.1999.1390 

According to a 2011 paper, priming may affect value change, that is, an individual's decision to change what's important to them. While automatic priming of a value did not change the values directly, it may result in actively thinking about it. Such contemplation may result in value change. The result is a process that starts out as automatic but moves into awareness, leading to a value change route that requires thinking.Bardi, A., & Goodwin, R. (2011). The Dual Route to Value Change: Individual Processes and Cultural Moderators. In Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology (Vol. 42, Issue 2, pp. 271–287). SAGE Publications. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022022110396916  

How can we prime ourselves in positive ways?

Here's one I learned from the Hidden Brain podcast: Can your environment have an unconscious effect on your health? The answer is yes, says a 2016 study on the relationship between a server's weight (BMI) and how much food diners order:

First, people are not fully aware about their food-related decisions. Second, people do not realize that the environment has an effect on their (non-)conscious decisions. ... We showed that diners can be influenced by their surroundings in general and furthermore by their social interactions in particular. For the first time, a study was able to show that social interactions can influence the eating and ordering behavior in high-involvement settings. This study suggests that it does not take profound interactions between individuals to alter their eating behavior. The results supported by this research agree with previous experimental findings.

Hidden Brain also introduced me to a study measuring the effects of imagining oneself riding an elevator up or down. Can these thoughts affect a person's desire to achieve more? The study (which, incidentally, was also my first encounter with the concept of embodied cognition) found a connection between thinking about upward or downward movement and self-worth. As a result, motivation and performance are also affected.Ostinelli, M., Luna, D., & Ringberg, T. (2014). When up brings you down: The effects of imagined vertical movements on motivation, performance, and consumer behavior. In Journal of Consumer Psychology (Vol. 24, Issue 2, pp. 271–283). Wiley. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcps.2013.12.001  

You can improve your writing skills by understanding priming. Saying someone had a rough day will cause the reader to make associations with sandpaper, while saying they had a bad day won't do this. By using such associations, you can fill in the picture without describing everything in detail, which is more pleasing to the reader and keeps their attention longer.

Note that priming affects us mentally (cognitively as well as ideologically), physically, socially, and emotionally. It impacts our self-concept, our behavior, our beliefs, and our perceptions. It might even affect our values. Knowing how priming works can help us communicate more effectively. It can help us understand and even influence others (although I suggest being cautious about the latter).

Now disregard everything I've told you

Well, not everything. But critical thinking is in order here.

I wrote all of the above with a clear understanding that the science of priming has undergone a crisis in recent years. After I finished combing through my notes, I spent the rest of my research time trying to uncover the answer to the question, Are the results replicable?

Above, I proudly cited references to Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow. However, the studies cited in his chapter on priming rated the lowest in terms of replicability of all the studies he cited, according to Ulrich Schimmack, a professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga in Canada and the author of the R-Index blog. Schimmack refers to the efforts of 17 independent labs to replicate one of the studies cited by Kahneman in that chapter:

Not a single lab produced a significant result and even a combined analysis failed to show any evidence for the effect.

According to Schimmack, all the other studies have similar R-indexes, a measure of replicability. He also quotes from the 2014 book Understanding Priming Effects in Social Psychology, which book makes the following thought-provoking comment about the old-age priming experiment I mentioned above:

In a society in which old age is associated not with slowness but with, say, talkativeness, the outcome variable could be the number of words uttered by the subject at the end of the experiment rather than walking speed.

Schmimmack explains much of the failure to replicate social priming studies as follows:

There is strong scientific evidence to support the claim that subliminal priming researchers did not use the scientific method properly. ... The most plausible explanation is that the original article reported inflated effect sizes.

A 2019 article in Nature concurs, attributing the problem to shaky statistical methods that "fooled scientists into publishing irreproducible results." The article includes quotes from Ap Dijksterhuis, a researcher at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Dijksterhuis had published a paper demonstrating that students who had been primed with the word "professor" performed better on quizzes. However, he admits in the article that his research “did not pass the test of time”. Still, he added:

I still have no doubts whatsoever that in real life, behaviour priming works, despite the fact that in the old days, we didn’t study it properly relative to current standards.

An article in Quartz likewise acknowledges,

The failed replications don’t prove that the body doesn’t influence cognition at all, and there are still findings within the sphere of embodied cognition that are well-regarded.

The failure to replicate the studies cited by Kahneman surprised me, given his reputation and the openness of his research, but I suppose this is simply a lesson that reinforces Carl Sagan's famous aphorism: 

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

There is enough evidence to suggest that subconscious memory exists and that it affects our conscious thoughts and actions. However, it should not come as a shock that many of the more sensational findings aren't generalizable. 

How to use this information

In view of the headline, I suppose this article is just as disappointing as the study of social priming. Our hopes are raised, but there seem to be more questions than answers. I believe what I've learned above, or at least been reminded of, has opened my eyes a bit to the possibilities.

In spite of the fact that our internal J.A.R.V.I.S., our associative memory, sometimes leads us astray, we should be thankful it works so well most of the time. Just like my heart beats in my chest without any conscious intent on my part, so my associative memory automatically creates links to related information that I can use or discard at will. However, information can sometimes be a handicap to me, as in the case of functional fixedness. 

Cues in my environment can trigger subtle changes in my thinking, leading me to have more or less self-confidence, increase or decrease my desire to fit in, or even prompt me to rethink my values. Cues that contribute to a feeling of power can handicap me by making me think I have more control over my environment than I really do or moving me to take action when deliberation would be more prudent.

Metaphorical associations affect the way I think, feel, and act in subtle ways. In the same way, I can use this knowledge to influence others, for instance, by understanding the power of understatement in written and spoken communication.

I say the best way to "wield the secret" of associative memory is to be aware of its potential effects. People tend to be completely unaware of how their unconscious associations affect them. Even with as little knowledge as you and I currently have, we still know enough to conduct ourselves like the one-eyed man in the land of the blind.