Self-Awareness might be a term used by several psychologists, therapists, coaches, and other professionals in the world of self-help or personal development. It is widely used, yet the power of self-awareness isn’t much recognized. When you think about it, gaining insight about yourself is powerful because it helps you know what you want and what you don’t want. But the question is, how do you maximize this? Do you know the ways on how to increase self-awareness?
We’ll dive into that more profound, but to understand it first,let’s go to the basics.
What is Self-Awareness?
Self-awareness is a skill on which you can understand yourself clearly. It is gaining insight on how people understand you, how you fit into the world and the comfort in knowing oneself. When you are highly self-aware, you have more confidence, becomes more effective and perform better at work.
In a TED Talk I’ve watched recently; the speaker talked about having two types of people in this world.
- Think they are self-aware – These people analyze themselves too much but never gain insight about themselves.
- Those who actually are – These people use to reflect about themselves and do something with their insight.
People come to me, and a few of them would already know why they are feeling that way. Some would even mention something about their childhood or some traumatic experience they have from the past. That’s an excellent start. Step 1 is always about being aware of yourself. But the question is, do you stop at that point?
It has many benefits that would help you not just now, but in the future too.
Benefits of self-awareness
- Gain accountability with yourself:
Some people are ignorant, or sometimes they could just be in denial. They complain why is their life the same over and over. You would expect that there’s some big answer out there, but you can’t expect your life to change if you’re not changing something in yourself when you think about it. And the first step to that change is the insight you’ll have about yourself.
It could be the way you respond, the way you deal with things, your perspectives, and your motivation. Your life shifts when you do something differently. Once you know which habits or things you would like to adjust, then you become accountable with yourself. That’s what self-awareness is all about. It doesn’t just make you realize things; it also pushes you to do something and act on them.
2. Face repressed emotions and thoughts bravely:
This is one of the biggest things when it comes to self-awareness. You might encounter repressed emotions and feelings that has been there all along. Some of it might be nasty, some of it you’ve never knew existed. But here’s the thing, if you don’t decide today to face those repressed emotions, sooner or later, it will resurface again.
So what do you do? Would you run away from it forever? When you ask yourself questions in order to understand you, facing them with acceptance and without judgment is a way to love yourself and let it go completely.
3. Understand and accept who you are:
Self-awareness helps you to understand the why behind your behavior. Of course, there are memories or instances that you can’t exactly remember your childhood or past experiences, but as you take Inventory of yourself, you’ll begun to see what triggers you have. And when you know that, you can also find a way how to handle those triggers. It is in being true to who you are that you can have the chance to love yourself fully.
4. Empowers you to act: As mentioned, awareness helps you to have deeper knowledge and greater wisdom. If you see that your current habits or perspectives are no longer working for you, then you can change that and act upon it. However, that can only be done if you are aware at first.
5 Ways to cultivate self-awareness
- Solitude – creating space and time for yourself. The world is so noisy, with gadgets all around us, notifications buzzing, phone calls about work, everything is just happening all at once. Not including a time to pause is hard too.
Without taking some time to stop, we forget to look at our days and evaluate. Solitude can look like an overnight somewhere where you’re able to contemplate about your month or your year and plan ahead of what changes you want to do or the goals you want to set. Solitude is like intentionally setting day or days to pivot and to check in with yourself. Remember that busyness could take us away from the most important things.
2. Mindfulness meditation – Another way to cultivate self-awareness is through mindfulness where we take 10 minutes during the day to focus on our breath, or on the present moment. This is important because our minds can go on autopilot, or sometimes we resort to negative thinking or overthinking. But just being breaking this habit grounds us, and helps us to see better. Instead of reacting to what’s happening around us, we carefully respond. And that takes a lot of self-awareness practice.
3. Journaling – Journaling is not a new strategy. For sure, you’ve heard a lot about this from people or friends. Through journaling, you’ll be able to process your thoughts Here are some journal prompts that you can use:
- What am I feeling right now and why?
- What frustrated me today?
- What can I do better tomorrow?
Monthly Journal Prompts:
- What goals do I have for the month?
- Which goals I wasn’t able to achieve last month? What can I do about it?
- Whom can I ask help from?
- What are the things I’m learning this month?
Yearly Journal Prompts:
- 1 as the lowest, 10 as the highest? How do you rate your year?
- What are your lowlights and highlights?
- What are you looking forward to in the next year?
- What are your action steps to reach your goal?
4. Listening without judgment – This is a very important step when it comes to self-awareness. A lot of times, you will be trapped to analyze yourself over and over. Of course, it’s inevitable that you want to make sense of what you feel and what you think. However, thinking patterns have been influenced by culture, upbringing, social norms, etc. that have affected us subconsciously.
But also, a lot of times, what you feel, what you think, there’s a certain degree that was influenced by culture, the way you were raised, your upbringings, your parents, the social circle you had when you were a kid, the time you were bullied and the list goes on.
It’s good that you know the root cause of your behaviors, but then analyzing without thinking the steps to move forward would just leave you stagnant. The next time a thought comes to mind, a certain behavior your realize, a habit that you’ve been doing, be curious about it, yes, but look at it in the third person point of view. And ask yourself, is this thought or behavior good for me?
5. Ask from trusted people – A third person’s point of view wouldn’t hurt at all. Sometimes you might have blind spots you don’t see especially with work. Asking for feedback about your decisions or about your performance or work could lead you to better insight. Just remember that these feedback about your work or behavior doesn’t define who you are.
Debunking myth of self-awareness
A lot of people for the research made by Dr. Tasha Eurich here thought they were highly self-aware, but they really aren’t. They would do introspection which is the ability to consciously examine our thoughts, feelings, motives, and behaviors. But this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s helping them.
From the research they made, people who introspected were more stressed and depressed, less satisfied with jobs, less in control. It seemed like the more they introspected, the more they experience negative consequences. And they found out that it’s because of one tiny factor: the method of doing it.
People would usually ask themselves why. And when they do, self-analysis happens. But when you ask yourself “why” it doesn’t always lead to the truth. According to Dr. Tasha Eurich:
- No matter how hard we try, we can’t excavate our unconscious thoughts. We invent answers that feels true.
- Leads us away from our true nature. Asking why can creates alternative facts, overtime, leading us away from who we really are.
The challenge now is to do this differently. You shouldn’t be asking yourself why, but “WHAT”. Why questions trap us. What questions make us move forward.
The bottom line is that when we ask why , that is, examine the causes of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors , we are generally searching for the easiest and most plausible answer. Sadly, though, once we have found one, we generally stop looking—despite having no way of knowing whether our answer is right or wrong. Sometimes this is a result of something called “confirmation bias,”Tasha Eurich
Less self-reflection, More Insight
There are so many things that you could learn the book Insight. But the very simple thing that you should always keep in mind is that self-reflection and insight are 2 different things.
Self-reflection is the process on which you pay attention to your thoughts, behaviors, emotions and decisions. Insight, on the other hand, means gaining deep understanding of a person or a thing and being moved to act. Self-reflection should lead you to better and more insight, not more self-reflection. As what mentioned in this blog, it’s all about not being trapped in your own thoughts but knowing how to go forward
What’s A People -Pleaser?
Seeking approval from people may not be a severe mental health condition, but can be a habit that influences the way you act and think. This means pleasing the people around you to the point where it’s hard for you to set boundaries. People-pleasers tend to seek external validation to feel approved, accepted, validated, and good enough. People-pleasing could be rooted in a lack of self-esteem. They would try their very best to make others happy at their own expense most of the time.
Is people-pleasing rooted in childhood?
There might be many reasons you please the people around you, but one of the root causes could be the absence of validation when you were a child.
That was true for me. I grew up with a very hard-working dad. He is an excellent provider. However, I would remember that I would always get remarks from him “to be better,” whether that’s simply from doing household chores or driving or a career in general. He would always say something that would make me feel like what I was doing wasn’t good enough.
I know it wasn’t his intention to put me down. But I would only receive validation from him when doing something for other people. He would always ask me to be “extra kinder” and “extra accommodating” towards. And so the childhood version of me had that wiring that says “I’m not good enough” and “I should put others before me, so I get valued.”
These two statements are so unhealthy that I didn’t realize how much they affected me. Although it was not the exact statement I heard from my father, it affected me to think that I have to please people to get love. It affected my self-worth and the way I see myself.
From these childhood experiences, as I’ve mentioned, I had low self-worth. I would please people around me. Not specifically everyone, but those who are in authority like leaders or people I look up to.
In general, I had that fear that if I didn’t do or go out of my way every time someone asks something from me, eventually they would love me less. It became a label I put on myself that I’m less worthy IF “I’m NOT doing anything for the person.”
Here are some common behaviors or attitudes a people-pleaser shows:
- Saying sorry all the time. Often, you tend to apologize and blame yourself when things didn’t go well, even though you don’t have control over everything. Or you just simply say sorry all the time.
- Not putting healthy boundaries. It’s hard for you to say no and even speak up for yourself. I wrote another article here about how you can set healthy parameters between yourself and others.
- You don’t want people to get mad at you. When someone is displeased with you, you feel very uncomfortable.
- Hearing praises from people is so important to you. External validation is like fuel, and you’ll do anything to get that.
- You do what others are doing even if you don’t like it. This happens out of pressure or because you want to feel you belong or part of a certain group or circle.
- Your decisions are based on what others will tell you rather than what you want. Most of the time, this happens when there’s a significant figure in your life whose authority you value. This could be your father, mother, siblings, or significant other. Because there’s satisfaction when you get their approval, you are more likely to let them dictate some big decisions in your life. You would listen to them rather than your instinct most of the time.
- You avoid confrontations and conflicts. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s like you’re allergic to having conflicts with people. You would feel uneasy admitting what you felt. It could also be you’re afraid that someone will tell you unpleasant things, even though you didn’t do anything wrong.
- People’s opinion matters to you. A lot. When it comes to doing things outside of your comfort zone, what people will tell you afterward is what keeps replaying in your head. Their voice weighs more than your own opinion of yourself.
- Low Self-Worth or Self-Esteem: You only think you are worthy or valuable when you hear it from someone else rather than from yourself.
What to do when you’re a people pleaser
- Recognize: Self-awareness is always the key. If you are not aware that you have people-pleasing attitudes, then you will not see any point to change. But if there’s anything here that resonated with you and you and can relate with, you’re probably a people-pleaser too. Now is the time to stop letting your past dictate your present and future. Recognize those unhealthy habits and start changing them.
- Forgive and move on: If a significant person from your childhood disapproved of you, make peace with that part of your life. Backtrack and set a time for yourself. You don’t necessarily have to see and tell them. Most of the time, these people have unintentionally hurt you because of their own wiring. So what you can do is to choose to forgive them and stop letting those experiences limit you.
- Seek for help: Seeking help is not a weakness. You might ask help from a therapist if issues needed to be dived deeper. Help can also look like asking support from friends for accountability.
- Reprogram your mind: Reprogramming your mind is work. It’s not easy, but not impossible because of neuroplasticity (You can read more about this here).
- Debunking negative thought pattern: Sit in a quiet place and try to think of a recent situation where you were obliged to say yes. Ask yourself, “why.” When you try to dissect your answers, you will see that this is because of some childhood pattern that had helped you cope when you were a child. Not all thinking patterns are still applicable as an adult.
- Be curious about the emotional pattern that comes with it: After doing that, try to see the emotions that go with it. How do you feel it in your body? Try to be aware as much as you can and don’t judge those feelings. Let them come. Recognizing the emotion now would help you when the same situation happens again.
- Use affirmations. What you focus on grows. If you’ll let yourself focus on the negative voice in your head, that would only do more harm than good. You have a choice to put the right thoughts in your head.
- Don’t run the race intentionally: Pleasing the people around you is like a race or marathon that’s never-ending. It might not even have a finish line. Some people in your life would see the mistakes you made, or they tend to see what’s not working all the time. Whatever their intentions are, make a conscious decision to get out from that race emotionally and mentally. Ask yourself if I please this person, what good will it do to me?
A note from a People-Pleaser (no more)
I want to end this with a simple message from someone who has been a people-pleaser for years – me.
I want you to know that I understand you, that I get you. Sometimes, people’s praises could be blinding and could be a way for you to shape your identity. But, these people, they are not you. They don’t know the totality of your personality, of your character, or what you’ve gone through.
I want you to know that you are strong and beautiful, and you don’t need to have other people’s opinions to validate that. Do you know why I know? Because most people in our lives are temporary or just there for a season. Receiving affirmations from them is excellent, but only for a moment. In my case, the person I wanted to receive validation the most is from my dad. But I had to wake up and realize that he’s just isn’t the person who’s expressive or showy when it comes to these kinds of things. I know he loves me. But not just the way I wanted him to.
What if you can receive affirmations every day? Wouldn’t you choose that instead?
If you’re wondering who might give that to you, the answer is YOU. I know it might sound narcissistic, but it’s not. There is a healthy way of loving yourself, and you don’t have to be selfish about it at all.
You can ask for people’s opinions around you from time to time. There’s also wisdom in that. But never let people’s opinions take away your identity. Never let people’s approval change who you are.
Trust your instinct. You’ll know what to do. You know who you are. And if you don’t then that’s great. You’re in a journey of discovering who you are, without other people’s opinion of you. I believe you have the courage and strength to trust, believe and be confident in yourself. Just dive deeper.
When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself.” – Paulo Coelho
What is a boundary?
There several definitions when it comes to boundaries. But basically, it means learning when to say yes and no as you acknowledge your own needs and communicate that to the people around you, whether at work, friendships, family, and relationships.
Signs that you need healthy boundaries:
- You have no time for yourself: You’re always available for people. Even if it’s inconvenient for you, you tend to go out of your way.
- You have difficulty saying no: You feel guilty when you say no.
- You resent people who ask for your help: This might not be an initial feeling, but eventually, you’ll feel resentful. You might’ve thought you’ve helped them, but you feel used. You believe that you’re always available to help people, but they are not available to help you.
- You miss out on something important: This happens whenyou accommodate people around you while your to-do list is not yet done.
Effects of having no boundaries placed:
- Resentment: Feeling frustrated or getting angry with those whom you’ve always shown help to.
- Anxiety: You feel worried about the other things you haven’t done, or eventually, you’ll feel alone.
- Stress: Carrying other people’s responsibilities when it’s not yours to take.
- Disorganized: Your schedule gets lost.
- Burnout: Not having enough energy for yourself. You’re not happy, and you feel drained almost all the time.
Why boundaries are important:
- Boundary is a way to take care of yourself mentally and emotionally.
Knowing how you want to be treated and communicating your needs to people is a sign of loving yourself. When you give yourself space to acknowledge and recognize your needs, you avoid repressing and shoving down
When you know how you want to be treated, and set healthy parameters between you and others, this is a a sign that you are taking care of your needs.
As you set boundaries for yourself, that’s exactly a sign that you are taking care of yourself. Because things you do for people, responsibilities you say yes to – all of those things take energy and effort. As indicated above, difficult emotions rise up simply from not setting healthy boundaries. When boundaries are in place, it might get uncomfortable at first especially if you’re used to it, but just remember that you don’t have to be everywhere all the time. You can’t give what you don’t have. And if you don’t take care of yourself first, how can you take care of other people?
- Time and energy to do the things that truly matter
Setting boundaries help you to have clarity. Ask yourself these questions before committing or doing something:
- How will my yes to “this” affect my entire day or schedule?
- Do I really want to do this if I have a choice?
- Can the person do this for themselves?
- Should I really take responsibility for this, and what would be the consequence?
Remember that you don’t have to carry other people’s burdens. As you clear up your day, you’ll begin to organize more of your time to things that truly matter to you.
- Happier and more satisfied
Because you begin to choose your yes and nos, that would also promote a space for you where you value altruism more. It will not make you feel obliged. It will make you feel happier that you’re able to help out other people because you helped yourself first.
You’ll enhance your assertiveness skill when you start to speak up for yourself. It doesn’t mean you have to offend the people around you. It just means you communicate properly, addressing your needs while still respecting them.
- More in tune with yourself
Boundaries need you to be more self-aware. As you create boundaries for yourself, you need to identify the people or even circumstances that make it challenging for you:
- Who the people in your life make it difficult for you to set that boundary? Why? What makes it hard for you to say no?
- Do you tend to please people all the time? What’s your fear when you say no?
Unlocking these questions helps you to see your motive clearly so you can create healthier boundaries.
Respect yourself, and others will respect you.- Confucius
If you let people just always take advantage of you and your time, then they’ll think that it’s okay for you. Let things pass would make them think you’re okay. Treating you better could start if you show and let them know that you have your limitation too. You’ll also see the people who will stay even when you’re not doing something for them.
How to set healthy boundaries:
- Acknowledge your space, time, and energy.
The first step to creating a healthy boundary is to recognize that you need one. You do that, you’ll be able to set the parameters that work so that those problems won’t repeat themselves over and over.
Here is a guide that can get you started:
- Do your parents always have a say in every decision you’ll make? Identify when it means that they are crossing the line.
- When there’s a sudden family event or invitation, how do you respond? Remember to check your schedule before saying yes to them.
- Do you feel obliged to tell them everything even if you don’t have to? Express yourself openly to them without disrespecting them.
- When your friend made a sudden request, how could it affect your day, or what part of your schedule needs to be set aside? Is it okay with you? Define what is and what isn’t.
- How much time can you spend with people on a day-to-day basis? Do you have to talk to your friend every day?
- What is a healthy friendship for you?
- Do you carry some of your friend’s responsibilities even though they can do it for themselves?
- Do you accept sudden overtime requests without prior notice when you had an initial plan?
- What is a healthy workload for you?
- Are you okay accepting calls even after work hours or even during the weekends?
- Do you accept colleagues’ requests to ask for your help when you have already too much going on?
- Romantic Relationship
- If your partner asks for a request, do you have to respond to it immediately?
- When it comes to your decisions, how far can they give you advice and influence you?
- How do you maintain me time in your relationship? Is your partner too clingy, or needs to always talk to you?
- What is a healthy romantic relationship for you?
You might find some questions not applicable for you, and or you will find all applicable. These questions are for you to have clarity. Setting boundaries is not selfish. Respecting your needs and what’s good for you is a way to take care of yourself. If people have been used to always you agreeing and saying yes to them, of course, this will feel uncomfortable. Following your boundaries is like working out a muscle too. Keep on going that until you’re used to it.
- Communicate clearly and concisely.
Communication is key. A lot of people would not understand you if you don’t tell them your needs. You could be aware of your needs and know what’s right for you, but not communicating it would keep them guessing. In every situation, speak up.
- Pause and give yourself some time
You can be in the spur of the moment when you’re too excited and tend to say yes without thinking of what would happen if you did. Remember that saying yes to something means you are saying no to another thing.
Spontaneity is good in some circumstances. However, don’t let emotions overpower you. Give yourself some time to think about it first, before you commit, especially about your family, work, relationships, or friendship. Taking a pause and time to think about it would be helpful and would hurt no one.
Valuing your yes means you are more committed. And when you say no, it’s because you know there’s something more important that you have to do.
Dealing with guilt is normal as you set your boundaries. Guilt happens because you label what you do as wrong. It might be because of the upbringing that told you that telling your wants and needs is a mistake.
When you were a kid, you might have experienced hearing someone tell you you’re mean when you don’t want to comply with what they’re telling you to do. Telling someone they’re awful or they’re mean just because they didn’t follow a request is manipulative.
The important thing here is you learn to communicate your need, and you also can speak up for yourself without feeling guilty. When you feel guilt, acknowledge it, but just like all emotions, don’t let it control you and don’t let it hinder you from placing proper boundaries.
Implementing boundaries could be hard at first, but everything uncomfortable and new is hard. After setting your limits and learning that it all starts with awareness and pointing out which areas in your life needed boundaries, it’s time for you to practice in real-life situations.
Sometimes, you might forget that you have to set a boundary if you’re used to circumstances, or you always honor other people’s needs before yours. Sometimes, guilt or fear is what you’ll feel first when someone asks something from you, and you said no. The best thing to do in those situations is to pause. Listen to yourself. Trust your inner voice. Breathe. Before saying an answer, don’t rush yourself. Take your time. And set your boundary.