How can you become more self-aware?

Updated: Sep 11, 2021

If you’ve ever heard someone say to you that in order to achieve something, to be successful, to do a good job, to make the right decision, etc. you have to "know yourself", you may have wondered: “Ok, well...but…how do I know myself?”

Woman writing in a notebook

In this article, I will explore:

What is self-awareness?

Why is self-awareness important?

Tools to become more self-aware

Can life coaching or therapy help you to become more self-aware?

What is self-awareness?

To know oneself is a concept that is closely related to that of becoming more self-aware.

We can define self-awareness as the ability to:

  • understand our inner life with increasing levels of depth and complexity

  • have the capacity to grasp the meaning of what we are experiencing as it is happening to us (in the here and now)

  • be able to observe with a degree of detachment our mental processes from cause to effect

  • make sense of our thoughts, emotions and behaviours

  • have the ability to see the origin and consequences of our behaviours

  • understand our mood changes and become proficient in anticipating when these are likely to occur

  • grasp the meaning of the undercurrents of our emotional life by tracing back our emotions to their cause

  • be aware of our assumptions, biases and blind spots

  • be aware of our needs and desires

  • have consciously chosen the values by which we live our life

  • have clear boundaries in relationship with others

  • be aware of our weaknesses, strengths and soft spots and accept them as part of who we are.

Although the journey of becoming more self-aware is never ending, we can say that we have achieved a certain degree of competency when we increasingly experience inner peace (regardless of the external circumstances), higher levels of well-being and our relationships become more meaningful and fulfilling.

Why is self-awareness important?

Self-awareness goes hand in hand with body-awareness. To be self-aware, we need to be grounded and fully present in our bodies.

When we are disconnected from our bodies, we are dissociated from our emotions. This is because emotions are a somatic experience: they live in the body. A person who is “all in the head” finds it hard to connect with their emotions. They are also generally disconnected from the way their bodies experience those emotions.

For example, if we fear a situation, our bodies will react before we are consciously aware. This is because thoughts outside our conscious awareness are triggering the alarm that there is some kind of danger to our survival. As a result, the amygdala gets activated and we become alert to any potential threats in our environment. Our attention focuses on anything that could be dangerous. We get ready to fight, fly or freeze.

When we are dissociated from our bodies, we tend to ignore our experience by dismissing it as silly, or we react on it without much thought, sometimes with dire consequences. If we go about life constantly being triggered by external events and unconscious drives, we will probably struggle to bring some sense of control and order to our lives.

Tools to become more self-aware

To become more self-aware, we can begin by noticing what is happening to us at the time when it is happening.

For example, if someone says something to you and you feel angry about it, instead of reacting to that feeling, you can:

  • Take a step back by literally doing it and as you do so, take a deep breath. When taking a deep breath, make sure you inhale through your nose and allow the air to go all the way down to your belly.

  • If you cannot take a physical step back because of injure or disability, you can imagine yourself doing it. As you do this, gently breathe in and out a few times.

  • If you feel safe to do so, explain to the other person that you need to take a break from the conversation.

  • Make a conscious effort to listen to the other person. You can acknowledge them by saying: I hear what you are saying. Right now, I cannot give you a response because I need to think about it.

  • Acknowledge that you are angry, hurt, sad, etc. and make a mental statement “I am feeling angry right now, I want to shout at this person”. Acknowledging how you are feeling by mentally stating it allows you to pay attention to your emotions. This may not alleviate their intensity, but it may help you to take some distance from what you are feeling.

  • Do validate your experience. If you are feeling angry, there is no point in denying it or trying to talk yourself out of it. Honour your experience by saying to yourself: “Right now I am feeling angry and that’s OK. I choose not to react to these emotions. I will reflect on this when my head is clear.”

  • Change your body state. This means that you need to do something different with your body in order to momentarily distract your mind from negative automatic thought loops. If you are sitting, stand up. If you are standing, walk around the room or go outside and breathe in some fresh air. You can also stretch and/or flex your upper body by gently bending it down as far as you can go without pushing it or hurting yourself. Make your way back up slowly as you gently breathe in and out.

There are many exercises that you can do to re-focus your attention and to change your awareness at a specific moment in time. By learning to re-focus your mind with the aim of getting some clarity, you will begin to notice that it is easier for you to refrain yourself from acting out your emotions in ways that you may regret at a later point.

Self –awareness goes hand in hand with self-development. To work on our growth and development means that we are looking to understand ourselves better in order to function more effectively in the world, to make life-enhancing decisions, to have meaningful and fulfilling relationships with others.