If I could only give one piece of advice to clients looking to improve their life in some way, it would be to focus on their self-awareness first. All the changes they would like to see happen are dependent on, and can only occur in relation to, the level of their self-awareness. Self-awareness is critical in the work environment and in our personal relationships. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that self-awareness is, perhaps, the most powerful skill you can ever develop.
Do you know who you really are? Do you understand your own motivations, feelings, and preferences? Can you identify your character strengths and weaknesses? Do you know what you’re afraid of? Can you be honest with yourself and others about those things? If you answered “yes” to these questions, you likely have a fairly high level of self-awareness.
But why does self-awareness matter? Well, if you don’t have good self-awareness, you more frequently put yourself in situations that frustrate you and others and, worse, you don’t understand why those situations keep happening. You compare yourself to unrealistic standards, set goals that are unachievable, and can’t figure out why you seem to fail so much. You are in regular conflict with others and have trouble putting yourself in their shoes. Self-awareness allows you to successfully navigate those challenges and craft a life that you find fulfilling.
Most of us have at least some level of self-awareness. That’s what helps us do things like make initial, broad career decisions or choose leisure activities. For example, you might have the skills required to be successful in any number of professions but if you know you’re afraid of blood, you’re not likely to be a surgeon. If you know you don’t like confrontation, you’re not likely to be a police officer. You may realize that you like to teach but without greater self-awareness, it may take you years and a few job changes to understand that you don’t like working with children, or that what you really enjoy is developing course materials.
So if self-awareness is so important, what do you do if yours isn’t very high? The good news is that self-awareness is an improvable skill. The easiest way to develop your self-awareness is to make a habit of observing yourself, and asking and answering powerful, insightful questions. The five Ws (who, what, where, when, why) and “how” are still classics. Why did I react that way? Where do I get my energy from? What did I like or dislike about that experience? When do I feel most fulfilled? Who do I find challenging to work with? How can I improve that situation or performance? Follow-up with more clarifying questions that refine your understanding of yourself and others.
Cultivating the skill of self-awareness is a never ending process but it’s a worthwhile undertaking because of the impacts it has in all areas of your life. Greater self-awareness will make you a better employee and leader, create more successful personal relationships, and lead you to a more fulfilling life.