Defining Self-awareness

Self-awareness is bringing conscious awareness and understanding to one’s thoughts and emotional/behavioral patterns.

Self-awareness is critical to creating high self-esteem and life success. It allows us to gain control over our unconscious behavior patterns that are self-limiting, and change or remove them completely. No longer do we act against our best interests, and curse ourselves after the fact. Instead of reacting emotionally to life’s stimuli, we can choose to respond based on what we value most.

By becoming aware of ourselves, we can better love and serve others. We better understand and empathize with others’ pain, struggles, self-limiting beliefs, and behaviors. We can share out experience, strength, and hope through how we became self-aware with others, and lift them up.

Self-awareness is difficult to discover. Government-run schools do not teach self-awareness as a value, the Church provides only prayer as a means to achieve it, and most parents don’t teach it as a value. However, the question “how do I become self-aware?” has been answered by many psychological experts. It is just hidden knowledge most people don’t seek, and therefore don’t find.

Self-awareness is not difficult to cultivate. Once we internalize that becoming aware of ourselves is valuable, we are ready to take the first steps. It doesn’t take long to reap benefits and see positive change. Reading a good book on psychology, journaling a before bed, or even simply meditating for five minutes is all it takes to begin. The bar is low. It is easy to become self-aware; most simply don’t make the conscious choice to do so.

Three Levels of Self-awareness

The first level is simply becoming aware that a thought or emotion is occurring.

Example: I am feeling a wave of anxiety.

The second level is understanding what immediate phenomena triggered that thought or emotion in the first place.

Example: I feel a wave of anxiety when I hear a door slam.

The third level is understanding the historical origins of the triggering phenomena, and what experiences you’ve had that caused it.

Example: I feel a pang of anxiety when I hear a door slam, because my abusive mother would always slam the door behind her when angrily entering my room to beat me.

Level Four: Healing & Recovery

Being self-aware to the origins of a mental or physical health issue is not enough to solve it. Action must be taken. If I break a limb, I must rehabilitate it. If a woman breaks my heart, I must rehabilitate it. If an abusive home breaks my soul, I must rehabilitate it. There are ways to achieve this rehabilitation in safe, loving, empathetic circumstances.

First, find a therapist.

Going to therapy helps us untangle the mess of contradictions in our minds and hearts which we took on as children to protect ourselves in an unsafe world. As adults, we are still running on childhood programming. We are generally unaware of the degree we are on auto-pilot, until we allow a third-party observer to reveal ourselves to ourselves.

I strongly recommend Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy. It is a more valuable framework to enhance self-awareness than Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Second, journal regularly.

Not all journaling practices are created equal. If you wish to improve self-awareness with a focus on healing, I recommend two approaches:

  1. Asking yourself what your emotions are trying to tell you, and writing what spontaneously comes to mind
  2. Sentence Completion exercises

Sentence completion is quick, easy, and reveals many surprising insights into your psyche all the time. It’s the most reliably useful framework for promoting self-awareness I have discovered so far.

How to become self-aware right now.

Take a moment to feel your body. Feel yourself being supported by your feet or your chair. Notice the sensation of pressure, the light pain in your back or neck, the itch on your arm. Breathe in deeply. Hold for 5 seconds. Breath out slowly over 5 seconds. Notice the dryness of your throat, the tension in your shoulders.

You are taking a baby step into bodily self-awareness.

Take a moment to feel your emotions. Do you notice a mild sense of anxiety in your stomach or chest? Are you irritated at something that happened today? Are you empty of all emotional sensation – a blank slate? Are the feelings vivid, or dulled and distant? Are you paying attention, or trying to distract yourself automatically? Notice what is happening. Ask your emotion: “What are you trying to tell me?”.

You are taking a baby step into emotional self-awareness.

The bar is low. The rewards are high. Love, joy, connection, gratitude, and growth await those who are willing to consciously step into the unknown of themselves.