Often times we hit rock bottom before we realise something about ourselves or life in general. For me that was; I’m alone. Bare with me on this rather somber statement, because it’s actually quite empowering.
At first the thought “I’m alone” came from victimhood, but when I spoke out the words, it was a wake up call. Ultimately, you are responsible for your own happiness, because no one else can put in the time and do the work for you to change your current situation. Only you know what is going on in your mind, how you’re truly feeling, and the power is in your hands to carry that responsibility.
In order to successfully reflect on our own, feelings, thoughts, and behaviour, and more importantly, take the appropriate steps to improve our current situation, we need self-awareness. Most of us are self aware in one way or another (or at least we claim to be), and the key is to tune in and enhance that part of us.
So, what is self-awareness?
Self-awareness is looking at yourself – the inner you – in the mirror. It is learning about your own psychology, and understanding why you are the way you are, why you think and behave the way you do. Self-awareness is like the magnifying glass with which we can curiously observe our thoughts, and get to know ourselves better.
How do I become more self-aware?
There are a magnitude of variables (material things, the people around us, media, society etc.) that may distract us from diving deep into ourselves and to become familiar with who we are on the inside. But what has helped me is to try and look at myself from an external and as objective as possible point of view. So, as a business student, I treated myself as a company going through restructuring to become more aligned in its purpose and strategy :D. Based on this idea I devised the following steps to tap into my self-awareness and gain a better understanding of who I am.
The first step was to give space to and observe my thought patterns and behaviour with empathy, curiosity, and patience. When I felt triggered, anxious, or caught myself repeating a negative behavioural pattern, I paused and asked myself questions to better understand what I was thinking or doing in that moment, and why. This allowed me to actually process and understand my thoughts without desperately trying to shove them to the side like I had done for years.
2. Identify and remove internal roadblocks
By observing myself with open eyes, I was able to identify and remove things in my life that no longer served me well. The main idea was to become more intentional with my actions, and to determine what I can do to add more value into my life and improve my well-being both mentally and physically. Examples of some internal roadblocks to work through are lack of healthy boundaries, perfectionism, and self-limiting beliefs.
3. Re-align your purpose statement
In the third step I looked at what I want from life, what are my personal values, and based on these I devised a purpose statement. Your purpose statement is like a mission statement all companies have, which is a short and succinct description of its fundamental purpose.
If you’re anything like me and not having something to aim towards leaves life feeling unfulfilling and meaningless, then devising a purpose statement is very helpful in getting back that drive for life. I will go more in depth on this topic in a separate blog post, but it’s good to remember that as you grow and learn more about yourself, your purpose statement will also evolve as result.
4. Engage your people
Most companies can benefit from listening to their loyal employees regarding the company’s strengths and weaknesses. The same goes for us as individuals – if done in a constructive manner, of course. Openly asking your friends and family for their insight into you can be useful for understanding how others perceive you. This is known as external self-awareness. However, hearing someone else’s perspective of us may be a little uncomfortable.
We – or our ego to be exact – may become defensive when told something about ourselves that doesn’t quite resonate with us. Often there is a mismatch between our internal and external self-awareness, where how we think we come across to people vs. how we are actually perceived are not in concurrence. An easy way to start is by asking someone close to you, for example, what is something about you they find annoying. Then, it is up to you to ponder on their answer, and see if you could potentially learn and grow from it. Or, you could ask them what they consider to be your strengths, as this might help you with your purpose statement.
5. Devise an action plan
I devised a concrete action plan by putting the above 4 steps together and everything that I had learned or discovered about myself (so far), what is important to me, what is the sort of life I would like to lead (ideally), and who do I want to be going forward in life? What are my core values and current non-negotiables?
Kind of like a business strategy, I set myself goals and targets to work towards. Some were small goals like keeping up with my skincare routine, or limiting my time on social media, and others were more long-term and career related. I still have a long way to go with setting realistic goals for myself, because I tend to set the bar really high, and often end up feeling overwhelmed. But, hey, we’re all out here learning, so be kind to yourself in the process.
6. Track your KPIs
How does a business know if they’re meeting their goals? By tracking their key performance indicators. And so did I as a way to hold myself accountable for what I had laid out in my action plan. A large part of my KPIs are related to my every day routines, because as Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson outlines, we spend the majority of our lives doing seemingly mundane tasks. Yet, sticking to these routines can have a significant impact on our mental state. Here’s a link to his interesting video.
Some examples of KPIs could be; tracking your time spent meditating, how active you were during the day/week, or tracking your mood for a period of time. Your KPIs could also be related to other areas of life such as the amount of money you aim to have in your savings or invested after a given time, or spending more uninterrupted quality time with your family and friends.
7. Be agile
We are evolving beings constantly learning and experiencing something new, and it is very unlikely we’ll ever reach a point where we say “that’s it, I now know everything and can close my eyes from the world”. I think that’s the beauty of life, there’s so much wonder that it’s very humbling, because what do we know? Almost nothing compared to the extensiveness of our universe.
I made the promise to myself after graduating from university to continue learning and keep that hunger for new knowledge and wisdom alive. Of course, with that comes the prerequisite to be able to re-evaluate, re-adjust, and re-align myself accordingly to the changing circumstances and environment around me. So, like companies have to be responsive in today’s fast-paced world, I will, too, aim to be agile on not get stuck in my old ways.
Self-awareness clearly isn’t a topic that can be covered in a single article. There’s so much to it and I will dip in and out of it in my future posts, so stay tuned for more. However, from a calmer mind and learning to be more present, to having a clear vision of my goals, and improved friendships are all invaluable benefits I have experienced by improving my self-awareness. Also, our professional lives become enriched once we discover where our talents may lie, or on what areas we could potentially work on.
I’m curious to know whether you have a purpose statement to stay focused on where it is that you want to go in life? Or, if you don’t see the necessity in having one, how do you stay motivated in the bigger picture?
Let me know in the comments.