Can you say you know yourself? I’m talking about a total psychological and philosophical unboxing of who you are. It’s not about reciting which podcasts you listen to, or what your least hated subject was in college. I’m talking about digging deeper; about figuring out what makes you tick and why. This can’t be summed up by asking whether you take one lump or two in your coffee or bragging about how many hours a night you spend gaming. Most of us need something a little more challenging to tap into what makes us tick.
“Knowing yourself is the Beginning of All Wisdom” ~Aristotle
Many walk around with a form of awareness into who they think they are. They’ve adapted a socially-approved code or value system that helps them navigate what it means to be a ‘good’ person based on getting ‘rewards’ or avoiding pain. So, they’re leaving the house 10-minutes earlier in their morning commute to outsmart the bottleneck on the freeway. Score. They have the same grocery list they check off each week at the store like a prerecorded script, never questioning if they even like cold cereal. If it’s on the list, get it.
Their routine defines who they believe they are and the ideas they hold about their level of self-awareness. Many stay stuck on repeat believing this is what self-awareness is.
I hate traffic.
I like cereal.
So, do they really know themselves? Do you? Or are we all clueless about who we are in our self-awareness journey?
Screw the Cheerios for now. They’ll be there next week.
Do you remember that movie, A Christmas Story, where little Ralphy spewed how he wanted a, “…Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle” and then immediately regretted it? Yup, that’s self-awareness. He knew that Mom, Dad, and even Santa were all going to say he’d shoot his eye out.
And they all did.
Most of us can agree that at one time or another we have acted out on impulse, or let our emotions get the best of us and wound up saying or doing something we probably shouldn’t have, like little Ralphy.
Or, have you ever hurt someone you didn’t mean to because you were more comfortable feeling anger in that moment than vulnerable? Again, most of us have been there, too. Now, the question becomes,
There are many theories that touch on self-awareness. Two popular ones are Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Jung’s Shadow work. In Maslow’s theory, it’s about leveling up in the pyramid in order to reach self-actualization, or as close to it as you can get. For example, anyone who has a fear of abandonment can’t feel safe in relationships. There’s always a nagging fear of being left behind or forgotten that trumps even the best relationships from getting to that next level. If they haven’t mastered their basic safety needs, they can’t level up in experiencing true love or intimacy. Jung, on the other hand discusses the “Shadow” side as the human unconscious; the side that can drive a person to cruelty or impulsivity. The Shadow, according to Jung is the part of our psyche that is kept out of awareness for this very reason. However, his stance is that if you want to reach awareness, it’s about unboxing the unconscious and bringing it to light.
However you look at it, goals and habits need to be learned and mastered. “Why” will help you start on the journey, but it’s the “how” questions that help you reach your destination and conquer your goals.
Here’s 6 Steps to Building Self-Awareness
Step 1: Get Comfortable with Asking “Why”
Awareness starts with asking why. Asking why can help you sort out why you were a jerk for hurting someone who cared about you, or why you do things out of habit, or why you may feel unsatisfied or bored in relationships.
For many, the starting point is with “What”.
And, change begins with “How”.
Asking “why” sounds counter-intuitive to a socially approved value system, right? After all, this code is about putting your best foot forward with impressing your boss or looking good to the girl you’re trying to get with, or chatting it up with the guy at your local butcher shop so he gives you an extra lean cut of beef.
“One of the hardest things in life is figuring out why we do what we do. It’s also one of the most empowering.”
Why do some people yell at their family when stressed or cheat on their girlfriend while grooming her replacement? Or, why would some people schmooze the butcher hoping for a nicer cut of meat?
Jung would argue these are the kind of “why” questions in the unconscious that have to be brought into the conscious by challenging ourselves when we feel triggered or vulnerable. In other words, self-awareness begins by challenging our motivations, our feelings, our socially-approved values, and our habits.
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” ~Carl Jung
Step 2: Journal
My mentor introduced me to journaling years ago. And to be honest, I hated it at first. I mean, I couldn’t understand how staring at a blank page was supposed to bring insight. Little by little, I realized the power in journaling. It didn’t happen overnight, or even in a few nights.
But in time, it did happen.
Journaling holds the key in unlocking your emotions, in being less angry, in releasing pain and fear, and in figuring out what’s working for you in your life…and what’s not.
Some tips to get your journaling juices flowing:
Have a topic. It can be as vague and abstract as the world quarantine we’re currently in, or as clear and precise as your feelings about a friend that hurt you or a new job you’re sizing up.
Use How You’re Feeling to Guide You. If your head is spinning about your ex jumped into a new relationship before their side of the bed even cooled off or angry at your sister for forgetting to pick you up from the airport, start with writing down your emotions about it. Journaling personal situations to help you get your feelings and thoughts out, is often a starting point for many. The logic is that if the situation is personal to you, then your feelings about the situation should be easier to get in touch with as you journal. Here’s the chance to let your feelings out by jouraling, and to start your healing process. It doesn’t matter where your starting point is with your emotions. You’re entitled to understanding and respecting your feelings. And journaling is an amazing way to process how you feel so you can heal.
Consistency. Journaling one time won’t get much accomplished except maybe writer’s cramp or texting thumb. The secret to successful journaling is consistency; do it daily in a quiet room for 20 minutes or longer, and watch how your self-awareness blossoms.
Step 3: Be OK with Not Having a Clue Who You Are
No, I didn’t just insult you. What I mean is that it’s OK and sometimes even necessary to realize you don’t really know yourself. Sometimes you have to experience letdowns or disappointments in life or repeat the same painful experience before recognizing a pattern. It’s these kind of experiences that foster awareness — why you’re bored in relationships, or unsatisfied in your life, or don’t feel good enough.
“If It Doesn’t Challenge You, It Doesn’t Change You.”
Step 4: Challenge Accepted
Challenging yourself is an important step in learning who you are and why you are. Get comfortable with challenging your motivations, your limiting beliefs, your habits, your values, your fears, your upbringing and your conditioning. Get comfortable with embracing self-conflict; here’s where the challenge is and where growth can start. Sometimes we need to get angry with ourselves for making poor choices, acting impulsively, sabotaging our own happiness, psyching ourselves up that we aren’t worthy of love, or repeating what may have been taught earlier.
Challenge accepted to change things.
By challenging your misconceptions and unhealthy habits, you’re teaching yourself healthier coping strategies, how to feel comfortable being alone, and no longer reinforcing faulty beliefs about yourself. Unlearning deep-seeded beliefs or toxic habits doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process of continually challenging yourself in regulating your thoughts, your habits and your emotions so you can live your best life.
Step 5: Create New Goals
If all we do is focus on the 1,001 things we aren’t supposed to do, that isn’t leaving much along the line in focusing on what we’re supposed to do. Here’s where creating new goals comes in. In Behavior Analysis, we not only target unhealthy behavior, we also create healthy alternatives. If you’re setting a goal for yourself with what you want to change, include other healthy goals with it. While fading out the unwanted, you’re adding in the good.
Step 6: Word & Deed
Self-awareness includes listening to your words; watching your actions. Both should be aligned. It’s not as easy as it sounds. If you were raised where what you were told held more weight than what you were shown, aligning word and deed is perhaps even more important to learn in learning your value and worth.