Aristotle is claimed to have said that “Knowing yourself is the beginning of wisdom”. Similarly, the Dalai Lama suggests that having a greater self-awareness of understanding means having a better grasp of reality.
We all think we know ourselves. But in reality, we are different in front of people. We wear a mask depending on who we are interacting with and based on how we want to be perceived in that situation. We usually identify our existence with our position in society, our friends and family, the needs and desires of our body, and the emotional and intellectual expressions of our mind. We rarely take the time to contemplate the real nature of our existence; to ask the question, “Who am I?”.
Our self-concept is how we think about, evaluate or perceive ourselves. Our self-concept answers the question “Who Am I?”, which includes roles, attributes, behaviours and associations that we consider most important about ourselves often using the following categories:
- Physical attributes (e.g. blue/brown eyes, short/tall,)
- Social relationships (e.g. friend, girlfriend/boyfriend)
- Familiar relationships (e.g. brother/sister, mother/father)
- Occupations (e.g. doctor, teacher, nurse, lawyer, plumber)
- Avocations (e.g. athlete, artist, musician)
- Abilities/disabilities (e.g. funny, shy, smart)
- Spirituality (e.g. Buddhist, atheist, Christian)
- Salient attributes (e.g. honest/dishonest, lazy/hardworking)
Self-concept, rather than being innate, develops over time from a number of sources including our genetics (temperament) and feedback from our social world e.g. parent, family members, teachers, coaches, as well as our cultural heritage. Our self-concept develops partly from our temperament, but also through our life experiences and the interactions we have experienced throughout our life. Although childhood is a particularly important time in the development of our self-concept, it is not static and changes throughout our life, often depending on the context and the situation.
Self-awareness refers to being able to recognise and understand our emotions, personal preferences, values, strengths and weaknesses. It is a realistic and balanced appraisal of our skills and competencies and an understanding what is within our realm of competence and what is beyond us. Self-awareness plays a vital role in how we understand ourselves and how we relate to others and the world. If we are highly self-aware, we can objectively evaluate ourselves, manage our emotions, ensure that the behaviour aligns with our values and correctly understand how others perceive us.
Self-awareness requires that we:
- Identify our emotions
- Identify personal, cultural and linguistic resources
- Integrate personal and social identities
- Link our feelings, values and thoughts
- Behave honestly and with integrity
- Examine our prejudices and biases
- Develop a growth mindset
- Experience self-efficacy
- Develop interests and a sense of purpose
How to improve self-awareness?
Spend time with yourself
Become a better listener, and ask for feedback
Learn to write, track, and analyse your goals
Use personality and character trait assessments to gain insights.
Journal writing is a good way to becoming more self-aware
Using the Johari Window to develop self-awareness
The Johari Window is a great self-awareness tool. It is named after the first names of the two psychologists who have invented it (Joseph Lufft and Ηarry Ingam).
This window divides our Self in four areas:
- Open(known to us, known to others)
- Hidden(known to us, unknown to others)
- Blind(unknown to us, known to others)
- Unknown(unknown to us, unknown to others)
Open/Free Area is the public part of ourselves, the part which is known to us and to others. It comprises everything that we freely disclose and share, like some of our experiences, knowledge, opinion, emotions, character traits, wishes and problems. This is the part that we are able to discuss freely with others. Most of the time we agree with this view we have and others have of us.
The Hidden Self is what we see in ourselves but others don’t. In this part we hide things that are very private about ourselves. In this area we keep our very personal information, all those things we are not willing to share with others, since they might be our weak points, dysfunctions, fears, emotions, motives, desires, mistakes, secrets or guilt. This area equally applies to our good qualities that we don’t want to advertise to the world due to modesty. The amount of trust we have in others, guides us to decide about the amount of information we share with them.
The Blind Self is what you don’t see in yourself but others see in you. It contains information such as non-verbal communication, our peculiarities and all those characteristics which others see in us, or possibly translate differently to what we do. People with a large blind area can be extremely naive and this creates trouble in their professional or social relations. Through constructive criticism we can become aware of certain things, therefore moving them from the blind to the open (or hidden) area.
The Unknown Self is the self that we cannot see, others can’t see it either. It contains all those things which are out of our awareness window, such as depressed feelings and experiences which have been stored deeply in our subconscious. This might also refer to untapped potential talents and skills that have yet to be explored by ourselves, our friends, colleagues and teachers.
Why is self-awareness so important?
“In our personal lives, if we do not develop our own self-awareness and become responsible for first creations, we empower other people and circumstance to shape our lives by default.” – Stephen Covey
Self-awareness is about learning to better understand why we feel what we feel and why we behave in a particular way. Once we begin to understand this concept, we then have the opportunity and freedom to change things about ourselves and create a lives that we want. It is almost impossible to change and become self-accepting if we are unsure as to who we are. Having clarity about who we are and what we want can be empowering, giving us the confidence to make changes.
Research suggests that we are self-aware, we are more confident and creative. We communicate more effectively, make sounder decisions and build stronger relationships. Self-awareness can help us know our strengths and weaknesses, it is often a first step to setting goals. Self-awareness can open our minds to new perspectives and is also connected to our self-esteem.
Self-awareness is fundamental to developing emotional intelligence, it is the foundation on which the rest of the components are built. Without this awareness and understanding, it is not possible to move on to other competencies such as self-regulation, empathy, motivation and social competence.
Sometimes, people have an extremely high sense of self-awareness, which can result in self-consciousness. In most cases, feelings of self-consciousness are only temporary and arise when we feel that we are “in the spotlight”, that everyone is watching us and judging our actions. This heightened state of self-consciousness provokes feeling of awkwardness and nervousness. However, for some people, excessive self-consciousness can reflect a chronic condition such as social anxiety disorder.