Why should you care?
Lack of self-awareness is one of the top reasons people don’t have better relationships. In other words, in order to have a better relationship with others, we need to have a better relationship with ourselves, and that starts with self-awareness. Self-awareness describes the degree to which we understand our thoughts, emotions, and actions. And it’s because we don’t understand our thoughts, emotions, and actions that we often develop and maintain unhealthy relationships. Relationships are extremely important because they’re a fundamental human need. Relationships give us a sense of belonging, security, and love. The right relationships build your self-esteem and ultimately nurture your ability to realize your full potential. While the wrong relationships can cause you to slip further away from your goals. This is why self-awareness is important.
What’s the challenge?
Many of us struggle to find, build, and maintain the right relationships; and this becomes even harder as we age because some of our experiences have taught us to protect ourselves from harm by protecting ourselves from people. So, in many instances, we shut ourselves off from new interactions that could be beneficial for our development, because we don’t trust other people. But I believe the apprehension is because we don’t trust ourselves. In the past, we may have had a mindset or made a decision that hurt us. So, in order to avoid revisiting that pain, we shut ourselves off. I’ve been there. However, as I became more self-aware I realized that my self-awareness was my best protection, because self-awareness allows you to become more sensitive you the people and experiences that help or hinder you. And, when you’re self-aware you’ll know when to release unhealthy relationships and exit harmful experiences more quickly. So, how do we become more self-aware?
A Quick Story About Self-Awareness
One summer day I visited a park by the river with my friends and their younger cousin. There was a sandy area at the park resembling a beach. A central feature of the park was this gigantic statue of a man submerged in the sand as if he was drowning. The man’s face, knee, hand, and feet were exposed. Families brought their kids to this park routinely to let their kids play. My friend’s younger cousin was ten years old. He was a vibrant and courageous young man. I watched him go into the play area by himself – eager to simply have fun. For at least 30 minutes he ran up and down this enormous statue of a man submerged in the sand at the park. He would run up the highest points of the statue and jump off the limbs. He ran all around the small park kicking up sand, doing backflips, and occasionally looking back at my friends and me for our attention and approval.
After about 30 minutes he met another young man who was interested in doing the same as him. They played with one another, running up and down this gigantic statue of a man submerged in the sand. They helped one another rise to the top of the highest points of the statue so they wouldn't get hurt. They enjoyed doing it by themselves, but it made the experience more fun when they had someone to do it with. They talked, laughed, and enjoyed one another. They were of different races, but their race didn’t matter to them – only having fun mattered. After meeting the young man, my friend’s cousin’s glances back at us became less frequent, because he’d found a friend to enjoy the moment with. As I watched them say their goodbyes, I remember thinking to myself, “I wish more adults acted like this.”
You see, what I saw in this situation was a young man who wasn’t afraid to enter a place where he’d never gone before by himself. He discovered what made him happy at this moment and chose to do that thing even if it was by himself. He didn’t go there with the intention of finding a new friend. They were drawn to one another by simply doing what they loved. He had to become self-aware by first spending time with himself, which lead him to the people he was meant to connect with.
What can you do?
Self-awareness is developed by spending time with your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and developing a keen sense of who you are based on the experiences you have. So again, how do we become more self-aware?
Key #1 - Focus on doing things that energize you.
You’ll never know what excites you about life until you try a variety of experiences. In some cases, we don’t do things because we know they aren’t good for us and would add no value to our lives. In other cases, we don’t do things because we haven’t built our confidence. In my experience, incrementally growing your accomplishments builds confidence.
So, write down the things that energize you – both things you can do by yourself or with other people. Then, try doing those things by yourself. While you’re doing them, check in with your emotions to see what feels the best. At first, you might feel awkward, because most people aren’t used to truly doing things by themselves. After a few tries, you’ll know what gives you energy with or without people.
I believe the things you truly enjoy doing by yourself will sustain you, and those are the things that you should actively create space for in your life. Set goals around these things, and reflect on how they improve the quality of your life.
Key #2 - Identify your strengths and weaknesses.
Just because you enjoy doing something doesn’t mean you do it well, and just because you do it well doesn’t mean you enjoy doing it. In my experience, honest feedback is what helps us to identify our strengths and our weaknesses as they relate to the goals we set and the experiences we have.
Strengths are your abilities to overcome mental, emotional, and physical challenges; and weaknesses are the attributes that prevent you from overcoming mental, emotional, and physical challenges. Introspection, reflection, and feedback can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses in various situations.
For example, your strength might be communication where you live. However, if you were placed in an environment where you didn’t speak the language communication might be a weakness.
For introspection, spend some time thinking about a goal you want to accomplish. What about this goal excites you, and what makes you feel uncomfortable? Typically, what excites us aligns with our strengths and what makes us uncomfortable aligns with your weaknesses.
For reflection, think about something you wanted to accomplish or something you failed to accomplish. In both scenarios, think about what you did well, and what you could have done better.
For feedback, listen to unsolicited and solicited feedback from others. This is challenging because sometimes others won’t be completely honest because they want to preserve your positive feelings. So, learn to listen by observing people’s actions and body language as well as what they say. However, be careful not to project your assumptions too much, because this can become an unproductive slippery slope. Finally, listen to trends in the feedback you're given. If several people are providing the same feedback, then there’s a high probability it’s worth considering.
Key #3 - Find people that grow your strengths and compliment your weaknesses.
Have you ever heard the saying
“Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future?”
In my experience, there’s a lot of truth to that statement. For example, you might find it challenging to reach your goal of becoming a powerful politician if your friends are all criminals.
There are so many of us that understand that we need to create better relationships, but we don’t know how or we’re holding onto relationships that prevent us from finding the relationships that would help us grow.
I believe one of the best ways to establish relationships is to establish trust. And, one way to establish trust is to genuinely add value first without expectation of immediate return. When I think back to the young men meeting each other for the first time in the park. They just saw each other having fun individually, started having fun together, and started helping one another. They didn’t bargain to play. Adding value becomes easy when you decide what you’re willing to give freely of yourself, and what requires a bit more investment from others.
However, I’ve found that the more challenging task is releasing those relationships that hinder us from growing. This is especially challenging when we believe we’ve invested a significant amount of time in the relationship. But, part of being self-aware is realizing what and who you need to grow. One way to release a relationship that prevents you from growing is to communicate what you need to grow, and simply focus your energy on engaging in the experiences that help you to grow. Time will reveal if that person is willing to grow in that direction. This can be challenging because it often involves matters of the heart. So, be patent with yourself, and be kind as you become more self-aware.
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