Self-awareness is the ability to introspect and be aware of your own thoughts, feelings, impulses, physical sensations, and behaviors. At a basic level, self-awareness is the ability to pay attention to who you are and what makes you tick. At more complex levels, self-awareness involves developing an understanding of your deeper beliefs, inner wounds, mental and emotional defense mechanisms, and repressed unconscious material – also known as self-understanding.
So what’s the difference between self-understanding and self-awareness?
Quite simply, self-awareness is recognizing your inner landscape. On the other hand, self-understanding is using that self-awareness to figure out something about yourself. Do you see the subtle difference?
What about self-awareness and consciousness … are they the same thing? No. They aren’t. The difference between humans and most animals is that humans possess both self-awareness and consciousness, while most animals only possess instinctual consciousness. According to one Scientific American article, “Consciousness is awareness of one’s body and one’s environment; self-awareness is recognition of that consciousness.” In other words, consciousness is an external focus, while self-awareness is an internal focus.
Intellectually understanding self-awareness is all fine and dandy. But let’s go to the next level. What does self-awareness actually look like in action? Here are some self-awareness examples:
- Being aware of your genuine feelings and emotions
- Being aware of your beliefs
- Being aware of your prejudices and biases
- Being aware of the way you interact with others
- Being aware of your habits
- Being aware of how you wish to be perceived
- Being aware of your worst fears
- Being aware of inner conflicts
- Being aware of your goals and dreams
- Being aware of being aware (e.g. during meditation and contemplation)
Why is Self-Awareness Important?
Developing self-awareness is so important because without it we can easily become stuck in toxic patterns for years, even an entire lifetime (as many people do). Self-awareness is the very foundation of all emotional, psychological, and spiritual growth. A lack of self-awareness results in living an inauthentic and chaotic life that is driven by untamed impulses, unconscious habits, and unquestioned beliefs. To put it simply, self-awareness is so important because without it we become self-destructive.
Why is it So Hard to Be Self-Aware?
The ego (the identity or sense of self that you carry) is a tricky little bugger. In order to maintain an image of itself, it must sustain and defend anything that challenges its existence. Inevitably, this need to “keep up the image” involves a whole lot of sly self-deception, resistance, subversiveness, and even a blatant avoidance of reality. As one person on Quora provocatively observed, “In short, the ego is a bullshit factory, and that process prefers to be undisturbed and unobserved.”
However, we also must be thankful for our egos. Without having an ego, or a separate sense of self, we would be incapable of distinguishing ourselves from the oncoming truck that’s speeding towards us. Possessing an ego is a survival mechanism that helps us to ascertain what is ours vs. others – we absolutely need it to survive.
But there is a massive downside to having an ego. The ego is diametrically opposed to self-awareness because being self-aware challenges, provokes, and sometimes even shatters the mask of the ego.
The next reason why self-awareness is so difficult is literally that it’s programmed into us to do most things on autopilot. According to this Psychology Today article we operate on autopilot around 50% of the time. Can you imagine how difficult life would be if you had to remember to breathe, scratch your head, walk, blink, drive your car, use your phone, speak, and so forth? Most of what we do is on autopilot for a good reason: it’s a much more efficient way to live! We have evolved to become terrifically time and energy efficient creatures. In order to preserve energy and survive, we need to learn how to do things quickly. Unfortunately, that means that a large percentage of our lives can be lived in robot-mode. Therefore, self-awareness is so difficult because our biological programming makes it hard for us to be mindful.
So why, you may wonder, should we even bother to develop self-awareness if our psychology and biology seem to be working against us? The answer is that fortunately, we are so much more than our minds and bodies – we also possess a heart and soul – and it is the emotional and transpersonal elements of our being that drives us towards self-awareness. Not only that but becoming self-aware literally transforms every aspect of our lives for the better. We’ll explore that next.
Benefits of Self-Awareness
Developing self-awareness is one of the best paths you can ever take in this life. Here are some of the many benefits of self-awareness out there:
:: You become more authentic and empowered to be yourself.
:: You develop a stronger connection with your intuition and inner wisdom.
:: Your relationships become more loving and peaceful.
:: You are more likely to discover your life purpose.
:: You’re able to overcome addictions more easily.
:: You become more self-supportive (rather than self-sabotaging).
:: You feel more confident in social situations.
:: You’re able to change negative habits and mindsets.
:: You’re able to take care of your health much more effectively.
:: You live a more fulfilling life (that is based on your values, not others).
:: You feel more connected to your Soul.
:: You feel more connected with existence.
This is not an exhaustive list. There are WAY more benefits out there.
11 Self-Awareness Activities For Spiritual Seekers
Developing self-awareness is the foundation of all important life changes and deep inner work. The more self-aware we are, the more we can understand, accept, and love ourselves. And the more we love ourselves, the more we can love others. Can you see how this is all connected?
Go through the following self-awareness activities list and choose one practice that resonates with you. Try it out for one week and see how you feel. Then, repeat the process!
1. Tune into your body
Your body is one of the most direct ways to connect with your emotions. If you tend to get lost in your head too much, practice scanning your body. Search for areas of tension or discomfort and ask, “What is happening here?” For instance, you might find yourself clenching your fists or jaw and realize that you’re feeling angry. You might have tense shoulders and realize that you’re “carrying the weight of the world” on your shoulders. Or you might even discover that a persistent physical issue you have is connected with a stressful place or person. Once you have become aware of the issue, you can then take steps to reduce your stress, anger or sadness.
2. Identify your specific type of “body armour”
Body armoring was a concept developed by psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and came to describe the process of storing traumatic experiences within the muscles of our bodies. ‘The issue is within the tissue’ in other words. If you have a certain part of your body that is frequently sore, stiff or full of pain, it is likely that there’s some kind of trapped or reinforced emotion stuck there. By paying attention to your body, you will be able to identify your type of body armoring.
3. Ask someone to point out your blind spots
Yes, I know this initially sounds pretty damn scary. But it’s actually one of the most powerful self-awareness activities out there. A word of caution, though: unless you want to be roasted, it’s better to find a trusted friend, counselor, spiritual guide or coworker for this activity. You’ll want to ensure this person is close to you and feels comfortable with being honest. Then, ask them to reveal any weaknesses or unhelpful habits that you might possess. Remember that for this task you have to mentally prepare yourself. You don’t want to ask someone to do a favour for you and then tear out their throat in anger! Facing our flaws can be confronting and distressing to the ego.
4. Stand in front of the mirror
A simple but powerful way of becoming more self-aware is to listen to your self-talk. The best way to do this is to stand right in front of the mirror staring at yourself. What insecurities or negative self-judgments arise? What are the dominant feelings you experience? Mirror work will give you a direct insight into how you perceive yourself, and therefore increase your self-awareness.
5. Think about your greatest strengths
Reflect on your accomplishments and the things you’re proud of. What do you like about yourself? Get a journal and record all of your discoveries. The more aware you are of your strengths, the more you’ll be able to make self-aware decisions that are aligned with your authentic self.
6. Explore your biggest weaknesses
It might seem unnecessary or even detrimental to explore your weaknesses, but as Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “our strength grows out of our weaknesses.” Once you are able to face and own these darker parts of yourself, the more freedom and power you will paradoxically experience. To begin this process, make a habit of noticing whenever you experience strong emotions such as shame, guilt, anger, resentment, and fear. Ask, “what triggered these feelings?” You might even like to keep a shadow journal to record your discoveries so that you can track your journey of self-awareness.
7. What is your #1 distraction?
Our distractions tell us a great deal about our fears, impulses, and hidden desires. What unnecessary task takes up a lot of your time? Perhaps it might be watching TV, online shopping, snacking, masturbating, scrolling through Instagram, playing video games, gossiping with friends or even getting lost in daydreams. Distraction isn’t always a bad thing, but when we obsessively find ways of escaping reality, there’s a problem. Draw awareness to your distractions and you will be on the path to greater self-insight.
8. Practice meditation and mindfulness
Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment, whereas meditation is learning how to become aware of your thoughts. Together, they make a dynamic duo. Mindfulness helps to ground you in reality which increases self-awareness. Meditation, on the other hand, is a way in which you can become intimately acquainted with your mind and its processes. Both practices can be incorporated relatively effortlessly into your day.
9. Keep a daily ‘sunshine and sh*t’ journal
Record all the things you loved and hated within your day (aka. the sunshine and shit!). Write down how you felt, what your plans are, and anything else you’d like to express. Journaling is a simple and powerful form of self-expression that is a wonderful way to enhance your self-awareness.
10. What do you dislike the most in others?
Most of us aren’t even aware that we are projecting a lot of our shit onto other people. Why? Because when we disown the parts we dislike about ourselves, it’s easier to live with ourselves. But the easy path is the lazy path. Self-growth isn’t always flowers and rainbows, and nor does it need to be. The reality is that if we want to become truly self-aware, we need to own our projections at some point or another. By reclaiming and embracing the denied, suppressed, and shunned aspects of ourselves, we feel more at peace with ourselves and those around us. This, of course, requires radical self-honesty. Do you have the guts to own your projections?
11. Read books, take tests, attend workshops
Self-awareness is a life-long process – there is no real ‘end’ point because we are constantly morphing and evolving. It would be pretty boring if self-awareness could be condensed into a five-day retreat! With this in mind, it’s important to have fun on the journey. There are so many intriguing ways to ‘peel back the layers’ of your psyche.
The full version of this article, can be found here.