Benefits of Developing Self-Awareness
Some people have an amazing talent for bringing success in what they do. While others struggle and stumble in the dark, repeating the same mistakes, falling in the same old traps, unaware of what they can achieve. Developing self-awareness is an antidote to this fatally blind way of living and striving for success. It is the necessary precursor in absolutely in personal change and self-transformation.
What is Self-Awareness?
I never read someone as profound as Carl G. Jung. His understanding of the human soul and psyche was so deep, reading him is like reading your own personal story. Because his level of self-awareness was light-years ahead of mine. Here is a famous Jungian quote:
“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
Self-Awareness means having a clear and deep perception of one’s identity, character, values, beliefs, virtues, and flaws, of what lies in one’s soul, and of all behaviors, tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses.
Practicing and developing self-awareness involves taking an honest, non-judgmental, impartial look into one’s own heart and soul, with the intent of finding out the truth, regardless of what it is.
Awareness is the self-reflective knowledge about one’s deep, inner and subconscious tendencies, proclivities, thoughts, feelings and behavioral patterns, in which one regularly engages in … To be fully aware means to truly know yourself. Here is another quote from Carl Jung:
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
We can view self-awareness as the ability to monitor your own thoughts, emotions, motivations, drives, fears, beliefs and values, and to fully understand how they work, how they influence you and how you can master them, instead of the other way around. Because you are infinitely complex, and the forces inside you will have their way with you if you choose to remain blind. By the way, that is also a Jungian idea. I will have to do a series of article about his philosophy.
Next, let’s see what are the benefits of developing self-awareness.
Advantages of Developing Self-Awareness
Buddhist monks dedicate a lifetime to self-discovery, introspection, all in the pursuit of Illumination. So, you know that is something important and meaningful. The ceremonies, prayers, meditations are a form of self-awareness exercises.
Heightened Awareness. Becoming cognizant of your subconscious mental processes. When you increase your level of awareness, you can narrow down your attention to milliseconds, and freeze individual thoughts, that would have otherwise flashed through consciousness faster than lightning.
Listening to the Subconscious Madness and Chaos that is constantly going on in your mind. Being aware of it means you are no longer a victim.
Become your own Master. By observing and listening to your thoughts and emotions, you step outside of their control and become your own master.
Seeing your Patterns of behaving, acting in the world, and all the mistakes you make means you no longer have to repeat. Are you aware of all your habits, when they take hold of you? Most people are not, I am one of them.
Immunity to Being Hurt. Developing self-awareness and knowing yourself at the deepest level makes you strong-minded immune to criticism and rejection.
Integrating your Shadow-self. This is another Jungian idea. When you achieve complete self-knowledge, you integrate every part of you into a single, cohesive power. This makes your sub-divided personality whole, and complete. People who are disintegrated can’t trust themselves. Like no matter how much they tell themselves “I am on a diet, that waffle is off-limits!”, they will betray their promise, engage in self-deception, lie, and still eat it. Read more on How to Integrate Your Shadow.
Self-Awareness is the Cure for Self-Deception. People lie to themselves to avoid hardship and responsibility and get an easy way out. That means failure, despair and lack of purpose. By developing self-awareness, you become mindful of yourself when engaging in self-deception.
Change is Impossible Without Self-Awareness. Doing NLP, self-development, or any other personal growth attempt is not possible if you are not self-aware. Otherwise, what are you going to change? If you don’t know what are your flaws, failures, and weaknesses? How are you going to track back that painful feeling, back to what is causing?
Belief change and Values integration require looking inside, in your heart and mind, allowing the truth to emerge. When you look inside and truly listen to yourself, then beliefs, values, emotions and hidden thoughts start popping up. As a result, you consciously grasp them, understand what they mean and how to change them. You cannot do NLP without being self-aware.
Self-Monitoring, Feedback, Self-Correction. Whether you want to lose weight, achieve your goals, influence someone, or decide which dress to buy, you are going to make mistakes. By developing self-awareness, you can willfully decide to get into self-monitoring mode to avoid bad decisions in real-time.
Learning any Skill. When we learn something new, we will make mistakes, practice and improve. Practicing a skill means there are possible mistakes we have overlooked. So, before doing ten thousand repetitions blindly, start listening, actively watching the instructor and your own technique. You can spot mistakes early and eliminate them, by being self-aware and with deliberate practice.
Steering your Life consciously, making active voluntary sacrifices, taking action, following a preset plan. Rather than being driven by subconscious drives, motivations and childhood trauma, which go beyond your control and understanding.
Climbing the Success Ladder Faster. You can optimize what you do when you are able to truly watch yourself and observe what is going on, what is good, and what needs improvement.
Self-Awareness, Necessary Condition for Change
Wyatt Woodsmall is an NLP trainer, expert modeler, personal coach and his lessons are amazing and full of useful knowledge. I remember something he once said. The degree to which you achieve your ideal, your life goals and personal transformation, depends on four psychic dimensions:
- The Level of your Awareness
- The Focus of your Will
- The Clarity of your Intent
- The Quality of your Character
You need to become aware of certain aspects of your life if you want to change things and achieve some success. It is not you who decides when, where and how to act – most of what you do is programmed at a subconscious level, in the form of habits. Developing self-awareness gives you insight, and re-coding abilities of your subconscious programs.
Your limitation and success in life are direct results of your subconscious processes.
Internal conflicting, limiting beliefs, self-sabotage, depression, anxiety, bad habits, and repressed childhood trauma are hidden from your awareness, deep inside the subconscious.
And they trigger and affect you so fast, your conscious mind doesn’t even register. Only the effects, usually emotional.
Self-awareness allows you to slow down the perception of time, and focus so narrowly that you can observe trains of individual thoughts whiz by. That means you can freeze and trap the subconscious elements of limitation. And half your change work is done, at least the hard part.
Personal transformation is a complex mission, which consists of multiple sub-tasks of challenging specific limitations. Working with NLP on your food cravings is one of such tasks. The first and hardest part is figuring out the root of the limitation, or problem.
People are not familiar with their subconscious, and looking there is like visiting an alien world. No matter how hard it is, becoming a master of self-awareness if worth the trouble, for all the reasons above.
The second part of the change is the actual technique, but that is easy. NLP is the most comprehensive encyclopedia of effective change technique.
In some form or another, these elements must be present in the unconscious triggering of a habitual behavior, even though it may not be obvious at first … After all, they are picked up and acted upon, at the level of the subconscious, without us being aware of what our mind is up to behind the scenes.
How to Develop Self-Awareness
After giving it so much praise, and stressing its importance, it wouldn’t sit right not to give some practical way of developing self-awareness. After all, it is a skill like any other, which means that you can practice, improve and even master it. And you don’t need to spend your life in silent contemplation at a Buddhist Temple.
Rather, the best strategy is to start small, with things you may have never even considered. Self-awareness is a cognitive process, which means you can do it right here, right now.
Lesson #1 – Just Listen and Watch
Firstly, the best place where being aware will help you the most is in real time, when you are actually living out your problem, limitation.
Being in the heat of the fire, is where iron turns to steal.
You need to start noticing those moments when your challenges and limitations are manifesting themselves. Only them, can you modify the way you use your perception, to look inside, humbly and in search of truth, and to listen to your thoughts emerging.
Just listen and watch. Don’t ask questions.
Asking questions is like forcing yourself to think. Don’t think while trying to be aware, you can think afterward, once you uncover everything, and get a true, realistic, and detailed picture of your internal landscape. This is what you will find out:
- What exactly is that which triggers you to act, think or feel this limiting way?
- What are the cues which routinely activate your self-sabotaging behaviors and habits, which go against your goals, ideals, and values?
- Where this internal conflict is coming from. And whether any part of you repels, or objects to what you want.
- What you believe about your life and your subjective reality.
- What your mind thinks is real, about specific situations, contexts, obstacles, things?
Lesson #2 – Narrow Down your Focus and Describe in Words
What is more deadly? An ever-present, invisible cloud of toxic gas, surrounding you everywhere you go? Or a small but very lethal trap, whose location you know precisely at all times, and how not to step on it?
That was a metaphor about repressed, generalized, and vaguely expressed problems and personal limitations. Usually, the reason people fail to solve their issues is that they don’t pinpoint them with razor-sharp accuracy. And you do that with words, by describing your limiting thoughts and problems with precision language.
Here is a method of developing self-awareness by chunking down on your limitation, and expressing it in words:
- You take something vague, generalized, poorly thought through, which seems like an omnipresent cloud, slowly choking you.
- Then you go into listening mode, being aware of your internal processes. It is like taking a look into your soul.
- However, you don’t just look. Rather, you describe what you witness, see and hear with precise, concrete words.
- So, you change the big, vaguely expressed problem and narrow it down, into something manageable, easy to fix.
- The more details you bring forth, and as you describe your limitation more concretely, the faster you can improve and solve.
That is a meta-strategy of problem-solving, in relationships, personal life, career and especially self-improvement, changing behaviors, beliefs, and habits.
The Brain deals poorly with big, vague concepts. But it excels in working with concrete understandings and data.
Our conscious attention is very limited. we can pay proper attention only to one or two things at a time. By reducing a big and vague problem to its individual, small elements, you can give them your full appreciation.
Our mind has a very hard time focusing on big, vague concepts. It is like looking at a very low-resolution image – the lines are blurry, colors seem to fade into each other, and you can barely distinguish anything. It’s a mess, and your brain will just want to avoid it. However, when you zoom in deep enough, you can see the clear-cut plant cells, on the surface of a flower petal. And your mind lives detail because detail pulls attention in.
Avoid low resolution. Zoom in to see less, in richer detail. Chunk down on your limitations, until you get to the bare elements. Use language to narrow down, by describing to yourself what you see, and listening to the words you utter. Perhaps, you can record yourself. I want to end this topic with another famous quote:
“Modern men don’t see God because they don’t look low enough.” ~ C. G. Jung
Lesson #3 – Practice Intentful Visualization
This is a visualization exercise, based on the previous lesson on Narrowing Down Focus and Describing in Words. It helps with:
- Developing self-awareness.
- Achieving heightened mindfulness.
- Going into a trance state.
- Slowing down the perception of time.
- Improving self-reflexive thinking.
- Arriving at the deep, subconscious roots of your limitations, problems, and issues.
- Doing NLP, self-development, personal transformation, and change work much more efficiently.
You can do this exercise for 2 or 3 minutes, a few times a day, or whenever you feel like it. Since it is fun, relaxing and entertaining, I do it a lot.
The exercise requires you to choose something to focus on, and immerse yourself in that experience, using visualization, listening, and language. When you pick your topic of focus, it can be anything, like your car, the neighbor’s dog, the jeans you are wearing, or even the meaning of life. Remember, it is just an exercise, and this is how you do it:
- Set a few minutes aside, perhaps go to a quiet area.
- Think about something, and focus your attention on that mental image. Hold it in your mind’s eye.
- Describe out loud what you see, using concise language. Record or write it down.
- Zoom in and go down into detail, one more step.
- Describe what you see. Write it down on paper, or record it.
- Continue the process, narrow down your field of attention.
If you do it correctly, you will immerse fully into the experience, completely forgetting about the outside world. That is trance states feel like.
Here is a perfectly good example. It is about my car, as I left it in the parking lot.
“I see my gray Volkswagen. (Narrow down) The right tail-light is crack in the corner, and three inches to the left, there is a scratch. (Zoom in on the scratch) It looks like the letter “V”, and it has left a nasty dent. The scrape on the gray over-paint reveals the white color underneath, and even that is grazed, exposing the metal. (Metal now makes me think of gold) I see a gold ingot, it shines brightly underneath a lamp. When pink it up, it is cold and heavy, I feel surprised. (Zoom in) I can sense the rough, uneven surface of the gold ingot, as I graze my fingernail across it. (Narrow down) When my nail gets stuck in a deeper cut, I notice contracting my finger muscles just slightly, to get past it”.
Just follow the train of thoughts, observing it as they drift by, one after the other, in free association mode. That way, you will learn a lot about how your mind works, which associations you have built over time, and what they mean. Like, I never knew I associated metal with gold ingots!
Have your verbal descriptions recorded on audio, then listen to it. Most likely it will be a goldmine of information. The subconscious expressions of your ideals, wants and limitations are embedded in your speech. But we never hear ourselves talk, so that wealth of information is unavailable to our conscious attention.
Lesson #4 – Learn How to be Present
Developing self-awareness can only be done in the “now”, in the present now, of which we speak.
You look inside your soul, now, and listen non-judgmentally. It is as simple as that. You can stop reading this, and self-reflect on how this article resonates with you.
As I said, you need to learn to become aware when you are in a problem state and to be present, with your issue, at its peak of influence. Because at that moment, its subconscious structure wants to emerge and gives off the strongest signals. As a result, being self-aware, looking inside and listening to your soul, are of most use, and have the greatest chances of success.
Being present with yourself is something Eckhart Tolle emphasizes a lot:
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”
“It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.”
“To realize that you are not your thoughts is when you begin to awaken spiritually.”
Eckhart Tolle has made Buddhist Philosophy into a modern day, applicable, easy-to-understand practice. He encourages lives in the present moment fully, to stop identifying with your thoughts, to release yourself from the ego.
However, that requires developing self-awareness. You need to be awake, and cognizant of the fact that you are not your thoughts. But first, you need to observe them, put some distance between you and your thoughts, and dissociate.
How to do Self-Development Correctly
Developing self-awareness is the precondition to doing self-development effectively, productively, and correctly.
Otherwise, what are you going to do? If you have no idea what is going on in your head, and everything just slips pass you? You will have no idea what to do, where to start, what to change, and how to do it.
The hardest part is defining your problems and limitations, in the most realistic, concrete and actionable way possible. Applying the technique for change work is actually easy, once you appropriately delimitation the root cause. There is the old saying:
The trickiest part of eating a tiger sandwich is capturing a tiger.
When you work with yourself to solve a problem, overcome a limitation, or improve your character, start with being self-aware, looking inwards and listening to your soul. Answers, subconscious images, thoughts, and patterns reveal themselves if you look inside patiently, non-judgmentally, and with patience.
1) Self-Reflection and Awareness for Habit Change
Habits are difficult to change. We engage in them subconsciously, without being aware of it. They trigger so fast, we barely have the time to think or decide. This is another place where being self-aware is necessary:
- Self-reflectively look at what is happening in your mind.
- Become aware of your subconscious processes, and the stimulus-response relationship.
- Narrow down on the cue (stimulus, trigger), which activates your habitual response. Usually triggers act fast, they zip through like a bullet, without leaving a trace … But if you become familiar with your own mind, it will start showing you stuff, like the true form of your thoughts, feelings, and routines. And you can nail down that trigger with pin-point accuracy.
By developing self-awareness, you will be exposed to the subjective materials of your mind. And only then, will your personal development efforts revolutionize your life, and transform your habits.
Otherwise, it won’t work, because your self-help technique will aim poorly, at an ill-defined target. As a result, you will miss, fail to change, even give up and become disillusioned and resentful.
So, be as harsh and honest as possible with yourself when working on any self-development technique. Otherwise, the results will be minimal, the return on investment for the time spent will be small, and frustration causes a lot of people to quit.
2) Hold Yourself Responsible! Don’t Blame the Technique!
As a golden rule, whenever doing any change exercise, technique, or model in self-development, always remember, before you blame the technique …
Hold yourself responsible for the results you get.
You reap what you sow. You gather the fruits of your work.
If your work was lacking, careless, distracted and superficial, its fruits will be sour, not sweet. What you get in life is a direct reflection of the quality of work, depth of thought, and level of awareness you put in.
That is the kind of humble, and mindful attitude you need to have when you do self-development, which often involves techniques, strategies, and step-by-step plans. When a technique doesn’t work, most likely there was something that you missed, and that is why you didn’t get the results you wanted. There are several things you might have gotten wrong:
- Flawed Execution – You made flaws in its execution.
- Lack of Precision – Perhaps, you did not follow each step concisely, and to the fullest extent of your possibilities. This is usually the case for those who perceive the world in terms of the big picture; they forget details.
- Lack of Self-Awareness – You didn’t truly identify the root cause root of your limitation. Perhaps you were overthinking and failed to truly listen to yourself. Mental noise can be disturbing, when you do NLP, for example. Technique and NLP don’t work, if you don’t address the core of the issue, and just dance around the problem.
- Distractions – You were distracted, or multitasking. Maybe you really don’t care about change, and if that is something you don’t even want to consider, then maybe it’s true! Often, distraction means that whatever is distracting you is more important than what you are currently doing, deep down, at the emotional subconscious level.
3) Be Watchful of How You React
After you become mindful of the trigger and isolate it, then there is the behavior that is fired on that cue, the response or reaction. Orient your attention inwards, listen and watch non-judgmentally as if you seek the truth. Here are the answers you are going to hear about your beliefs, values, and habits when you are truly self-aware of your internal processes:
- What exactly is being initiated on the trigger? How do I react?
- Does the stimulus trigger in me a thought, a feeling, a behavior? Is it something I do, think, or feel?
- Is it just a knee-jerk response? Or is it part of a complex relationship of beliefs, limitations, inner conflicts and self-sabotage?
- What is the order in which your reactions and thoughts trigger?
- What is the sequence of thoughts, feelings, behaviors, movements, that I go through?
When you are searching for the trigger, you target your attention and awareness both on the outside world, and internally, onto yourself. But when you try to be watchful about your reactions, you shift attention to yourself – to observe how you react, feel, behave, think.
You should not force yourself to notice those things, and actively try to answer those questions. Just listen, focus your attention inwards, practice mindfulness and become aware of what whizzes through your subconscious mind. In that state of heightened awareness, your attention will trap, and freeze some of those speeding knee-jerk reactions.
In his book “Man’s search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankl said:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Developing self-awareness allows you to widen that space. But, to fully take advantage of the freedom, you must learn to become aware of the stimulus, the response, and of the space between them. For further reading on How to Free Yourself of Reactions.
4) Understand your Motivations
Reward and the punishment, they are integral parts of shaping, learning and changing behaviors and habits. They are in a way, what makes you tick.
Some routines are not stimulus-response, knee-jerk reactions, internalized because of accidental association in time. But other learned behaviors serve a purpose – they are formed and influenced, as consequence of getting rewards or receiving punishments. The habit is persistent over time partly because it brings a reward. Or it prevents a punishment.
I have talked about Operant Conditioning, using Rewards and Punishments. If you know what are your strongest motivations, desires, but also distastes and aversions, then you can incorporate them into rewards and punishments, to form and learn new habits.
Developing self-awareness of your likes and dislikes, addictions, weaknesses and compulsive behaviors, helps you understand how you work, and you can predict where are you going to falter. For example, a self-aware alcoholic would know better than to go out to a bar with his old drinking buddies.
I have a fondness for chocolate cream, am I am very mindful of that weakness, because it is difficult to resist, and often it takes control. So, a way to stop that from happening is, to be honest with myself, acknowledge my weak spots, and taking preventive measures.
5) Become Aware of Internal Conflicts – Double Edge Swords
Internal struggle and self-sabotage are experiences we go through when we are at odds with ourselves, our values, as a result of not being properly integrated. I have this article in more detail: Internal Conflict between Core Values
Those are the kind of problems people have a hard time getting over, mostly because they are unable to go deep enough into the issue. Since it is subconscious, meaning they are not aware of what is going on in their mind, heart, and soul, only of the outward effects. Developing self-awareness is the only way out of these sticky situations.
Here is how you experience internal conflict – each option has a benefit and a repercussion, but you have not integrated the options into a solution that works effectively, so you constantly shift, feeling guilty, anxious, uneasy. For example, a person might be smoking before an exam or an important meeting, to relieve stress, and the relief would be the reward. Yet, smoking might cause health problems, which is a loss in a different values category. This is why some habits like substance abuse are so hard to change.
Some negative habits are like double-edged swords – each option has drawbacks and benefits. We want to stop the habits, but the advantages of having it outweigh the advantages of not having it. That is the constant struggle, and the solution is fully integrating the options (having it and not having it), by finding a way to benefits from the advantages and minimize the undesired effects, in a way that your subconscious accepts. Here are some example of un-integrated, double-edged habits, people find difficult to change:
- Watching too much TV.
- Playing too many videos games.
- Too much time on social media.
- Spending money on expensive food, clothing, stuff.
Therefore, habits can be so crippling sometimes, causing a lot of problems from procrastination to very serious health issues. A successful change means integration of all the parts of your psyche, in one single cohesive unit, in a way that your subconscious accepts. That also means not cutting away significant benefits.
6) Awareness of Time – Short-Term versus Long-Term
Habitual behaviors usually exist because they fulfill some positive need. In the long run, they may involve negative side effects, like negatively affecting health. A lot of internal conflicts appear when the gain is short-term, but the negative effects are long-term. Because our primitive, impulse-driven brains have only begun to develop long-term, executive thinking, by evolutionary standards.
The key is developing self-awareness, to become cognizant of all the short-term and long-term, personal benefits, rewards, drives, and motivations. to bring them into conscious awareness, where you can work on them, and integrate your different parts into one cohesive unit. That means making it so that you keep all the benefits while minimizing the negative side effects.
For example, if the gain from smoking is relaxation, then search in yourself for something you could do, with the same efficiency, in the same place, at the same time as smoking, and which can get you the same level of relaxation as smoking does.
If you force changing the behavior, without keeping the benefits, your mind will fall back on the old pattern. Minds are conservative, they don’t want to change, unless you offer them a better option, with the same level of satisfaction.
This post is a cornerstone article for what I consider to be, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most important life skill.
Self-awareness grants you powerful abilities and strategies, like personal change and transformation, self-correction, meta-learning, making informed decision and actions, knowing who you are and being immune to criticism, negativity, anxiety, corruption … And that barely scratches the surface.
The time you are going to invest in developing self-awareness is definitely worth the effort. There are tremendous advantages and benefits to be gained from becoming more self-aware. In fact, every article and post in this blog is based on that simple presupposition. You will take the greatest benefit from reading, by firstly developing self-awareness.
Monks spend their lifetimes in solitude, prayer, and silent contemplation to attain this skill. So, given that, why shouldn’t you set aside ten minutes a day for something so strong and meaningful? Perhaps it will help you not waste your life. Take the time to do some soul searching, listen to your subconscious signals, think about your thinking.
For self-development and personal change, developing self-awareness is the first thing you do.
If you liked this article, please leave a comment below. I enjoyed writing it.