Know Thyself: Five Steps to Productive Self-Awareness

“If you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” – Daniel Goleman, American science writer and author of the book Emotional Intelligence.

In recent years, the concept of emotional intelligence has gained traction in the business world. Most of us know brilliant people who seem hopeless when it comes to dealing with people; either they try to dominate everyone, or they fade into the shadows and let others handle the purely human aspects of work. Most of us express one of these tendencies to some extent, but the standouts take them to extremes.

Those who interact well with others have a high “EQ,” or “emotional intelligence quotient” based on self-awareness. They may or may not also have high IQs, but they’re generally comfortable in their own skins, because they’ve taken seriously the Biblical directive to “know thyself.” As a result, they have a higher level of social functionality than many of their colleagues, particularly in the psychological and emotional realms.

Use these five self-analysis techniques to boost your self-awareness:

  1. Practice mindfulness.  Some people think self-awareness and mindfulness amount to the same thing, but that’s untrue. Mindfulness is an element of self-awareness, in the sense of living in the moment and paying attention to what’s happening right now while not worrying about the past or future. It’s about intently observing and thinking about what you see, so you minimize mistakes and absorb experiences. It’s the opposite of routine, absentmindedness, and operating on autopilot. Mindfulness can begin with something as simple as truly noticing the taste and texture of your food as you eat, or taking note of the feel of the water running over your body as you shower.

  2. Focus. Self-awareness requires you to focus attention on yourself—body, mind, and soul. Inevitably, this results in self-knowledge you can use apply greater self-discipline, to circumvent weaknesses, and to improve strengths. A focus on your body will trigger you to take a break (if you don’t ignore the signals). A focus on your mind will prompt you when you’re whining internally or engaging in negative self-talk. A focus on your soul might tell you it’s time to get out of your dead-end job. In this way, you maximize what you do best, learn who and what can offset your weaknesses, how to behave in your own best interests.

  3. Observe and understand your impulses. Sometimes you must analyze and unlearn existing habits shaping your behavior, so that you can develop more useful ones. Don’t make snap decisions without fully checking in with yourself. Don’t let others push you into making such decisions, either. Don’t assume something’s best for you just because someone else says so, or because it’s the normal path to success; pick and choose advice. Sometimes something will work for you; sometimes it won’t.

  4. Explore your feelings. Rather than repress or ignore your emotional responses, study them. What are they trying to tell you? Track your feelings—by journaling, for example. Give them free rein when and where it’s appropriate, so you can study their nuances, give them a voice, and resolve them adequately and safely. This can leave you feeling less stressed and more fulfilled, especially if you realize what you’re doing fails to align with how you feel or what you want out of life. At that point, you can make changes. If you react badly to certain situations, for instance, you have the options of avoiding those situations or learning how to deal with them more positively, depending on the circumstances.

  5. Heed your brain’s subconscious and unconscious input. Not all emotional responses are rational, and you certainly can’t ignore logic when making your decisions. Our unique thought processes put us at the top of this world’s food chain, after all. But more of your brain pays attention to the world than you think, and sometimes your subconscious and unconscious mind see reasons why you should or shouldn’t do something that your conscious mind doesn’t. So at least listen to your intuition and your heart—they may be trying to tell you something important. Take their warnings into account—but don’t necessarily let them override what otherwise makes sense.

To thine own self be true

Self-awareness isn’t the acme of business interaction or decision-making, but it does clarify your motives, prejudices, desires, and influences. When those are obvious, it’s easier to understand and deal with what you see in other people. Sometimes it makes you sympathetic to their needs; sometimes it puts you on guard. Either way, it’s worth cultivating self-awareness and using it to illuminate and protect yourself and your interests.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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