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Are You Self-Aware?

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

The rarity of self-awareness is unfortunate because of the opportunities being self-aware can create. When we are able to view ourselves objectively, we are able to be more confident, and creative and make better decisions. This gives us stronger relationships and allows us to communicate more effectively. Self-aware people get more promotions and are more effective as leaders.

Self-awareness also makes us more moral. Those who know themselves are less likely to lie, cheat and steal.

Are you self-aware? Chances are you said yes, but the truth is you probably aren’t. According to a study conducted on 5000 participants by Harvard Business Review, although almost everyone (95% of people) thinks they’re self-aware, very few (10 to 15%) actually are. So what does self-awareness look like, and how can you reach it?

Why aren’t we self-aware?

Organisational psychologist Tasha Eurich (who is brilliant and cited throughout this blog post) explains three reasons for our disconnect. “First, we naturally have blind spots. We’re wired to operate on autopilot, unaware of how we’re behaving, and why. There’s also the feel-good effect: we’re happier when we see ourselves in a more positive light. She calls the last factor the ‘cult of self,’ the idea that we’ve become more self-absorbed as social media has exploded in popularity.”

What does self-awareness look like?

There are two types of self-awareness, internal and external.

Most people think internal and external self-awareness go hand in hand, but research shows people who are externally self-aware don’t necessarily tend to be internally self-aware.

Internal self-awareness is knowing our own values, passions, strengths and weaknesses and acting in accordance with them.

External self-awareness is having an accurate idea of how people see us.

Who is less likely to be self-aware?

Peers were the most frequent offenders with 73% of respondents reporting at least one unaware peer.

Surprisingly, another person who is more likely to lack external self-awareness is an experienced leader. The more power a leader holds, the more likely they are to overestimate their skills and abilities. One study of more than 3,600 leaders across a variety of roles and industries found that, relative to lower-level leaders, higher-level leaders more significantly overvalued their skills (compared with others’ perceptions).

Researchers have given two reasons for this. The first is fewer people are willing to give honest negative feedback to someone who could threaten their life security with the snap of a finger, and the second is, by virtue of their position, there are fewer people above them who they have no influence over willing to give honest critique either. In contrast to this, there was an analysis which showed the most successful leaders, rated by 360-degree reviews of leadership effectiveness, combat this by seeking consistent critical feedback from multiple sources.

Does reflection work?

Eurich cautions against writing long journal entries that seek hidden meanings in your thoughts and actions because it can make you more depressed.

She states it’s not that introspection is always ineffective, but that more people do it incorrectly because they’re asking “why” instead of what. Research shows we don’t actually know why we do what we do. We may have answers that sound so convincing to us and those around us, but we don’t actually know most of the inner workings of our unconscious brain (or system one thinking for those of you familiar with behavioural psychology).

The problem with asking why is that we don’t know how wrong we are, and we’re usually confident we are right and fail to question our assumptions about ourselves because, after all, we are often the ultimate expert on ourselves (although some mothers may try and fight you for this position).

Summary- what is self-awareness and where are you?

In summary, self-aware people know who they are, what they want to accomplish and they seek out and value other opinions.

There are four types of self-awareness archetypes, have a look and try to objectively evaluate where you think you are (and maybe ask someone you trust to evaluate you too).

How can you be more self-aware, and what mistakes are you making?

If you feel you're not as self-aware as you'd like to be, how can you change this? If long journal entries aren’t recommended, what is?

My observations in life have led me to realise if you’re aligning your inner values with how you present yourself, most people actually won’t, but I’ll ask you a question I ask myself often. Would you rather have a lot of people like you or a few people love you deeply? You can probably guess my answer from how I phrased the question, but there’s no right or wrong way to be as long as you’re treating others in a way you’d like to be treated. What’s important about being self-aware is realising it’s not a cure-all for getting everyone to like you.

With that being said, take the below advice with a grain of salt. I’m assuming the people giving this advice are self-aware, but I don’t know for sure. One thing I am confident about is that I’m not self-aware. I am, however, trying and I hope this article encourages you to try too. It’s like having the drama of Love Island but in your own head.

External self-awareness tip

  • To improve external self-awareness, find a “loving critic” at work and in your personal life. Find someone who both wants you to be successful and will tell you the truth, without any sugarcoating. Note it’s ok to feel uncomfortable here, no one likes getting negative feedback. Feel it and process it.

Internal self-awareness tips

Work/ purpose

  • List the jobs you’ve had and what you enjoyed most about them. Look for themes and patterns in the types of work you find fulfilling.

  • Ask what, not why. “What” questions help us stay objective, future-focused, and empowered to act on our new insights. Ask yourself weekly “What went well today? What did I learn that I might do differently? Whose perspective can I get if I’m having a particular challenge?”

It’s important to note this won’t be easy. If productive behaviour was easier than a short-term fix, we’d all be doing it, however, it is possible. If you’re struggling with habit change another book I would recommend would be Atomic Habits.

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