Becoming self-aware is an act of self-love

If you really care about yourself you would be wise to develop some level of self-awareness.  Self awareness is foundational to learning about yourself and being able to change your life. Without raising your self-awareness to be able to observe how you tick, you could find it difficult to live the life you want.   You can raise your self-awareness by reflecting, seeking feedback, practising new ways of thinking and perceiving. In this article, we will look at how you can use self awareness to develop.

Raised self-awareness can occur as a result of our experiences throughout life.  However, sometimes progress can be slow.  The development of real self-awareness takes effort and deliberate intent.

Self awareness needs willingness

Often people only create a willingness to search within for answers when life gets too painful, or we learn to really resent something about ourselves.  However, to develop self-awareness we don’t have to wait until things get bad, we can start at any time.

As you traverse your self development journey, it can open up a vista of new ideas and perceptions about you and how you behave.  You can use self awareness to develop and learn:

Clearly, the route to self-awareness is a lifetime journey and not something that can be traversed in a short period of time.  The best way to approach a journey of self awareness is to focus on what aspect is important for you now.  It might seem like a lot of work, but the benefits are enormous.  Developing self awareness can lead to a more effective, happier and better-connected life.

How our brains work

Neuroscience is fascinating.  We are learning more about the brain all of the time.  The brain is like our operating model, it sorts out all the information it receives in a variety of ways to give us a rich life experience.   Here some Neuroscience principles and facts.

  • Your DNA isn’t fixed and you can, with willingness, often change which parts of your DNA can be active or not.
  • Limiting beliefs are just that –  limiting – change your beliefs and the world of possibilities can open up.
  • Your brain has plasticity – which means new neural pathways can be forged and old pathways can be closed.
  • We are literally wired to be life long learners yet we can choose to learn or not.
  • In other words, we live in a world of endless possibilities opened up by our curiosity and intention.

You don’t have to understand Neuroscience to become more self-aware, although some basic understanding of what the study of Neuroscience has meant in terms of how our brains and therefore how we develop is very helpful.

Kegan’s model of self-awareness

A helpful model of self awareness was developed by Robert Kegan. In his book, “The Evolving Self” (1982), he wrote about “meaning-making”.  The resultant model consists of 6 developmental stages of self awareness.  The purpose of the model is to give professionals a framework for identifying which stage their clients are at in terms of understanding self and others.

If you are interested in self awareness, then it might be useful for you to consider where you may be on the model.

Levels 0 to 2

These first levels are present when we are growing up.  An infant’s life is largely unconscious.  In “What Happened To You?” Oprah Winfrey and Dr Bruce Perry talk about trauma and how trauma can occur in a child’s life.

They contend that children under 3 may suffer trauma, but because they haven’t got the concepts or handle on words to describe the trauma they literally can’t remember the traumatic event.  Even though they may suffer the impacts of that trauma.

In those early stages of life, there is little differentiation between the child’s self and other people like caregivers.

As a child grows in infancy and pre-adolescence they learn how to respond to reward and punishment and their behaviours are often driven by these factors.  The next 3 levels occur in adolescence and adults.

Level 3

This is the first adult level and this is where you become conscious of your own responses to situations and people. It is all about how you are interacting with others and how you may have to adapt your emotional responses and behaviours usually to conform and fit in.

 One of my first jobs was in a large open plan office, I was very conscious of my “shyness”.  With absolutely no understanding of personality type, I was a million miles from recognising I was an introvert.  What I did realise though was this state of being did not work so well for me.  As a result, I found ways to go against my preference and mix more with people, and I learned to speak up despite the discomfort it afforded me.

What I didn’t realise was of course, while I was becoming aware of how I behaved,  at that time it was only useful to me to adapt my behaviour to satisfy what I perceived as what was needed to conform and be accepted.

Mirror Neurones are operating at this level.  It is the part of the brain that fires up when observing the behaviour of others, and we then “mirror” that behaviour.  Or in other words, we experience what the other may be feeling.   When someone smiles we recognise they are happy and we may feel the impact of that happiness. It’s a way of getting on the same page as others.

Level 4

The next level is about forging your own identity while understanding how others may be impacted by this.  You are expanding your awareness to incorporate yourself and others. While you are developing your own personal autonomy, you are also mindful of and developing more interpersonal relationships.

As I grew in self-awareness and realised my personality type was an “introvert” and that was actually ok, I didn’t feel the need to conform to the group any longer.  It was a relief to be able to find ways to satisfy my need for solitude and to make time for myself.

I was however mindful that my need for solitude could impact my interpersonal relationships especially my partner and my children.   And so I devised strategies to optimise time with them and to balance their needs with my own.

The Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex is the part of the brain which you activate to expand consciousness to become self-aware to this level.  This takes effort.  This part of the brain is activated in this context when making decisions and exercising self-control.

    Level 5

The final level is when you can observe self and others and how they interact as a whole.  You understand everyone has different needs, responses, driven by different beliefs and experiences.  You know everyone is different and you consider ways to learn about others so you can bring solutions to conflict and create harmony where possible.

As a leader, I used Myers Briggs Personality Type to help my team learn more about each other to help them to become more cohesive as a team.  As an introvert, I knew how important it was to have both introversion and extraversion in the team.

When I became an MBTI Practitioner, I was able to help people come to terms with their different personality types.  Equally an understanding of how beliefs, emotional responses and patterns of thinking need to be considered at a group level is present at this level.

As well as the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex at this stage, the part of the brain that comes into play is the Orbital Prefrontal Cortex.  It’s thought this part of the brain considers decision making and self-control in respect of others.

Applying the model

These levels of self-awareness are similar to constructivism theory whereby new consciousness or knowledge builds on previous knowledge.  The levels are incremental.  When I was 17 and feeling “shy” working with many others in that large open plan office, I had absolutely no idea or understanding of what other people’s experience was.  But I needed that level of self-awareness to grow into further self-awareness.

It’s really important to note that no adult level is better than other levels.  It is only because I wanted to become a coach and in my role as a leader,  I was compelled to expand my consciousness to higher levels.   Sometimes even recognising the group through level 5 self-awareness, I do not always respond in the right way to get a great result.  I do not always understand every dynamic.

Many people are operating effectively with happy and productive lives at level 3. They simply might not need to expand consciousness beyond that level.

Exploring your self Concept

Judge, Locke, and Durham (1997) analysed what they termed as 4 core self-evaluations.  These are known as your positive self-concept.   Originally these 4 concepts were proposed as variables in reaching job satisfaction.

However, more generally they are very useful evaluations to consider when developing self-awareness. The concepts are:

  • Self Esteem – Self-worth, how well you think of yourself
  • Self Efficacy – How effective we believe we are in different situations
  • Emotional Stability – How positive or negative we are about self and others
  • Locus of Control – How we can control the world around us and how we perceive our limitations

Understanding how we operate

There are several components about how we operate which are key to developing self-awareness.  Don’t be daunted by them, the key to developing self-awareness is to take it one step at a time, one by one.  It’s critical to achieve some successes and breakthroughs. Without these, it just feels like hard work.   Some of the components are:

Every single person on the planet is unique. We have unique experiences, interpretations, beliefs and thoughts.  We have a preferred personality type that determines how we operate.  Our emotional intelligence can be strong in some areas and not so strong in others.  Neuroscience is showing us that our brains are like muscles. Some parts of our brain may be more developed than other parts. Our belief system decides what information we see, changing it can change our lives.

Your self-development journey

You might be asking yourself where to start.  Much depends on your reason for wanting to develop your self-awareness.  Do you want to expand your career?  Maybe improve relationships?  It could be you want to find ways to be happier or more at peace with yourself.  If you are suffering from emotional pain your desire to understand yourself more may be more urgent.   You might just be curious, and that’s fine too.

My own journey started many years ago.  In my early 20’s I picked up a book about how to cure anxiety. I had suffered anxiety for many years.  The book described transactional analysis techniques. Following the simple exercises in the book cured my anxiety for good.

You may wish to find out more yourself. If you do, then journaling is a great way to begin.  Writing is not only therapeutic, but it can draw out what you really would like to know about yourself.   Finding and learning how to tap into your own inner wisdom is really powerful and there are many books out there that can help.   What is important here is your intent.  If you intend to use self-awareness to develop, then your intuition kicks in and guides you to the people and resources you need.

If that all sounds daunting then you might want to find a coach or someone who you know has an expanded sense of self awareness (think Kegan level 5!) and who can help you.  For example you might want to find a career coach or someone who has expertise in emotional intelligence or personality type.  Whatever you need, you will find someone or something to help.

I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance.

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