Emotional Intelligence: Self Awareness

Self-awareness is an awareness of the self, with the “self” equating one’s unique identity, including thoughts, beliefs, experiences, and abilities.

In 1972 psychologists Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund’s proposed that: “When we focus our attention on ourselves, we evaluate and compare our current behavior to our internal standards and values. We become self-conscious as objective evaluators of ourselves.”

In essence, what they were proposing was that self-awareness is a major mechanism of self-control.

In 1995 psychologist Daniel Goleman proposed a variation on Duval and Wicklund’s definition of self-awareness. In Goleman’s best-selling book “Emotional Intelligence,” he defines self-awareness as “knowing one’s internal states, preference, resources, and intuitions.”

This definition places more emphasis on the ability to monitor our inner world, thoughts, and emotions as they arise, assuming not only one is self-aware but also self-monitoring and adjusting.

Of the five areas of Emotional Intelligence, Goleman considered Self Awareness to be the keystone.

Recognize and understand your emotions and you have the power to control them.

This kind of attention to your thoughts and feelings makes it impossible for your emotions to rule you. Unless you choose to give them the upper hand.

In his address to the Governing Board of the Pan American Union in April 1939 US President Roosevelt said that "Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds. They have within themselves the power to become free at any moment."

Roosevelt's insight, shared by thought leaders around the world, points to an opportunity to achieve the ultimate freedom.

Choosing to stop reacting to events and emotions and learn, instead, how to choose your response to any situation is a cornerstone of our teaching at CMC.

It’s the key to greater confidence, self-determination, and stability in our trainee’s lives.

“Don't be a prisoner of your own mind. Achieve the freedom you deserve. Start by learning more about yourself.”

Before trainees can make changes they have to know what they are working with.

The first step to becoming self-aware is the process of understanding themselves and how they are now.

Understanding that the process of creating self-awareness exists (ie that you can change), creating that awareness and understanding self-talk and confirmation bias are all tools they develop during training.

Emotional awareness means being able to recognize emotions that you experience, understand the feelings associated with the emotion, and understand what you think and do as a result of those associations. For more information about Self Regulation: see our previous post.

When you're aware of your strengths and limits you'll be more confident about what you can and cannot do, there is more awareness around areas where more development is needed, which, in turn, enables individuals to take steps towards developing those skills.

Self-confident people are more assertive about what they believe to be right and where they are going.

Being assertive doesn't mean you always get your way, that you act like a bully or force situations but rather that you convey your thoughts and ideas confidently and justify why you believe a particular decision or idea is the correct one.

According to Daniel Goleman the benefits associated with self-awareness are:

  • Recognizing your emotions and actions impact your life and your team.

  • The ability to identify and accurately assess your strengths and limitations.

  • The ability to assess and trust your talent, judgment, and competencies

While it’s important to recognize self-awareness as the ability to self monitor ourselves, it’s equally important to notice HOW we notice and monitor our inner world. Specifically how judgemental we are towards our thoughts and interpretation of experiences.

Because of the work we do, cultivating non-judgmental qualities in our trainees is an essential component of our work. It’s also incredibly useful in basic self-awareness.

As we notice what’s happening inside us, we can acknowledge and accept them as the inevitable part of being human, rather than giving ourselves a hard time about it.

When working with our men and women of various backgrounds we often suggest they start by monitoring when they make statements akin to:

“I should/shouldn’t have done _____”

“I’m an idiot because..,”

“I can even get ____ right, how am I going to do ___.”

Instead of shoving those thoughts aside or down and judging that they are having judge-mental thoughts, we coach them to become curious, asking:

“Is what I experienced a chance to learn and grow?”

“Have other humans possibly made a similar mistake and learned from it?”

“Have other humans been in a similar situation and created a successful and happy future for themselves and their families?”

“Is it possible to create new behaviors that support my new direction?”

Our mind has the ability to store an abundant amount of information about how we react to specific events, this, in turn, forms a blueprint of our emotional life.

This blueprint conditions our mind to react in specific ways as we encounter similar events, these reactions are unconscious unless we purposefully pull the information into our conscious mind for assessment, which is the development of self-awareness.

The ability to monitor our emotions and thoughts from moment to moment is key to understanding ourselves better, and proactively managing our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. This ability enables us to make conscious choices about our present and take deliberate steps towards a more stable and self-determined future.

An investigation by Sutton in 2016 examined the component parts of self-awareness and their benefits/costs. It found that self-reflection, insight, and mindfulness aspects of self-awareness can lead to becoming a more accepting person (benefit), while excessive rumination and reflection can lead to emotional burdens (cost).

Interestingly, the benefits of self-awareness extend from the field and management to business leaders. A number of researches have shown self-awareness as a crucial trait of successful business leaders.

In a study undertaken by Green Peak Partners and Cornell University, 72 executives at public and private companies were studied. They all had revenues from $50 million to $5 billion, and it was found that “a high self-awareness” score was the strongest predictor of overall success.

5 Ways to Cultivate Self-Awareness

  1. Create space. Leave yourself some time and space every day – perhaps first thing in the morning or half an hour before sleep when you stay away from the digital distractions and spend some time with yourself, reading, writing, meditating, and connecting with yourself.

  2. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the key to self-awareness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Through mindfulness practice, you will be more present with yourself so that you can “be there” to observe what’s going on inside and around you. It is not about sitting cross-legged or suppressing your thoughts. It is about paying attention to your inner state as they arise. You can practice mindfulness at any time you want, through mindful listening, mindful eating or walking.

  3. Keep a journal: Writing not only helps us process our thoughts but also makes us feel connected with ourselves. Writing can also create more head-space as you let your thoughts flow out onto paper.

  4. Listen. Listening is not the same as hearing. Listening is about being present and paying attention to other people’s emotions, body movements, and language (verbal and non-verbal). It is about showing empathy and understanding without constantly evaluating or judging.

  5. Gain different perspectives: Ask for feedback. Sometimes we can be too afraid to ask what others think of us. Research has shown conducting 360-degree feedback in the workplace is a useful tool to improve managers’ self-awareness. We all have blind spots, so it is helpful to gain a different perspective to see a fuller picture of ourselves.

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