When we ask people in general, whether they are self-aware, the answer would, as expected, be positive. However, you will be surprised to know that majority of us are hardly self-aware. We have, invariably, very little self-awareness, though we are confident of possessing the same. To be self-aware is a meta skill, and limited, often rarely, to find in ourselves. Had we been more self-aware and mindful, we would have been living far more peacefully and co-existing amicably with fellow beings. One of the basic problems pertaining to modern age like mental stress, aggression, intolerance, violence, hatred etc is lack of desired level of self-awareness among masses.
According to the organisational psychologist and researcher, Dr Tash Eurich, though 95% of people say that they’re self-aware but only 10-15% of people actually are. It means nearly 80% of people are lying to themselves. Their level of self-awareness differs from person to person, from highly ignorant to partially self-aware. In many cases, a person knows lesser of himself / herself than what others know about them. Such persons are so self-absorbed and self-centred in their own little world that they are least self-aware and don’t really know about themselves well. Unfortunately, no one teaches about this skill to us. Majority of us are ignorant of what self-awareness is and why it’s so important for us to succeed in life?
Take an example to understand what does self-awareness means. Suppose you are participating in an important meeting or seriously interacting with few friends on some common issues. During the meeting or interaction, you are supposed to be aware and conscious about:
What’s happening in your external environment?
The thoughts that you are coming in your mind from moment to moment
What kind of emotions and feelings you are experiencing?
How you are reacting or responding to others?
What others are thinking or reacting about you?
How others are reacting on your views, that you put forward
What you are thinking about ‘what others are thinking about you’
Ideally speaking, the people should be aware and conscious about all those things that are happening in mind and external reality. However, this doesn’t happen due to lack or low level of self-awareness. We are mostly engrossed in our own habitual and conditioned thoughts. When we are talking or interacting with others, we are, most of the time, not listening to others. We are busy in thinking ‘what I have to say next’. Besides, we tend to react to others rather than responding to others. Many of our problems in relationships, family or workplace arise because we are not carefully listening and responding to others.
An internationally known psychologist and best seller author, Daniel Goleman calls self-awareness as the key to emotional intelligence. He says, “without self-awareness, we can’t know what’s happening to ourselves, let alone manage relationships with others. It’s not enough to simply notice what’s happening in your inner world. What you do with the thoughts and feelings after you notice them also matters a great deal”. He further explains that self-awareness means the ability to monitor our inner world – our thoughts and feelings. Self-awareness is of two types. First, being aware about our thoughts, feelings and other bodily sensations. The second type is external awareness, what others think about ourselves.
Self-awareness is the ability to focus on ourself and how our actions, thoughts, or emotions affect ourselves and others around us. Not only we should thoroughly know about ourselves but also know, how others perceive us. It’s about knowing how we behave under different circumstances. How we think, act and react in various situations of life? What kind of thoughts and feelings we are experiencing every moment? If we are self-aware, then we know all these things about ourselves. We are always very confident that we know all about ourselves but unfortunately that’s not the case. Our attention doesn’t go to this side. Isn’t it difficult to believe, that we are so ignorant about our own self?
Let’s understand how lack of self-awareness adverse impact our life. For example, when we fail to notice and appreciate subtle changes in our mind and body timely, then those very changes aggravate and lead to various mental and physical problems. Most of our mental illnesses start with our inability to manage our thoughts. When we are badly trapped in negative loop of distressed thoughts, we are not really aware of the same. When we overthink, worry or ruminate, we become part of those thoughts. Our identification with the mind is total. We are not able to separate our thoughts from our mind/self. When we experience sad and depressing feelings, we become part of them. Quite often, those very situations deteriorate and then eventually we may become mentally sick. This all happens when we lack self-awareness of our inner world.
Dr Tash Eurich further explained that even though self-awareness — knowing who we are and how we’re seen — is important for job performance, career success, and leadership effectiveness. It is in remarkably short supply in today’s workplace. That’s one of the prime reasons that we have highly stressed working places. We continue to overthink, ruminate or worrying about something but we are not self-aware and conscious about the fact. When we are not aware and conscious, we tend to behave impulsively, act unconsciously and react automatically. We don’t respond to the situations. We may be highly intelligent and competent but may lack desired level of self-awareness. Therefore, our social interaction may be poorer. Leadership qualities may be lacking.
Mainly we are on autopilot mode, mind is working on default mode network (DMN). Most of the actions (more than 90%) are unconscious, automatic and impulsive. We are not conscious and mindful in the sense, it’s not ‘present on the moment’. Because of this nature of mind, we are not, on many occasions, the author of our behaviour, actions and choices we make. Our self-awareness is poor. We fail to exercise complete control over our own mind. Unless we are fully aware and conscious about things that are happening inside our mind and in the world around us, we can’t understand the nature, quality, and extent of any problem that we encounter inside and outside us.
Each one of us are hundred percent confident that we are totally self-aware and know the best about ourselves. In fact, we all tend to overestimate our knowledge and other abilities and skills required to navigate our life journey. However, the reality is just the opposite of what we generally think about ourselves. Studies have confirmed that more than 90% of us either lack or having low level of self-aware. We tend to think, behave and act on ‘autopilot’ mode. We are mostly not conscious of our highly habitual and conditioned thinking and behaviour. Sadly, we are ignorant of this fact. To know that we lack or have little self-aware, we need self-awareness. It’s a vicious cycle. Since we are not aware of our weakness, how can we improve ourselves.
Through mindfulness-based meditation, not only we become more mindful but also enhance our self-awareness. There are many ways to practice meditation but latest studies have shown that mindfulness-based meditation has shown more credible results compared to other types of meditations that are practiced in India. Either we can observe breathing – inhale and exhale of air through nostril, while closing our eyes or we recite one-word mantra silently in our mind. Studies have established positive results on physical and mental health. The meditation improves our capacity to focus or be attentive for a longer time. More we practice mindfulness, more self-aware and mindful we become. Though there are some other ways too but mindfulness-based meditation works the best for enhancing our self-awareness.
To be successful and to lead a fulfilled life, we need to know ourselves deeply. We are not our thoughts and the feelings we experience from moment to moment. We must have the ability to observe our own ‘self’ from a distance, like a third person watching us. Only then we can exercise complete control over our inner world. With inner control, comes the ability to manage our outer world. Self-awareness is the ability to see ourselves clearly and objectively. We can properly assess ourselves – our weakness, strengths and capabilities. To be present, in peaceful and serene state of mind is prerequisite for taking decisions at crucial moments of life. All these lays a foundation upon which social and emotional intelligence works. Greater the strength of this foundation, more are the chances to succeed in life.