Is a Lack of Self-Awareness Keeping You From Happiness?

Is a Lack of Self-Awareness Holding You Back From Happiness?

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Most of us have at least one friend who exudes an enlightened sense of self. Someone who’s confident and comfortable with who they are, and understands how others see his or her personality. Many times, that person radiates cheerfulness and can command a room. And the reason: “People who are self-aware make better decisions, are happier, have better relationships and are effective leaders,” says Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist and author of Insight, who has conducted years’ worth of research on the topic.

The thing is, while most people think they know themselves pretty well, only about 10 to 15 percent of individuals — whom Eurich and her research team refer to as “unicorns” — fit the definition of self-awareness.

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What Self-Awareness Really Means 

Two main components make up a self-aware person, says Eurich. The first (and probably most well-known) is internal insight. That means knowing your own morals, values and passions. The second involves external awareness — or knowing how others perceive you. “They’re independent of one another, but you need both to be truly self-aware,” Eurich explains. Typically, people possess one and not the other.

“People who are highly self-aware find the delicate balance between taking time to understand who they are, what they want, what will make them happy and consistently target and ask for feedback from others, too,” Eurich says.

When determining internal and external self-knowledge Eurich says to specifically examine seven main pillars of yourself. This includes values (principles that guide how to live), passions (what you love to do), aspirations (what you want out of life), where you fit (the environment you need to stay happy), patterns of behavior, reactions and your impact on others.

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Internal Self-Awareness: It’s Not All About Introspection

You might think people who regularly engage in soul-searching and self-evaluation would categorize as the “unicorn” crew. But surprisingly, too much self-reflection can hinder self-awareness.

“What I found [in my research] was that those who were introspective and deeply analyzed themselves, asking ‘What am I all about?’ and trying to get absolute answers, were less self-aware and not as happy,” Eurich says. “They were also more anxious and depressed.”

Turns out, we can’t figure everything out about ourselves, no matter how deep we dig. So focusing more on improving — and less on why we are the way we are — is a better approach to gaining self-knowledge, Eurich explains.

Of course, that’s not to say all reflection is bad. One technique that works well: Pinpoint key moments in your life, whether that’s an incident that happened at work, a fall-out with a friend, getting a promotion or getting married. Then, step back and look for any themes on how you handled the situation. “Objectively put out the data and look for patterns,” Eurich says. “Ask, ‘Where am I seeing this happen in other parts of my life?” It might help you separate the good from the bad, and the consequences that come from both.

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External Self-Awareness: Seeing Yourself Through Others’ Eyes 

“We can’t trust other people to give us information without asking for it,” Eurich says. “People think, ‘If no one is telling me I’m doing this wrong, I’m probably doing awesome.’ But there’s the mum effect.” AKA many people don’t want to deliver bad news or give criticism because it makes us uncomfortable.

But before you literally ask someone what they think of you (which you should), Eurich suggests choosing someone who will tell you the truth. Keep in mind that could be your outspoken co-worker rather than your BFF. “You need to get the info from loving critics,” Eurich says. “Someone who is not afraid to tell you that you have a bad haircut, but who also wants you to succeed.”

Make sure to ask specific questions, too. Pick an area you want to improve in (say, communication), then ask someone to observe you. Circle back a few days later for some feedback.

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4 Steps to Learning More About Yourself

Gaining confidence in yourself and knowing how others see you is certainly a learned skilled. Eurich offers four steps to getting more in touch with who you are, so you can feel happier and healthier, and find more success.

1. Make the decision to get to know yourself better.

Obviously to make a change, you need to commit to it. So throw away the idea that you know exactly who you are and how others perceive you, and have an open mind in terms of what you might learn about yourself.

2. Ask yourself “what” not “why?”

When thinking about who you are at the core, stop asking why you do the things you do and instead set goals for how to improve. For instance, when you have a fight with your significant other, instead of asking, “Why do I always pick fights?” Say, “What do I want out of this relationship? What actions am I bringing to the table that led to this? And what can I do to make it better?” From there, you can set the intention of becoming less argumentative.

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3. Have a dinner of truth.

It’s not as scary as it sounds, but it could be eye-opening. Take a trusted, honest friend to dinner and ask, “What’s the thing about me that annoys you the most?” “It’s a powerful way to get some initial data,” Eurich says. It’s a great first step in finding out how others feel about you, and where you can make positive changes.

4. Check in with yourself.

The one thing most “unicorns” do every day? On the drive home from work or right before bed, they reflect on how the day went. Tonight, briefly think about what was effective and positive in your day and what you could improve on tomorrow. It should only take a few minutes and you can write it down or just think about it, but looking back on the day can help enhance the next one.

Want to find out where you rank in terms of self-awareness? Click here for a quiz from Eurich.

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