What is Self-Awareness?
Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, describes self-awareness as,
“knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources, and intuitions — and then monitoring that inner world information as it comes up.”
You make conscious decisions and take responsibility for your decisions. Some also describe it as a state that compels you to follow your bliss, your heart.
In fact, this uniqueness of awareness is what sets our species apart and makes us humans. As Kant writes,
“The fact that human beings can have the ‘I’ in his representations [i.e., is self-conscious] raises him infinitely above all other living beings on earth. Because of this, he is a person i.e., through rank and dignity an entirely different being from things, such as irrational animals, with which one can do as one likes.”
According to Carl Jung, all individuals undergo a process of transformation of the psyche through which one achieves self-actualization. This is known as the individuation process that integrates the personal conscious and collective unconscious in the whole personality. Here, self-awareness plays a pivotal role in bridging the gap between the two and achieving the wholeness of the psyche.
Types of Self-Awareness
Researchers found two perspectives to describe what self-awareness is, i.e., internal and external self-awareness. Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist explains internal self-awareness as to how clearly we see our values, passions, actions, reactions, and their impact on others. External self-awareness on the other hand is how well we understand others’ perspectives of us.
Research also found that there is no correlation between internal and external self-awareness. This indicates that being high on one does not necessarily mean being high on the other. Sometimes, one can get so involved in keeping up a persona that they may lose awareness of their true self. Eurich’s research revealed that about 90% of people believe they are self-aware while the real number is only 12-15%. It means about 85% of people are lying to themselves about themselves. Unaware of being self-aware, where does that leave us?
This leaves us with a society filled with dysfunctional humans unable to recognize their true needs and act upon them by overcoming their egos. Fortunately for us as a species, this proportion of dysfunctional psyche is balanced with most people individuating at some point or the other.
How does the Autopilot brain regulate life patterns?
The automatic mode of the brain helps us in coordinating routine activities like taking a shower, riding a bicycle, driving a car, or doing dishes. This is important because not every activity requires our conscious attention. In fact, for some activities being unaware serves to be more helpful than otherwise. For instance, imagine how difficult and unnecessary it would be if you had to focus on all the minute details of activities like driving!
The default mode network (DMN) is the neurological network that fuels the auto-pilot of our brain. It is found that DMN assesses the past and determines the future. Habits being results of repeated patterns of behavior can be redesigned by strengthening this DMN network. In fact, 90% of our decisions are the results of the choices we made in the past.
Those who do not self-reflect let their lives be dictated by this autopilot mode. Thus, it can result in a pattern of behavior that may oftentimes be detrimental to one’s growth.
How To Overcome Auto-Pilot With Self-Awareness?
The smartest way to trick yourself into the path of success is to have smarter defaults. A study was conducted across different European countries to find the percentage of people willing to donate their organs after death. Results showed that more than 90% opted for organ donation in countries with default “opt-in” compared to 15% in countries with required “opt-in”.
How to Become Self-Aware & Have Smarter Defaults?
When you evaluate yourself, it only results in two outcomes, either you match your internal standards or you don’t. You take actions depending on how much time and effort you need to change the discrepancy or whether you are really capable of changing it or not. If you think you can, you take action otherwise you don’t.
Below are a few things that you can do to become self-aware and overcome your autopilot state:
1. Practice mindfulness:
Self-awareness is synonymous with mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a mindfulness expert, defined it as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Thus, with self-awareness, you respond to situations objectively instead of reacting emotionally.
You can cultivate mindfulness with meditation. What happens during meditation is that our brains attain the theta state of consciousness. It is a state characterized by relaxed attention. In such a state when you focus on your breath or a mantra, it increases your focus and attention. Therefore, if you practice meditation regularly you will start making mindful decisions in life.
What self-reflection is to self-awareness is what a code is to a program. It is important to know who you are beyond the conditioning of the society, which in this case is the program. What self-reflection does is brings your blind-spots into awareness.
And one of the simplest and best ways to achieve this is through journaling. When you reflect upon your entries, you get to gauge the emotions of a situation a second time but this time from a new perspective. It will help you gain perspective about your actions and their intentions, consequently making you self-aware. Furthermore, you can also ask for feedback from friends, relatives, or anyone you are comfortable being vulnerable with and who you trust will give you constructive feedback.
It promotes mindfulness which in turn increases awareness. Yoga is not just any regular form of exercise. It uses breathwork and exercise to facilitate both physical and mental well-being.
While performing difficult asanas, a yogi realizes that the easiest way to maintain a posture is by focusing on your breath. It increases focus and helps you maintain balance which is the key to mindfulness. So by practicing yoga at least 4 days a week for 20 mins you will become more aware of your thoughts and actions and have a great body at the same time.
4. No overanalysis:
Over-analyzing any unwanted situation will only make it worst for you. With all the possibilities of what it could be, it gets easier to judge and question yourself. Instead of over-analyzing, you should ponder upon your behavior objectively. There is no way you can become self-aware without being objective.
Oftentimes, people beat themselves up by over-analyzing their negatives and unacknowledging their positives. What you have to do is come up with strategies necessary to improve the negatives, while at the same time strengthening the positives.
Thus, to conclude, if you are to get in touch with your true or authentic self, that will benefit you holistically, you have to overcome the autopilot and become self-aware. You can achieve this by practicing the above mentioned mindful activities to tune your DMN positively and have smarter defaults. Consequently, you will discover yourself in the process, and form habits that will help you be a better version of yourself.
Now good luck, and go enjoy the process.