Self-Awareness, the Key to Success and Mental Wellbeing

by Michelle Velan

“I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion.” – Billie Jean King, American former World No. 1 professional tennis player

“To become different from what we are, we must have some awareness of what we are… Yet it is remarkable that the very people who are most self-dissatisfied and crave most for a new identity have the least self-awareness. They have turned away from an unwanted self and hence never had a good look at it.” — Bruce Lee

Self-awareness is so rarely talked about in the business world and often overlooked when discussing mental health; however, self-awareness plays such an important role in boosting mental wellbeing, building resilience, becoming successful on your own terms, taking advantage of great opportunities (that are right for you), knowing how to set boundaries and taking good care of yourself.⁠⁠

In the Harvard Business Reviews, organisational psychologist and executive coach, Tasha Eurich, writes, “research suggests that when we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and more creative. We make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. We’re less likely to lie, cheat, and steal. We are better workers who get more promotions. And we’re more-effective leaders with more-satisfied employees and more-profitable companies.”

The Oxford dictionary defines self-awareness as “conscious knowledge of one’s own character and feelings.” Broadly speaking, it’s an understanding of your inner world – what makes you unique, what makes you happy and sad, what motivates you, what is meaningful to you, what gives you a sense of purpose and so much more.⁠⁠

In her research on the topic, Eurich, identified two broad categories of self-awareness. The first, which they referred to as internal self-awareness, represents how accurately we know our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions (including thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses), and impact on others. Their research found that internal self-awareness is associated with higher job and relationship satisfaction, personal and social control, and happiness; it is negatively related to anxiety, stress, and depression.

The second category, external self-awareness, considers how other people view us, in terms of those same factors listed above. The research highlighted that people who know how others see them are more skilled at showing empathy and taking others’ perspectives.

Awareness of your feelings, your values and character as well as how other people perceive you, is the first step to self-love, change and growth. You can’t change what you don’t know about.⁠⁠ You can’t change what you can’t accept. And it’s hard to love and accept yourself when you don’t take the time to understand yourself.

Self-awareness and leadership

Author of Harvard Business Review article “How Leaders Become Self Aware,” Anthony Tjan says, “In my experience — and in the research my co-authors and I did for our new book, Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck — there is one quality that trumps all, evident in virtually every great entrepreneur, manager, and leader. That quality is self-awareness. The best thing leaders can do to improve their effectiveness is to become more aware of what motivates them and their decision-making.”

Self-awareness takes courage⁠⁠

When you take the time to get to know yourself better, you won’t always like what you find and that’s normal! Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. By understanding yourself, you will naturally become more compassionate and accepting of yourself.

Unfortunately, many of us mistake the mental chatter in our minds as our real selves, without realising that we are instead the ones who observe the chatter. Our true self is much kinder, more compassionate and wise. If we have the courage to face our inner critic and challenge the negative chatter, we can slowly learn to tame it and learn more about who we actually are. Stillness, mindfulness and meditation all do a great job of quieting the noise to help us better understand our true selves.

“There is nothing more important to true growth than realising you are not the voice of your mind – you are the one who hears it.” – Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul⁠

Self-awareness can lead to more success and joy

Self-awareness allows people to recognise what things they do best and what situations they enjoy so they can invest in those aspects of their life to create more success and happiness. Everyone is unique and what excites your best friend will likely be completely different to what excites you. Self-awareness also helps you accept your weaknesses.

In a blog post on the topic, business leader Gary Vaynerchuk said, “What works for one person doesn’t work for everyone. I want people to learn to be at peace with themselves, to understand what they can offer, because everyone’s got something. The key, however, is learning how to find it. Self-awareness can help you do that. Self-awareness is being able to accept your weaknesses while focusing all of your attention on your strengths. The moment you decide to accept your shortcomings and bet entirely on your strengths, things will change. Trust me.”

Self-awareness is the first step in being able to identify paths that feel right for you, to accept your weaknesses while focusing on your strengths and situations and people that bring you more joy.

Billionaire investor Mark Cuban delivered a keynote speech at the annual Growth Summit, a Fortune-sponsored event where executives and entrepreneurs gathered to talk about growing businesses. Cuban offered plenty of sound business advice, but one of the big takeaways was “know yourself.”

“Know your personality,” Cuban said, explaining how being self aware is key for anyone to effectively sell their brand. Many entrepreneurs are very gifted at lying to themselves about what they can and can’t do, but that’s dangerous. By being self-aware, you play to your own strengths, and delegate out your weaknesses, and this helps build trust with customers as well as colleagues, he explained.

Benjamin Franklin was also famous for his daily reflection practice and the importance he placed on self-awareness. So much so that he kept a “balance sheet” of both the assets and liabilities of his personal traits. He journaled about any new strength he believed he could learn from someone else, and marked down any self-perceived weaknesses, and as a result he was better able to assess whether the “net worth” of his character was growing over time.

Businesswoman, former VP at Apple and CEO of Burberry, Angela Ahrendts, also encourages people to develop self-awareness: ⁠⁠”I tell kids when I interview them: Know who you are. What do you love to do every morning? Don’t let someone else tell you what success is. Success is understanding who you are, how you are naturally wired and what moves you. That’s the lane we need to get you in. If we do, and you work hard, you’ll go to the moon.”⁠⁠

Self-awareness also helps us identify our blind spots

In order to succeed, Hedge Fund billionaire, Ray Dalio says you need to quit two unhealthy habits. One of them being, not realising your blind spots.

“The blind-spot barrier is when a person believes he or she can see everything,” Dalio explains in a “Principles for Success” video.

And that belief is a problem: “It is a simple fact no one alone can see a complete picture of reality. People have different strengths and weaknesses and the best outcomes are created with a wide range of perspectives. While some people are better at seeing the big picture, others excel at seeing details. Some are linear thinkers, and others are more lateral. While some are creative but not reliable, others are reliable but not creative,” Dalio said.

According to Wharton’s top-rated professor for over six years, Dr. Adam Grant, who knows a thing or two about how to succeed, there are two main challenges when it comes to developing self-awareness. First, there are our blind spots. These are our weaknesses that the people around us can easily see, but that we might have a hard time identifying ourselves. People are typically more focused on how we think we look, versus how others most likely see us. Our blind spots only become visible to us when we solicit outside feedback. When we understand how others view us in the world, it’s easier to change our behaviours and expectations.

“I think the big lesson here is that any time a trait is easy for other people to see or hard for us to admit, we can’t trust our own judgment of it,” — Adam Grant on The Science of Success

Of course, if you do solicit feedback, you must be willing to receive it and remember to be grateful that someone is taking the time to help you get better. People will be reluctant to give you feedback if you act defensively and argue every point.

Many smart and successful people struggle to acknowledge their blind spots. They’ve had a lot of success and it fools them into thinking they know everything best. Don’t let that be you.

Learn the top 10 leadership blindspots and how to overcome them

On developing self-awareness

We’ve seen that self-awareness is a critical factor for business-building success and boosting our mental wellbeing. So, how can we become more self-aware?

Here are some helpful tools to develop self-awareness:⁠⁠

  1. Label your feelings and thoughts as they come in. Let’s say you feel anxious, instead of suppressing it or ignoring it, say ‘hello anxiety.’ When you free your mind of the negative chatter and accept your emotions as they come up, you become less distracted and more available to what’s really there so you can develop an understanding of who you are.

  2. Be curious and compassionate with yourself. Instead of judging things as “good” or “bad” learn to be curious. The more kind and curious you can be, the easier it will be to be honest with yourself.

  3. Journal. Get into the habit of writing down your feelings, your goals, your reflections of your day. Journaling allows you to create distance from yourself and can therefore be an incredibly effective tool for developing self-awareness.

  4. Meditate⁠⁠ or practice mindfulness. Meditation and mindfulness help us cultivate the ability to become the observer of ourselves. Rather than thinking that we are our thoughts, we can view them as passing clouds. As we become better at doing this, we can start to observe ourselves and get to know ourselves better.

  5. Talk to a coach⁠⁠. Talking to a coach can give you the space to explore your feelings and values and better understand yourself. Coaches can also help you with your blind spots.

  6. Read and reflect. Reading exposes you to different situations and experiences. By reflecting on the situations you are able to learn about yourself.

  7. Cultivate solitude and spend time alone doing nothing. The more still you become, the easier it will be to hear your intuition and get to know yourself.

  8. Spend time in nature. Nature is calming, it helps to decelerate our mental activity and connects us to our intuition.

Here are some other steps that author Anothony Tjan lays out in the Harvard Business Review:

  • Take tests. “Having a framework for self-awareness helps to bucket your strengths and weaknesses. Personality tests like Myers-Briggs, Predictive Index, and StrengthsFinder have gained popularity in recent years, for good reason. It’s not that such tests are perfect measures or predictors, but they facilitate self-reflection, which leads to better self-awareness.”

  • Watch yourself and learn. Write out your expectations and ideas around a decision and then review it 6-12 months later. “Many successful people follow similar practices: Warren Buffett, for example, has made it a habit for years to write down the reasons why he is making an investment decision and later look back to see what went right or wrong. Such analysis can be qualitative or highly quantitative — think of the executive dashboards that can now give almost instantaneous feedback on the “vitals” and health of a business.”

Wonder Source connects busy professionals to vetted coaches, experts and alternative healthcare practitioners for 1:1 sessions. If you want to develop your self-awareness, working with a coach can be a great place to start.

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