6 Smart Ways to Boost Your Self-AwarenessMake 2024 the year of ~realizing things~.
When you think of self-awareness, the first things that come to mind might be moments of shocking self-unawareness. The guy on the plane who removed his shoes, the driver who took up 1.35 parking spaces, your Hinge date who aerates their food as they chew it. But there’s so much more to self-awareness than not being the worst.
Self-awareness is knowing “who we are and how other people see us,” says researcher and organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich, PhD, who studies self-awareness. “It’s the ability to see ourselves clearly. To understand who we are, how others see us, and how we fit into the world,” she further explained in a 2017 TED Talk.
There are a bunch of variations on this definition out there, but the gist is that being self-aware means knowing yourself and how you react to people and situations. A systematic review suggests that it can also mean that you understand how your behavior impacts others.
It’s also different from self-consciousness, which can make you incredibly aware of your hands and face when the stakes feel high. With self-awareness, you’re being mindful of your words and actions without judging them. That could look like choosing your words wisely during a job interview, rather than second-guessing everything that comes out of your mouth.
Staying in tune with how we think, act, and feel can make us happier in the long run, explains Dr. Eurich, author of Insight. That’s because we can use this intel to make decisions. When you know what people, places, and situations fill you up and which ones suck the life out of you, you’re better equipped to choose a path that feels good, she notes. Plus, being conscious of how the things we do or say impact others can help us build stronger connections, Dr. Eurich says. Another bonus!
As evidenced by the barefoot airplane guy and the parking spot thief, some folks are naturally more self-aware than others (or just care more about their impact on others, TBH). Some people are curious about themselves or they were taught to be that way growing up, says therapist Rachel Forbes, LCSW.
Whether you’re a self-awareness icon or still figuring things out, we asked mental health pros how you can flex that muscle for major life benefits.
1. Focus on your breath.
Noticing how you’re breathing (without changing anything about it at first) is a great starting place to bring your attention to your body, mind, and what you might need in this moment, says Forbes. “As you inhale, notice the expansion of your lungs and rib cage, and as you exhale, notice how that feels in your body,” she suggests.
Maybe you realize that your breathing is pretty short and you feel like you’re not getting enough air. This can be a sign of anxiety. You can try slowing down your breath to get calm, since “breathwork naturally activates the parasympathetic nervous system response, bringing our bodies into a more restful state,” says Forbes. You might also just need a glass of water and a walk around the block.
Another time, you might notice that your inhales and exhales are chill and don’t need any tweaking. Whatever the case, the goal here is to practice ~noticing things~ about yourself and taking action to make yourself feel better if you need it. That’s self-awareness, baby!
2. Write it out.
Exploring your thoughts via journaling is another good way to get better acquainted with what’s going on inside your head. Grabbing a pen (or your Notes or Journal app, if that’s your vibe) enables you to explore thoughts, fears, values, and feelings, says licensed clinical psychologist Nina Polyné, PsyD.
That can help you gain more awareness because you’re literally tuning into the chatter in your brain and putting it on a page. I mean, how often are you setting aside time to sit with all the stuff floating in your head? While just spending time with yourself in this way can up your self-awareness, reflecting back on the things you’ve written over time can also clue you into major insights about yourself. You might notice that a certain problematic thought pattern keeps showing up or spot another recurring issue in your life. That’s info you can use!
So sit down and write about what you’re thinking or feeling in this moment, what you’re scared of, or what you value. You can also use some of Wondermind’s prompts depending on the kind of day you’re having:
- Journal prompts for when your self-esteem sucks
- Journal prompts for when you’re feeling stuck
- Journal prompts for when you’re lonely
Of course, you don’t always need a prompt, says Dr. Polyné. Setting a timer for five minutes to free-write is another great way to gain a little awareness of self, she says. See where it takes you!
3. Practice acknowledging your feelings without judgment.
If you err on the side of toxic positivity or just feel bad about feeling bad, this one’s for you. Instead of dismissing emotions like jealousy, anger, anxiety, or loneliness, spend some time feeling them without judgment. It’s almost like you’re observing something in a museum, says Forbes.
Then, think about what you need to feel more secure in that moment as you navigate that tough emotion. It could be as simple as telling yourself, “You’re safe,” or burrito-ing in your favorite couch blanket. Whatever you need, the point is to sit with your feelings in a safe space. “When we can bring a sense of safety to our own bodies and minds, we are less likely to try to protect ourselves in reactive and harmful ways,” notes Forbes.
When you make this response a habit, you’re learning to react to uncomfortable feelings in a helpful way. Because avoiding your feelings is actually not that useful, it turns out.
4. Pay attention to your knee-jerk reactions.
Another part of self-awareness is learning why we respond to things like conflict and confrontation the way we do. To get a better understanding of that, it could be worth investigating the roots of those reactions. That self-awareness can help you choose to act differently when you’re triggered in the future, says Forbes.
Say your boss gives you constructive feedback and your first reaction is to tell them they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. Maybe their delivery wasn’t great—but, according to Forbes, asking yourself why you’re getting so defensive can enable you to not take it so personally.
For example, you might think back to the criticism from your parents that made you feel unworthy—and realize that your boss’s comments do the same, says Forbes. By understanding what triggered you, you can remind yourself that your boss is not your mom or dad. And maybe they’re actually just trying to help, she notes.
That said, sometimes we literally don’t know the reason why we feel, act, or think certain things, Dr. Eurich said in her TED Talk. So trying to go all Nancy Drew on yourself might make you feel extremely stuck. If that’s the case, asking what questions (like what made you feel terrible today and what you want to do about it) can help you move forward, Dr. Eurich said.
5. Try a daily check-in.
Before you go to bed, you can do a mini recap of your day to go over things you’re happy with that happened and things you want to improve on. Look at you learning stuff!
The point isn’t to focus too much on all the things you did wrong that day, Dr. Eurich says. Instead, she suggests you ask yourself three main questions:
- What went well today?
- What didn’t go so well today?
- How can I be smarter tomorrow?
Maybe you were able to self-soothe during a particularly stressful moment with your kids by lighting that fancy candle. Good for you! Take note of that for next time. Say you snapped at your partner for forgetting to ask how your doctor’s appointment went. OK! They could’ve remembered, but you could’ve maybe been a little more understanding, right?
6. Invest in therapy.
No matter how many hacks you try, self-awareness can be hard. If you need more help (or an objective perspective) understanding yourself, therapy can help. We’re super complex people after all! “Your therapist can metaphorically hold a mirror up and encourage you to look at your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in new and helpful ways to assist in your self-awareness journey,” says Dr. Polyné. Love that for you.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.