3 Self Awareness Exercises For The Dubious Naysayer

Self Awareness Is Dubious At Best

“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.”

C.G. Jung

Today, I’m going to share three brief exercises which will immediately begin building your self awareness.

There are a couple different types of self awareness. Situational and dispositional self awareness, but we’re going to focus on dispositional self awareness here.

Dispositional self awareness can be thought of as the way you tend to be aware of how your own mind works as well as how you experience the world and others you interact with. (Fenigstein et al., 1975)

Self awareness is the foundation of a healthy emotional life and a healthy social life. Self awareness is also fundamental to emotional intelligence and to the realization of the life you most want to create for yourself.

So…I want you to write this on a rock:

No self awareness, no progress. 

Here’s what this means. 

In order to establish for yourself that you are worthy of your own esteem, you need to be aware of the moments when you’re living in integrity and when you’re not living in integrity.

In order to understand what “living in integrity” looks like for you, you need to be aware of and declare what you value most. You need to be aware of your strengths and your limitations. You need to be aware of the filters through which you experience your life. 

To gain the respect and esteem of others, you need to be aware of how you and your emotions impact others. You need to know how your listening impacts others. You need to be able to demonstrate understanding and acceptance. 

Without a healthy level of self awareness, there’s simply no way you could do, know, or understand those things.

Without a healthy level of self awareness, you will be condemned to live on a “Groundhog Day” treadmill, always asking yourself, “Why does this keep happening to me?” 

In other words, your current life is your default future.

But you can change that.

Blessedly, thanks to neuro-plasticity, you can remake your mind so it serves your highest and best interests. Self awareness is derived via a basket of skills that everyone, including you, can learn. Practice is all it takes.

You can grow your self awareness without needing to sit atop a meditation cushion for hours on end. 

You’ll need pen and paper for this work, some daily quiet time for reflection, a little patience and an open mind. With those tools you’re ready to head exactly where you want to go.

If you’re ready to retake control of your life and take up a journey to a more rewarding, more tranquil, and more contented life, let’s get started with these three brief exercises.

Discover What You Think About Yourself

“These are the characteristics of the rational soul: self-awareness, self-examination, and self-determination. It reaps its own harvest.. . . It succeeds in its own purpose . . .”

Marcus Aurelius

In this exercise you’re going to reflect on moments in your life when you felt like you were doing something meaningful or important. 

Keep in mind that the moments neither need to be a life-altering event nor a huge thing. Just recall a moment (or moments) when you felt great about what you were up to, and that it felt meaningful or important to you.

Start small. Pick one detail from what you remember and ask the following series of questions:

    1. What was it about that detail that made it pop into my consciousness just now?
    2. …and the cool thing about that detail that lights me up is…[fill in the blank].
    3. Describe the physical sensations you experience when you recall that detail.
    4. What other similar experiences come to mind now that you’ve reflected on this one? Apply the questions you’ve just asked to this experience.
    5. Finally…connect the dots between the two experiences.

 

Here’s an example to get your mind working.

I had the opportunity to do some coaching at a high school a number of years ago, and I almost always remember it as a highlight of my life. Here’s how I would answer the questions based on that experience of coaching.

    1. What was it about that detail that made it pop into my consciousness just now? I had students who got to discover a creative side of themselves that they’d never noticed before.

       

       

    2. And the cool thing about that detail that lights me up is…[fill in the blank].
      I never stood over them and told them what they had to do, or how they had to do it. I posed a problem and allowed them to uncover the possible solutions, and then decide on a solution. I helped transform them from timid, passive learners to young people who experienced a strong dose of their own self-agency, and who in turn passed that on to the next class behind them.

       

       

    3. Describe the physical sensations you experience when you recall that detail.
      I feel all the smile muscles in my face begin to work, my breathing deepens, and my head starts nodding involuntarily. I sense an inner urge to jump up and tell everybody about this great experience I had.

      I also feel a deep “expansion” in my solar plexus region because I’m attracted to that kind of relationship and personal interaction with others in the future

       

       

    4. What other similar experiences come to mind now that you’ve reflected on this one?
      I’m reminded of how I did the same thing with a bunch of folks I supervised who had never been given much in the way of autonomy prior to my arrival

       

    5. Finally…connect the dots between the two experiences.
      I was able to empower a completely different group of people in the exact same way I did with the high school students, even though they were completely different people.

  1.  

After completing a reflection like this, it becomes a natural, automatic next step to start connecting dots. If you do this exercise once per week, in the span of 6 weeks you’ll have gathered a lot of data about yourself.

That will help you begin imagining a different future for yourself. More on that later. But before that we need to…

This exercise is about getting positive feedback. You’re going to ask your friends to give you feedback about what they admire most about you. It’s always a surprising and rewarding venture, so I think you’ll enjoy this a great deal.

While it may feel somewhat intimidating at first blush, allow me to assure you that there is a fabulous benefit for both parties in this exercise and the “return on risk” can’t be overstated. 

Here’s how you go about it:

STEP ONE: Make a list of 3 to 8 friends or acquaintances. These should be people whom you know love you and want you to be happy, because you’re going to ask them to give you feedback about your personal strengths.

Now look, one of the great mistakes people who suffer from stress, anxiety and depression make over and over again is discounting the positive. I want you to force yourself to assume positive intent from everyone who comes to mind. 

I know how easy it’s going to be to discount what someone tells you by saying, “Oh, they’re just nice to me because it’s…Tuesday… (insert your preferred justification).

Don’t do that. Assume positive intent from everyone. Okay…moving on…

STEP TWO: If you’re really gutsy, call them on the phone. If not, email them (either way works just fine). Make the following request using these words: 

I’m hoping you could help me with something. I’ve decided to start re-imagining myself by building my self awareness. It would be really helpful to know what you think my strengths are or what you think I’m really good at. Would you mind dropping me a note with your observations and how you see that play out in my life?”

As you can see, it’s a very simple request. And, a couple cool things are going to happen here. 

First, you’re going to get a thoughtful, honest response. It will be a view from a different angle on your life, and it may take you by surprise. 

But the feedback will be genuine, and you need to treat it with utmost respect. Do not allow yourself to discount the feedback.

Second, you’ll never hear anybody say this but, they’re going to be impressed with you for even making the request.

Nobody will hear it as you fishing for compliments. Nobody. In fact, they’ll even start wondering if it’s something they ought to do. 

Why? Because, it’s so rare that people choose to bust out of their molds, open themselves up to feedback, and then honor the feedback once received. As a result, people will see this as very cool, and very attractive.

COMPARE AND CONTRAST!

STEP THREE: Analyze the feedback. Look for the common denominators between the various comments your receive. See what kind of picture begins forming in your mind.

Compare and contrast it to how you think about yourself, and consider how you can harmonize the two pictures.

I did this with one of my clients who started crying when he read the various comments he received. This was a guy who was so hard on himself that it never occurred to him that anybody could have anything nice to say.

There’s a lesson in there for all of you. People who are depressed, anxious or stressed out are typically overly self-critical, and generally have not been paying attention to their strengths and positive qualities. 

As a result, the recipients of the feedback frequently say things like, “Wow. I didn’t think I was doing anything special,” or “Holy mackerel, I didn’t think anybody noticed that.”

“If All My Troubles Were Gone When I Woke Up Tomorrow…”

Dawn of self awareness

This is an important thought experiment. You’ve been skulking around the battleground of your stress, anxiety or depression for so long that you can’t even imagine another way of being.

You know you want things to change, you want things to be better, but what would better look like? How would you know it when it showed up?

To get to the bottom of this, ask yourself these questions:

  1. “If I went to bed tonight and by some miracle, when I awoke in the morning, all my struggles were gone, how would my life be different?”
  2. “What would I be seeing?”
  3. “What would I be hearing?”
  4. “What would I be doing that I’ve never done before?”
  5. “What would I be doing that I stopped doing because of the struggles?”
  6. “What would people be saying to me?”
  7. “What would I be saying to them?”

 

Get pen and paper in hand. Write all of this stuff down! This is benefit-rich intelligence, but you’ll only be able to capitalize on it if you write it down and use it. 

Within the answers to these questions you’re going to find the bedrock of your most important values. 

You’ll reveal to yourself the fuel that will power your engine of change, because you’ll have uncovered the core tenets of your purposeful, meaningful life.

Once you have those tenets, nobody can take them away from you. They’ll be there for you to build upon as you go deeper in your quest for self awareness.

Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, I’m assuming this is something you want to do for yourself. So let me ask you something.

“What are you waiting for?”

If you’re anything like me (and tons of others just like us, frankly) you may be concerned about your ability to “do it right.” To find the “correct answer.”

Let me disabuse you of those notions right now. There is no right or wrong. There is no correct or incorrect. There is only learning.

The only “mistake” you could possibly make would be to avoid doing these exercises.

Once you have gained the insights that are available from these exercises you will be poised to:

  • take the next steps in your personal growth quest. 
  • take the next steps toward your best possible future self. 
  • take the next steps toward your highest and best purpose.


The life you really want to be living is waiting for you. I promise you it’s not going anywhere. It will be eternally patient, but…the time for action is now, and baby steps are all that are required.

What is your biggest barrier to taking the first step toward greater self awareness? Please share in the comments section below.

In the meantime…I bid you peace.

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Mike Walsh

Mike Walsh

Mike is a researcher, writer, certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, and Prosci certified Change Management Specialist. He is on an perpetual quest to self-actualize and would love it if you'd join him on the journey.

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