The Change Begins With You!
Sometimes we can be quick to blame other people or circumstances when things don’t go our way. That seems less threatening than looking inward at our own flaws and destructive patterns. But as uncomfortable as it is (especially at first) self-awareness can greatly improve our mental health and overall quality of life.
The most important thing to be aware of is that change starts with you! Invest in understanding your own inner self. You can’t change yourself if you don’t know yourself. It’s the first step to a healthier and happier you.
The benefits of self-awareness can be found in all aspects of our lives. When we have a better understanding of ourselves we can have healthier relationships in our personal and professional lives. Self-awareness allows us to communicate more effectively, see things from other perspectives, regulate our emotions, and generally feel happier.
What is the meaning of self-awareness?
Basically, self-awareness is all about stepping back and observing your thoughts and feelings as they occur. This can be as simple as noticing the thoughts that emerge when you are around certain people.
An even deeper self-awareness allows us to notice how thoughts feed into emotions, physical sensations, and behaviors. For example, you might start thinking about how stuck you feel in your career and then notice yourself feeling sluggish and emotionally drained. As a result, you may find yourself lying in bed too long.
Self-awareness casts light on those parts of your inner world that you might have a tendency to bury or ignore. Those “parts” include thoughts, feelings, urges, and physical sensations. Awareness of all of those things is the first step toward growth and change.
Self-awareness can feel uncomfortable
It takes courage to come face to face with your internal world. It requires shifting your attention from what is going on around you to what is happening within yourself.
So rather than focusing on what others say and do; the focus is placed on what you are thinking and feeling. For example instead of thinking, “my boss is really pressuring me” you to shift to “I feel overwhelmed right now.” The latter gives you rather than your boss ownership of the situation.
A simple way to start practicing self-awareness is by regularly asking yourself:
- What am I feeling in my body right now?
- What thoughts are running through my mind? What am I saying to myself?
- What emotions am I experiencing?
- What am I wanting to do as a result of how I think and feel?
You won’t always like what you find, but that is a good thing!
When you take the time to reflect on your inner experience you will inevitably learn new things about yourself. Some things you may feel proud about and others not so much. However, it is those things you don’t feel so great about that inspire you to do better next time and help you to evolve into your best self.
We all possess a unique blend of strengths and accomplishments coupled with our fears, regrets, and flaws. Once you begin the practice of self-awareness you will naturally uncover challenging, confusing, and embarrassing aspects of yourself. As imperfect humans, we all occasionally think, “I wish I hadn’t done that or said that.” However, if we disregard or justify those thoughts there can be no improvement or growth.
Be aware of your inner critic
Since being self-aware means becoming more familiar with all aspects of yourself, your inner critic is likely to emerge and trigger feelings of shame about certain things. This can actually discourage the continuation of your self-awareness journey. So mindfulness (learning to observe your mind in a detached and non-judgemental way) along with self-care is very important.
Self-care is essential
Because self-awareness exposes uncomfortable pieces of your inner world it’s critical that you practice self-care and self-compassion. Otherwise, it is like exposing a wound with no attempt to heal it. Self-awareness is not about self-judgment; it’s about being honest with yourself. And that honesty is best served up with a healthy dose of self-compassion.
Ask yourself what you can do to feel calm and grounded if self-awareness starts to overwhelm you. Or what you can do to manage any strong emotions that arise.
First and foremost it always helps to soften your self-talk. Beyond that choose activities that soothe your mind and body. For some people that can be a brisk run outdoors or cranking up some favorite tunes. For others, it can be cuddling with a pet, reading a good book, taking a hot bath, or enjoying a cup of hot tea.
Be aware of the part of your defense mechanisms
Our initial reaction to self-awareness might be to push back. It can feel scary to take an honest look at ourselves…warts and all. Our mind wants to shield and protect is from things we don’t like about ourselves. The truth is that self-awareness is a lifelong practice and not something that happens overnight, especially if you have a history of trauma. Small, doable steps are key, and sometimes support and guidance from a professional may be necessary.
The role of self-awareness in therapy
Self-awareness is the starting point for better understanding ourselves and our relationships, supporting our mental health and well-being, and living a fulfilling, joyful.
Self-awareness can equip you to handle the challenges that lay ahead in life.
So how do you improve your self-awareness?
There is so much to be said on this topic! For starters some of the ways that we can enhance our self-awareness are as follows:
- Breathing exercises
- Talking with loved ones
- Meeting with a therapist
- Trying new things
- Taking risks (we grow from both successes and failures)
- Become a better listener and be open to other perspectives
- Ask for feedback
Self-awareness is not the only catalyst for personal growth and mental health, but it is a good place to start. Life is messy for every single one of us. We can’t make any positive changes in ourselves, our relationships, or our level of life satisfaction until we are willing to take an honest look at ourselves. We just need to make sure we are doing so through a lens of kindness, compassion, and self-love.
For more on this important subject be sure to check out my article in New York Daily News Online.
Licensed Psychotherapist, Mental Health Consultant & Certified Coach.