Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes - Carl Jung
Check yo self before you wreck yo self - Ice Cube
Everything we do at Mindshine is designed with one goal in mind; giving you the tools to live a happier life. These tools are based around the seven main areas we believe hold the key to happiness. We call them the Seven Pillars of Happiness, and over the next seven weeks, we’ll be examining them one by one, starting with Happiness Pillar number 1 - self awareness. Want to know why self-awareness is fundamental to happiness, and how you can develop more of it? Read on...
Nowadays, we spend pretty much every waking second without attention fixed on something or somewhere outside of ourselves. It’s hardly surprising really. We have a little screen in our pockets which allows us to find out any piece of information we ask of it, lets us play games, allows us to snoop at photos of anyone we know, and millions of people we don’t, play any piece of music, learn to play any piece of music, take pictures, shoot movies, edit movies, send written messages to anyone in the world, go shopping, watch tv, and even occasionally talk to our friends. Where the hell else are we going to put our attention? Most of us have such an insatiable appetite for more and more information, and such an inexhaustible supply of said information at our fingertips, that we never look past it.
We’re super absorbed in the external world. And when we encounter problems in our lives, we google for an answer. Order a book from Amazon. Read a blog article. Someone out there knows the answer right? We seek and seek and read and read and that’s where most of us stay, in the outside world. This is our mind losing focus on ourselves and to avoid our internal experience. Suppressing the anxiety that comes with looking into ourselves. Avoiding the real internal work that we need to do on ourselves in order to create real change in our lives.
Simply put, self awareness is the ability to see ourselves clearly. It’s the ability to understand our thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, know our strengths and weaknesses, our passions and our values. Dr Tasha Eurich, bestselling author and one of the organizational psychologists behind a four year study into self-awareness breaks it down into two fundamental types. Internal and external. They are helpfully broken down in the chart below from the Harvard Business Review.
She’s keen to point out that one type is not better than the other, and that the happiest and most successful people in her study actively tried to find balance between the two. But why is knowing ourselves so important anyway?
Self-awareness is like a personal development superpower. A whole raft of psychology studies have turned up evidence that practicing self-awareness is positively correlated with all sorts of desirable outcomes. It has been shown to make us more proactive, boost our acceptance and encourage positive self development (Sutton 2016). It helps us make better decisions (Ridley, Schutz, Glanz, & Weinstein, 1992). It makes us better at our jobs, (Sutton, Williams, & Allinson, 2015) and enhances our powers of self-control, productivity, creativity and self-esteem (Silvia & O’Brien, 2004). But how does it make us happier?
Any attempt to increase your levels of day-to-day happiness have to start from somewhere, and if you don’t know where that place is, you’re going to have a tough time starting.
What makes you happy? If you know the answer to this question, you’re going to have a much better chance of formulating a plan of how to get more of it into your life, but guess what you’ll need to work on to find out… you guessed it! Self-awareness.
If you understand what you’re naturally good at, you’ll be able to steer your life choices down paths where you have a built-in advantage. You’ll enjoy the work because it’ll come easily to you, and you'll impress people, and go further. All this stuff generates happy feelings.
Knowing what you’re not so good at is also a massive help in the quest for happiness. It allows you to swerve situations which won’t suit you, and more importantly it gives you a good idea of the areas in your life which you could benefit most from working on, making you a potentially better rounded person.
The more self-aware you are, the more likely you’ll be to notice the patterns in your life that lead to unhappy outcomes. You’ll start to notice the kinds of thing that tend to trigger difficult emotions in you, and knowledge is power. Once you start to understand these things about yourself, you can work on making them better.
One of the most important things you can do to increase happiness in your life is live a life of purpose, aligned with your core values. When you know what is important to you deep inside, and make that the reason for doing what you do, you hugely increase your chances of feeling satisfied with your choices.
When we are aware of how we’re getting on. When we keep tabs on ourselves, and measure our progress along the paths we’ve chosen, we not only bring ourselves happiness through the achievement of goals, but we gain the ability to steer our course more precisely, making it much more likely we’ll get there.
Alongside all the good virtuous, making-the-right-life-choices markers of happiness, self awareness also helps us to simply know what brings us enjoyment. And when we know what we like, we can make the kind of choices which are right for us. Avoid the parties we don’t want to go to, spend more time in jazz clubs, or doing needlepoint, or reading fantasy novels. Don’t follow the herd. When you know what you really like, do you, and be happier for it.
So if you want to create change in your life, and you’re reading this so I’m guessing you have at least a passing interest in the subject, you know the first step is to develop your self-awareness. Now you’re probably reading this and thinking, “I’m pretty self-aware actually, that’s not my problem”. How do I know that? Well because according to the latest research we all think we’re self-aware. Unfortunately that same research found out that only 10-15% of us actually fit the criteria.
If you’re going to try and work on your self awareness, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Self awareness is really hard to do. It’s WAY easier to stay in our minds, rather than look at ourselves clearly, because when we get a really good look at ourselves, our self esteem can really plummet. The unfiltered truth about ourselves is often uncomfortable, especially when we see it from other people’s perspectives, but in the end, as the saying goes, the truth will set you free. Here are some ways you can do the hard work and gain more self-awareness:
JOURNAL - Sitting down with a pen and paper and just writing about your life is a great way of getting to know yourself. Dedicate a few minutes every day to simply putting your thoughts down on paper. You might be surprised at some of the things you learn about yourself. A great tip from Eurich’s research is to ask yourself questions that start with “what”, instead of “why”. “What do I need to do to fix this?”, instead of “why did this happen to me?”.
ASK FOR FEEDBACK - If you’re trying to get to know yourself, why not ask the people who spend most time with you what they think of you. After all, your friends, family and colleagues must have noticed the odd pattern or strength over the years. Be careful though, ask people whose opinion you value, and don’t get angry if you hear things you don’t particularly like. Their honesty is a gift. As long as it’s constructive, appreciate their feedback. It’s not a criticism. They are working with you for your improvement. It comes from a place of love. If they didn’t care about you it would be far easier to dodge the question and say “everything’s fine”.
MINDFULNESS/MEDITATION - This one’s a no brainer; it comes with a whole host of mental and physical benefits, it calms anxiety, it organises your thoughts and allows you to get in touch with yourself on a deeper level, and it’s FREE.
THERAPY - Sitting down and having a long think and talk about your life is a privilege. It’s a gift to yourself. If you can afford it, it’s a great way of developing your self-awareness.
MINDSHINE - We’ve put a huge selection of self-awareness exercises into our app so you can work on yourself. Download it and have a go!
So there you have it. Self-Awareness; Our Happiness Pillar #1. There are few better ways to invest your time than getting to know yourself better. Notwithstanding the fact that the benefits (like this article describing them) are almost endless, you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with a stranger. Next week we’ll be diving into Happiness Pillar #2, productivity.
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