Self-awareness: If I'm Unaware of Myself, Do I Still Exist?

November 13, 2017 | Greg Ketchum | HCI
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Self-awareness is the foundation of change.

I am a child of the 60s, a time of great social change and an awakening to the power of human potential, personal growth and spirituality.

I was a practicing psychotherapist for many years, but now employ my psychological training as an executive coach working with senior technology executives. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been brought into a coaching engagement because people have gotten themselves in a potentially career-threatening situation due entirely to their lack of self-awareness.

Also as part of my mission, I’ve always been a seeker on my own quest to understand myself and the world around me, including my study of psychology, zen Buddhism, quantum physics, and other disciplines.

These experiences combined have led me to a strong belief that the foundational building block of any meaningful personal change is the development and cultivation of self-awareness.

What is self-awareness and what does it provide?

There are many different definitions of self-awareness, but to me, self-awareness is the ability to simultaneously be in the moment and to be an observer of the present. It means reserving a small portion of your awareness to observe yourself and others in interactions, and to take in the total picture of an interaction instead of only being focused on achieving your goal.

“Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.” – Eckhart Tolle

Self-awareness gives you the ability to respond rather than react to people and situations by taking that quick moment to focus your awareness on your feelings, and then make a choice whether to act on them or let them go. It’s the difference between taking your frustration out on someone and having to apologize later, versus knowing you’re in a bad mood and removing yourself from the situation.

How do you cultivate and build self-awareness?

When I was doing research for my master’s thesis, I noticed that many psychological studies used self-monitoring as a way to collect data, but I found no studies that looked at the impact self-monitoring has on behavior.

As a result, I designed my research to study that very situation and found that self-monitoring itself changes behavior. That is, self-observation is not only the primary tool in building self-awareness; it’s also the act of observing yourself, which can result in behavior change.

Self-observation brings one to the realization of the necessity of self-change. And in observing oneself one notices that self-observation itself brings about certain changes in one’s inner processes. One begins to understand that self-observation is an instrument of self-change, a means of awakening.” – George Gurdjieff

Practice or Backslide.

With self-awareness being so fundamental to personal change, the challenge we face is how to sustain that growth in awareness and avoid sliding back into old behavior patterns.

You can’t expect to deepen and sustain the growth in self-awareness without establishing a daily, or at least a regular practice of self-reflection, and there is no better tool for doing that than a journal. This is the one practice that I strongly recommend to all of the executives that I coach.

We don’t just learn a new skill, like developing self-awareness, every once in a while. You’ve got to keep working at it, practicing it, setting reminders to use it and looking for situations for applying new skills. From there, take time to reflect on what worked, what didn’t and how you can improve.

If you want to achieve lasting personal change in yourself and those with whom you work, start with developing your self-awareness by becoming a good self-observer and establishing a regular practice of using a journal as a tool for self reflection.