When I was 7 years old, my family took a cross-country trip from British Columbia to my dad’s hometown in Ontario (west to east of Canada, in case you’re still sharpening up your Canadian geography) to go to one of his best friend’s weddings. I overheard a conversation about my dad’s ex-girlfriend who taped buttons to her cheeks in an attempt to create dimples. I sat there, totally fascinated and tucked that beauty tip into my memory for later use. Disclaimer: probably not true.
Later, as we were walking down the aisles of the small, hometown grocery store, we ran into an old friend of my dad’s — the ex-girlfriend’s best friend, of course. We stood there chatting for a few minutes and when she introduced herself I said, “Oh, are you the one who tapes buttons to your cheeks to get dimples?” I knew before the word ‘dimples’ left my mouth, I shouldn’t have said it. It was one of the first foot-in-mouth moments I can remember.
As the woman tilted her head to the side staring at me blankly, I felt my mom’s eyes burn into the side of my head and heard my dad laugh uncomfortably.
Like many kids, I didn’t overthink what came out of my mouth or how I acted. I was just fully and authentically me. As time went on, I experienced many more ‘foot-in-mouth’ moments and purple-in-the-face embarrassment. Experiencing these emotions caused me to be more guarded with my actions and emotions. I was no longer a kid acting and reacting from a blank slate of experience and perception. I realized that my behavior, verbal and non-verbal, would be a starting point for how the world would define me.
My whole life, I had so deeply desired to be liked, ‘well-behaved’, and seen through a positive lens. Where this stems from, I’m still not 100% sure, but as a result, my perceptive personality went into overdrive. For better and worse, I listened to how people spoke, their likes and dislikes, and what they consider what is ‘good’ vs. ‘bad.’
My guard continued to grow and as a result, I started acting less like my authentic self and more like a self that I thought people wanted to see, heavily influenced by my perception of the opinions and thoughts of others.
Wanting to be everything to everyone is exhausting and anxiety provoking to say the least; not to mention, impossible.
Considering this, the collective ‘they’ might say that ‘ignorance is bliss’; it would be so much easier to not be aware of my surroundings and to say what I feel all the time. Yet despite my struggle with defining my true self, I would have to disagree.
What I realized with time is that having authentic self-awareness that allows you to act like the truest form of yourself is a super power that isn’t always easy to have. It goes beyond being ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ and acting how you think the world wants to see you. It’s about connecting with your own purpose on a deeper level — your wants, hopes, desires, and passions and then using what you know about the world around you to feel happy, satisfied, and joyful.
Getting in tune with these dimensions of yourself helps you act more authentically, consciously, and from a place of kindness and love, and creates an understanding of the world and your unique place in it. Harvard Business Review even wrote an article recently saying, “When we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and more creative. We make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively.”
Realizing that being self-aware doesn’t just meant doing and saying the ‘right’ things all the time was a game-changer for me. It means understanding what I love about myself and how to give more of that while also being in tune with things that I want to improve with ways to take action.
With my 31st birthday sneaking up on me at the end of June and the start of my 32nd year, I’ve been seeing this as an opportunity to hit refresh; to reflect and cultivate a deeper sense of awareness because just like my year changes, so do my needs, wants and desires.
Along your journey, remember being more self-aware doesn’t mean trying to reach perfection it simply helps make you the best you can be in that moment.
Here are 6 things you can do to cultivate more self-awareness:
Get to Know The Real You
Grab a journal and a pen and sit down with your mind and enough time and space to really think this through. Without your mind wandering to who you wish you were or how you wish other people saw you, answer the following questions:
- I feel the happiest when….
- I get the most energy when…
- I feel upset when people talk about….
- I feel angry when _______ happens
- People seem to really like ___________ about me
- I think that I could have communicated better in _________ situation
These are just a few simple questions to spark your own thought process. Answer others that come to mind!
Reflection is a really powerful process that takes time and energy in order to be effective. If we go through the motions of life without thinking about how they made us feel, we’ll never improve or reach the next level. Imagine if Apple had never made the iPod into an iPhone? Iteration can be applied to our life in the same way.
I did this when I got back from my solo trip to Bali last year, and it was so eye-opening. One of the biggest things I realized was that while I loved the places I went to and was surrounded by great people, I often felt alone, which made me sad. Taking this one step deeper, it helped me realize how much I value security and a sense of community. I love to travel and see the world, but I am not a digital nomad, nor do I want to be one.
What is something you’ve done or experienced recently? How did you feel? How can this feeling be applied to your life in general?
Find the nuggets of truth to find areas of opportunity
If you’ve ever had a review or gotten in a fight with a friend, you know that feeling when you get the negative feedback. Whether it’s about your work, your personality or your character, it hurts. But the truth is, we all have areas to improve — even Beyonce. Life would be really boring if we never had anything to work towards.
I truly believe that we’re all doing the best we can with what we have. Chances are, you didn’t mean to hurt your friend’s feelings or screw up at work! I know it’s hard, but the less personally and defensively we can take feedback, the more we can find the little nuggets of truth and apply the learnings to the next time we’re in a similar situation.
Here’s an example: your supervisor told you that your communication in a certain exchange wasn’t effective. Instead of thinking of an excuse or going on the defensive (which we all do!) say, “Can you explain a little bit more and give an example of how I could do this differently next time?” Even if you don’t totally agree, try to see things from their perspective and work on it for next time.
Understand how the world perceives you
For better or worse, what you see in the mirror and how you sound in your head are probably not exactly how the world sees you. There are a couple of ways you can do this:
There’s no more direct way to find things out than to just ask. I did this once for a course, and while it was slightly uncomfortable, I found that people were more than happy to help me out. What was interesting is that most people’s feedback was very similar. I was able to take this commentary and really understand how I was seen in the eyes of others.
You can pick up on a lot of cues in how people talk to and communicate with you.
Set goals with a why
We all know that setting goals is important. They hold us accountable, help us prioritize, make us better decision-makers, and give a sense of purpose. But what’s the point in setting goals if they’re empty of reason? Having a personal why and connection for everything we do, personally and professionally, not only makes you more likely to achieve it, it also helps you get to know yourself.
- Goal: Earn More Money
- Why 1: Purchase a House
- Why 2: Feel Financially Stable
- Why 3: Sign of Success
- Goal: Run a Half Marathon
- Why 1: Personal Bucket List
- Why 2: Be in better physical shape
- Why 3: Sense of accomplishment
Have you ever gotten out of the shower and forgotten if you washed your hair or not? Really hoping that’s not just me.
One of the first steps in gaining self-awareness is becoming more mindful. Our busy schedules and constant thinking about our to-do lists, make it so easy to go through the day mindlessly, moving from one thing to the next. Becoming more present in our day-to-day actions allows us to understand our emotions and connect with a physical sense of being.
When you feel yourself slipping away from the moment ask yourself “where are you?” The answer is always, “I am here now.”