You spend all your time with yourself. 24/7 you listen to your thoughts, feel your emotions, and dream your dreams.
So we tend to think understanding ourselves is obvious: "How could I not know myself? I am me, right?"
Well, have you ever thought some of these?
- "Why the hell did I do that? It makes no sense."
- "What he did made me so angry. I don't understand why."
- "I have no idea what I want."
They are evidence that we don't know what's happening inside us as well as we might think.
That's why it's a worthwhile effort to better understand how your mind works. Actually, it's likely the best investment of time and energy you can make to improve your life.
The positive effects of understanding yourself even 1 % better will ripple through your life and return 1000x in your daily happiness, enjoyment, and peace of mind.
Understand your mind
Think about self-awareness as your ability to recognize what's happening inside your mind.
Practicing self-awareness means noticing what you are thinking and feeling in your everyday life.
It's like you if were watching yourself do things.
Take on the mindset of a scientist studying an object. Collect information about what you think, feel, and do as if studying a different person.
Getting better at observing yourself will give you valuable self-knowledge you can use to increase control over your life.
Increase control over your life
As you collect more data, you will notice patterns in your emotions and actions.
Some might be negative, like:
I get tired after lunch on most days, so I often procrastinate the second half of my workday.
And others positive:
Anytime I work in a coffee shop, it's much easier for me to focus for hours without interruptions.
Observations like these will help you understand how your mind and body behave in various situations, which will give you the power to change your behavior.
Imagine this as creating a how-to manual to yourself.
Your growing self-awareness will enable you to go deeper and deeper into how your mind works. You will notice thoughts and feelings you haven't before.
This will keep expanding your self-knowledge and give you more control over your life.
Once you get this loop going, it feeds itself on new observations because the more self-knowledge you gather, the easier it gets to gain more. It becomes a habit.
So the real challenge is to start practicing self-awareness when you're not used to doing it.
How to practice self-awareness
I share here different methods for practicing self-awareness to give you options. Of course, you don't need to do all of them. Try some, find your favorite, and use that one.
- Write a journal: Writing things down will help you get them out of your head and see them more clearly. Sit down regularly and just capture your stream of thoughts. Ask questions and answer them. Have a dialog with yourself. Journaling is the easiest and most effective way of cultivating self-awareness. (My seven rules for journaling.)
- Reflect in public: Writing in public while reflecting on your thoughts and experiences is similar to doing it in private. It forces you to explain things more clearly, so others understand them but doesn't allow you to share your most intimate fears and feelings. (Or maybe it does. I leave that decision to you.)
- Do nothing: There is so much noise everywhere: feeds, notifications, emails. Always being busy is the enemy of self-awareness. Take some time to just do nothing and let your mind think what it wants to think. You just observe. Go on walks without headphones. Eat your meals without Youtube. Turn off your notifications and reserve some time just to daydream.
- Meditate: We might count this as one way to do nothing. The core of most meditation techniques is learning to focus your attention on what's happening inside and around you. That's exactly what we need to practice. If you like the idea of meditation, try Headspace.
- Self-awareness conversations: This is a fancy name for what most of us probably already do: talking to people about our decisions, problems, and experiences. I suggest doing it more often and deliberately analyzing how you think. Find a self-awareness buddy and be a mirror that helps each other see their thoughts differently.
Self-awareness is a meta-skill worth improving. Knowing how your mind works increases your ability to steer your life in the direction you want instead of being bounced around by the whims of external circumstances.
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