What Is Self Awareness? What Does It Mean To Be Self Aware?

How To Be Self Aware

How to become self aware. To be self aware is to fully comprehend our thoughts, feelings and actions. And, perhaps more importantly, how our thoughts, feelings and actions affect self and others. It is the ability to look at our life as others see us. Self awareness becomes the ability to fully understand our surroundings and the ability to determine our course of action. Most of us cannot do this alone. We need input from others. Self awareness involves every aspect of emotional intelligence:

A. Self Perception

  1. Self-Regard: Do I have a healthy self-regard? 
  2. Self-Actualization: Do I know who I really am, what I really want, why I want it and how am I going to achieve it?
  3. Emotional Self-Awareness: Do I know exactly what I am feeling when I am feeling it?

B. Self Expression

  1. Emotional Expression: Am I in control of how I express my feelings?
  2. Assertiveness: Do I have the willingness and ability to act in the face of aversity?
  3. Independence: When I act, am I free to follow my instinct regardless of my circumstances?

C. Interpersonal

  1. Interpersonal: Do I have valuable relationships? Have I defined what I want from my relationship with others?
  2. Empathy: Do I take the time to listen and understand what others are feeling?
  3. Social Responsibility: What do I care and act upon that is greater then myself?

D. Decision Making

  1. Problem-Solving: Do I process decisions in a way that leads me to the right choices?
  2. Reality Testing: How do I objectively evaluate an emotional thought against real life?
  3. Impulse Control: Am I able to subdue impulses in order to achieve long-term goals?

E. Stress Management

  1. Flexibility: Am I capable or willing to bend or flex to change or modify my behavior?
  2. Stress Tolerance: How able am I to relax and stay composed when faced with difficulties?
  3. Optimism: How hopeful and confident am I about the future or the successful outcome of my difficult circumstances

Consequently, we gain self-awareness through objective feedback and honest evaluations of how we impact others. Mentors, supervisors and coaches provide objectivity. There are a variety of tools that lead us to understand self. Most assessments reveal facts. But knowledge can be quite different than wisdom, which is the very thing that would seem to define self awareness. C.S. Lewis said,

True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.

How To Become Self Aware

Personality testing and strengths testing are very productive tools in understanding one’s self awareness. However, this is only the beginning. For example, if someone identifies as an introvert there are times when they must interact with others. In fact their success may demand it. As a coach I would not expect a client to be something they are not. In this example, more of an extrovert. I would explore how this client might develop some part of their emotional intelligence as a solution. Assertiveness and flexibility are two of 15 elements in emotional intelligence would be explored for benefit.

Self awareness is developed through practices in focusing your attention on the details of your personality and behavior. It isn’t learned from reading a book. When you read a book you are focusing your attention on the conceptual ideas in the book. You can develop an intellectual understanding of the ideas of self awareness from a book, but this is not the same. With your attention in a book you are practicing not paying attention to your own behavior, emotions and personality… more

What Is 360 Degree Feedback

Those competent in self-awareness understand and generally feel good about themselves. However, the process of gaining self-awareness can be very painful. Those experienced in 360 degree feedback know how shocking the data can be. Their goal isn’t freedom to act as they will but rather to act in a way that is most effective. The self aware understand how their feelings and actions impact those around them. As important as these two areas they know their goals and are busy working an improvement plan.  2

What Is The Meaning In Life? Your Life?

Life stage is important to becoming self aware. Early in our careers, we are focused on earning a place in society; to develop our profession, family and friendships. At mid-life (approximately 35 years old), we all start asking if this is all there is to life: go to college, get a job, get married, have children all the while living with a feeling of emptiness. Mid-life transitions are all very similar. We get a feeling and start thinking that something isn’t quite right. We begin to struggle on this journey by remembering things we did as a child and wonder why we stopped that activity. Therefore, we realize something is missing in life!

So our journey to self awareness needs to include becoming the person we were created to be. In the absence of understanding your true identity you will become what you are paid to be.

Case Study

In The Hungry Spirit: Beyond Capitalism, A Quest for Purpose in the Modern World, Charles Handy describes the difficulty of connecting with his ideal self:

I spent the early part of my life trying hard to be someone else. At school I wanted to be a great athlete, at University an admired socialite, afterwards a businessman and, later, the head of the great institution. It did not take me long to discover that I was not destined to be successful in any of these guises, but that did not prevent me from trying, and being perpetually disappointed with myself. The problem was that in trying to be someone else, I neglected to concentrate on the person I could be. That idea was too frightening to contemplate at the time. I was happier going along with the conventions of the time, measuring success in terms of money and position, climbing ladders which others placed in my way, collecting things and contacts rather than giving expression to my own beliefs and personality.

Handy’s quest for peace culminated in listening to a different voice and connected with his, “ideal self.”3

While on this journey, a skilled coach can help you recognize what you are sensing, ask the right questions and help you emerge as a new and different person with an awareness of next steps to take on your journey.


The truly self aware accurately assess reality. They can accurately describe their current reality and their past, and why their past drives current behavior. This is a process that many times culminates in a Life Plan. The ultimate goal of the self aware is to know more that reality but to shape it in a way they determine.

  1. The EQ Edge, Third Edition, Steven J. Stein and Howard E. Book
  2. Coleman, Boyatwzis, McKee, Primal Leadership, 117