“Know Thyself.” That’s pretty sage advice. It must be to survive over two thousand years. Many people take that advice for granted. Of course they know themselves. They know what they like to eat, the kind of movies they enjoy, or what they like to do for fun. Some even know what they are good or bad at, although that starts to get a bit too uncomfortable for some of us. But why would such mundane information be so important? Is that the type of knowledge Socrates alluded to all those years ago? The answer is– no, it isn’t.
Sure, it’s nice to know what you like to eat. That makes choosing a restaurant that much easier. But if you want to succeed in life–whatever that may look like to you–it is vital you develop a sense of self-awareness on a grander scale. Simply put, self-awareness is the rudder that guides your ship. Without a sense of who we are and what we believe in, it will be almost impossible to decide where we want to go in life, much less how to get there. We need to know what is important to us. What kind of ethics we value. What success looks like. How we see ourselves, and more importantly, how we see ourselves in conjunction with those around us. How we interact with-and affect–the other players in our lives. Without that sense of what makes you you, moving forward toward any type of goal–personal or professional–is just that much more difficult.
Self-awareness is considered to be one of the most important factors in leadership today (Tjan, A.K., 2012). In fact, if you want to become a more effective leader, the best thing you can do is become more aware of what motivates you and drives your actions and decisions. While this is great advice in business, the same holds true in the personal realm. After all, you are the leader of your own life–you are your own CEO, so to speak. So factors that matter in business also matter outside of the office. By understanding what drives you, you will become more aware of your own actions. You will also notice how those actions affect those around you, which will make you a better communicator. And good communication skills are crucial for a successful leader–or family member (Keyser, J., 2013).
Getting to know yourself should be simple, right? Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. There are several possible reasons for this. One is the fact that many of us just don’t feel we have the time to stop and reflect on what we are doing or how those actions fit into our bigger plan. We are just trying to make it through the day without screwing things up or forgetting to pick the kids up after daycare.
Another reason is some of us don’t feel it’s necessary. In fact, studies show employees who do not practice any type of regular self-assessment consistently score themselves as more proficient than their supervisors during evaluations (Dunning, D., Heath, C., Suls, J. 2004). I can attest to this During my corporate years I found the employees who were the most challenging usually thought they were doing an outstanding job. They rated themselves as exceptional or exceeding expectations when I rated them as meeting or falling below expectations. Needless to say, this difference of opinion did not make for a pleasant review process.
Now, this talk about self-awareness in the grand scheme is all well and good, but how does it translate into daily life. After all, not all of us are managers or business leaders. We just want to find the best ways to achieve our goals–whether they involve losing weight, learning a new language, or maybe even planning a vacation. How do we stay on track? One of the best tools is self-reflection. Self-reflection means taking the time to look at what you did during the day and deciding if it helped or hindered your progress. It is a common practice in education as well as business. At the end of the day–or even an activity–take some time to rate how your actions moved you forward. Or did they? Were they beneficial or a distraction? If a distraction, what lessons did you learn to help in the future? If beneficial, how did they support your goals and how can those wins be incorporated going forward? Do those actions support your grand design?
This type of targeted self-reflection is an amazing way to develop self-awareness in very specific areas. It doesn’t take a lot of time, either. Perhaps 10 to 15 minutes at the end of the workday or before going to sleep. It’s not quite the same as journaling. Journaling is way to record daily events and reflect on them as a whole, sometimes on an emotional level. It’s a good tool to build self-awareness on a more macro level. Targeted self-reflection is a good way to build awareness on specific–or micro–issues such as progress toward defined goals.
I often ask my clients for their biggest take-away at the end of a coaching session. This seemly simple question allows clients to think more deeply about what we have discussed. To consider what was most important to them. Self-reflection reinforces the key issue or issues of the session and helps my clients recognize what is important and why it is important. Reflecting on the session underscores key lessons, especially when a lot of information is discussed in a given session.
If you struggle with goal achievement or even deciding what goals are important to you, make some time for self-reflection each day. You will find it easier to stay on track and stay motivated, and that is the type of help almost all of us could use.
Dunning, David, Heath, Chip, Suls, Jerry M. (2004), Flawed self-assessments. Implications for health, education, and the workplace. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1529-1006.2004.00018.x
Keyser, John, (2013). Self-reflection for self-awareness. Association for Talent Development. https://www.td.org/Publications/Blogs/Human-Capital-Blog/2013/07/Self-Reflection-for-Self-Awareness
Tjan, Anthony, K.,(2012). How leaders become more effective. Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2012/07/how-leaders-become-self-aware