Taking time to reflect: developing self-awareness
It may seem a luxury to take a break from our busy schedules to reflect on our strengths and identify areas we want to develop. However, it is essential to understand our reactions in challenging situations to manage our responses, get on well with others, and build our resilience to deal with challenging situations.
What is self-awareness?
Self-awareness refers to being aware of our reactions, thoughts and feelings, values and aspirations, what motivates us, how we fit in our environment, and how our behaviour impacts others. Being self-aware is an essential skill to help us manage our emotions, make the changes we want to make, communicate well and develop positive relationships with others.
Research indicates that those who are more self-aware tend to be more confident and creative, communicate more effectively, establish positive relationships, and be more content. It also means having an understanding of how other people view us (Eurich, 2017).
However, it does not necessarily mean that we are more self-aware when we introspect. We tend to use “Why” questions when trying to understand ourselves. Research indicates this is not very helpful as we may be biased in our evaluations as we may not look for or consider other perspectives.
Why questions often lead to negative explanations as we try to understand the root causes of events. For example, if we ask, “why did I get such a bad grade? Or why did they not invite me for an interview?” We will look for explanations that are likely to be influenced by our self-doubts and fear of failure.
Taking time to reflect on what is important to us and what we value allows us to identify our priorities in our daily life. It can contribute to building resilience (James, 2011) and it can help us change unhelpful behaviours. We can notice the behaviours that we repeat regularly and often without thinking about them. For example, when trying to work, becoming distracted by our mobile phones.
We get used to picking it up almost without noticing to check messages, but inadvertently we end up scrolling social media, taking time away from our work. This behaviour could have a negative impact on our relationships too, as our family, friends or colleagues might get a sense that we are not paying attention to the conversation,
Reflecting on our experiences and values also makes us aware of our behaviour and how it can affect our relationships with others. It improves our ability to regulate emotions and allows us to improve our communication with others.
We all need to feel connected and have a sense of belonging. When we understand our feelings, their impact on our thoughts and behaviour helps us understand ourselves better and facilitate our communications with others. Identifying our feelings, and being able to manage them, allows us to assess them and moderate our responses.
As we reflect, we may identify what is bothering us so that we can understand and do something about it. For example, we may notice that the job or course we are doing is not as motivating as in the beginning.
We can review our experiences to understand what has happened to determine what we can change to improve things. For example, if the job is increasingly challenging or tasks have changed requiring new skills, or if results in a course are not what we expected. Taking time to reflect to understand enables us to identify how we react to setbacks and learn strategies to deal with these.
Strategies to increase self-awareness
Being a good listener: focus on understanding what the other person is communicating. Notice if you are starting to think of an answer and are waiting for a break to start talking. When this happens, redirect your attention to what the other is saying and notice if you have understood. It is a skill we need to practice – paying attention with an open mind to understand the other person’s perspective.
Checking assumptions: noticing when we jump to conclusions, or assume that what we are thinking is the right way of viewing things, limits our perspective and prevents us from seeing the whole picture. When having a conversation, for example, we may assume that what we are saying is clear to the other, and we are surprised when something unexpected happens, taking us by surprise.
Taking responsibility for our emotions: When something affects us, we might think that other people’s behaviour caused our mood change (annoyance, upset). However, when we are aware of our emotions and understand ourselves better, we know that our emotions are our responsibility. By acknowledging our reactions, we take control to manage our responses. We can view them as signals that something important to us is being raised.
It is helpful to take a few moments to reflect on them. For example, if someone tells us they are unhappy with something we said or did, it may surprise us, or we may think it is unfair. Keeping in mind that our perspective is limited to what we know and feel, we can ask the other person to tell us more so that we can understand their perspective.
When we maintain an open mind and give time to explore what is happening, we can better understand, allowing us to manage our responses. It enables us to prevent misunderstandings and maintain good communication with others.
Seeking feedback: often, we are immersed in our view of the situation, and we cannot see the impact of our behaviour on others. It is helpful to ask people we trust to bounce off ideas with them and hear their perspectives on how they see our behaviour.
Eurich, T. (2017) Insight. How to succeed in seeing yourself clearly. London: Pan Books.
James, C. (2011). Law student wellbeing: benefits of promoting psychological literacy and self-awareness using mindfulness, strengths theory and emotional intelligence. Legal Education Review, 21(2),