What is Self-Awareness?

Nov 14, 2023 | By Jenna van Schoor

Developing self-awareness is a natural part of our development process as human beings. However, to be genuinely cognisant of our thoughts, emotions and behaviour, we need to hone our ability to be aware of our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

This post will discuss self-awareness and why it’s a critical skill. We’ll also discuss the two types of self-knowledge and share some tips on building competence in both of them.

What is self-awareness?

Becoming cognisant of ourselves as a separate entity from others is a part of our early development. As we learn from developmental psychological theories, our self-awareness evolves  as we grow. However, having an established self-concept doesn’t necessarily mean we are in tune with our inner and outer worlds. 

Apart from the natural progression of the self-concept as one develops as a child, true self-knowledge is quite rare and considered a valuable skill. While many people think they are self-aware, research shows that not everyone is. 

Also, contrary to popular perception, being introspective doesn’t always equate to being fully self-aware. This is because our thinking can result from false assumptions and inaccurate perceptions, ironically due to a lack of external awareness.

Why is self-awareness a critical skill?

Being in tune with your emotions and mental state and how you impact others allows you to communicate better. With this type of insight, you can also respond to situations more effectively and recognise what you need to alter in yourself or your environment to cope or perform better.

In a leadership capacity, this is especially important, as being in a position of power can result in unfair treatment if you are not conscious of your impact. However, this applies to all levels of interaction, as you can build better relationships with anyone if you understand yourself and how you interact better.

Different types of self-awareness

Dr. Tasha Eurich has extensively researched self-awareness and how it benefits self-development, especially when building leadership skills. To do this, her research team completed a comprehensive review of previous studies and conducted their own. As a result, they concluded that there are two types: internal and external self-awareness.

Internal self-awareness

We associate this capacity with introspection, meaning we are in touch with our inner world. Internal awareness includes capabilities like emotional intelligence and being cognisant of how we feel or think and the impact that experiences have on our emotional state.

External self-awareness

Recognising how others see you, allows you to become aware of any blind spots or ideas about yourself that aren’t true. As opposed to self-consciousness, which can become an anxious preoccupation with how others perceive you, external awareness provides a healthy grasp of how your behaviour affects others.

Tips for developing self-awareness

To be truly self-aware, you need to have a balance of both internal and external self-awareness, something that is common in the most influential leaders. 

As we mentioned, many people associate introspection as a sign of self-awareness. However, Dr. Eurich’s research shows this is not necessarily true, as rumination can lead to getting stuck in negative thought patterns based on incorrect assumptions.

There is nothing wrong with introspection, but it needs to be balanced with constructive feedback so you can check your assumptions. But, of course, external feedback can be inaccurate. So, it’s essential to develop a capacity for checking what feels right to you without falling into the trap of unproductive navel-gazing. 

Some practical tools based on Dr. Eurich’s research include the following:

Ask “what” instead of “why”

To avoid falling into an unproductive thought spiral, asking “what” is more helpful. For example, when receiving negative feedback, it’s more constructive to ask what you can do differently instead of asking why the person thought or said certain things about you.

Seek honest feedback

Seeking honest feedback is critical to developing a more comprehensive level of self-knowledge. While the feedback may not be accurate in the first place, this approach allows for a more productive conversation. In addition, by having these open discussions, you can highlight room for improvement for both parties.

However, remember that it’s essential to seek feedback from people you respect and who have your best interests at heart!

Learn more about human behaviour with SACAP Global

Human behaviour is complex, but with the right tools, you can better understand how to become more aware of your inner world and how others perceive you. Research shows that cultivating this awareness can lead to stronger relationships, growth and more effective leadership.

At SACAP Global, we offer a variety of online micro-credentials exploring the concept of human behaviour in-depth, which includes self-awareness. We also offer short online courses grounded in Applied Psychology, course topics include counselling, management, leadership, and business.

Find out more by browsing our list of courses.

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