Leaning into a brand new year, one of the best personal growth keys you and I should pursue is a healthy amount of self-awareness in our everyday lives and in our personal and professional pursuits.
Put simply, without self-awareness, we are tricking ourselves into living out life through the perception of reality instead of reality. On the flip side, when we’re not tricking ourselves, we are putting ourselves in a position to grow and ultimately succeed.
Fundamentally, self-awareness is an honest understanding of yourself: your personal habits, strengths, areas in which you need improvement, your way of perceiving life. And the more you know about yourself, the better you are at adapting to change, growing steadily and positioning yourself for success.
So, how do you become self-aware? One of the most effective and honest ways is by inviting feedback into your life. Honest feedback. Really honest feedback.
I grew up in a generation in which everyone got a trophy just for showing up. In T-ball, everyone was a winner, even if you came in 15th place. And while I am an enormous proponent of encouragement and empowerment, both of those valuable assets—without regular, honest feedback—mask blind spots in a person’s character. Worse yet, a sustained “everyone gets a trophy” culture supports mediocrity. The challenge, therefore, is to actively invite feedback into your life from people who know and love you the most.
Related: How Would Your Friends Rate You?
If you’re unsure about how to initiate that kind of conversation, take this cue as a start:
[To your friend/colleague/family member]: I need you to be really honest with me. I know you care about me and I know this may be hard for you to do, but I absolutely need your honest, truthful feedback in order to grow and become the best I can be. How am I doing in [a particular area of life or skill set]? Do you think I’m capable of [achieving this goal]?
After, take a deep breath, swallow hard and make adjustments. Hear me out: This exercise isn’t to celebrate self-deprecation; it’s an honest growth tactic to keep you from living in a fantasy. A key benefit of inviting feedback into your life is that doing so keeps your “knife” sharp, so to speak. Allow me to explain.
Just the other day, I was coaching a group of executives in a midsize organization here in the Detroit area. Teaching on this very subject, I shared that as a pretty serious home cook, I take the care of my equipment seriously, especially my knives. And the most dangerous knife in my arsenal is the dullest knife—the knife that has not met an adequate amount of abrasion, or conflict, with a sharpening stone. And that’s exactly the function of often abrasive, confrontational self-awareness in our own life.
No one likes hard conversations. No one likes the pain of owning up to embarrassing mistakes. And no one likes conflict. But I’d like to propose that developing the maturity of character to step into conflict, through self-awareness, keeps us sharp, effective and efficient as we meet the challenges of everyday life; totally unlike the platform created by social media.
Thanks to social media, all of us have become our own public relations agency, tasked with publishing our most polished selves for all the world to like, adore, comment and even share. Heck, I’ve done it. Is there anything inherently wrong with it? No. But what troubles me about this trend is the obsession with digital affirmation as a motivation for posting. Sometimes, if we don’t generate a response within a few minutes, we delete the post and try later, right? Why? Because we’re hooked on likes, comments and retweets as a measure of our total worth and value. Yet all of these distractions from truth blind us from apprehending the gift of self-awareness, honesty and feedback (which ultimately leads to growth) in this very real, obstacle-riddled world.
In a 2013 article published by The New York Times, the author cites a Harvard Business School theorist who studied how self-awareness aids one’s overcoming obstacles in life. In it, the author states:
“…Professor Argyris [the business theorist] called the most common response single loop learning—an insular mental process in which we consider possible external or technical reasons for obstacles. Less common but vastly more effective is the cognitive approach that Professor Argyris called double-loop learning. In this mode, we question every aspect of our approach, including our methodology, biases and deeply held assumptions. This more psychologically nuanced self-examination requires that we honestly challenge our beliefs and summon the courage to act on that information, which may lead to fresh ways of thinking about our lives and our goals. In interviews we did with high achievers for a book, we expected to hear that talent, persistence, dedication and luck played crucial roles in their success. Surprisingly, however, self-awareness played an equally strong role.”
Yet amid all this, there’s one more key ingredient to the self-awareness mix, and that’s applied self-knowledge. Imagine texting while driving. Slave to the ping of the latest message, you take your focus off the road in order to glance at your phone. Mere seconds later, eyes back on the road, you’re dangerously drifting into the opposite lane.
Self-awareness allows you to acknowledge, “Yes, I was texting while driving.” But that acknowledgement alone doesn’t lead to change and growth beyond the harmful behavior. However, applied self-knowledge does lead to behavior change. Self-knowledge begs the answer to the question, “Why was I texting while driving in the first place?”
When we can form answers to the motivations behind our thoughts and actions, productive or unproductive, followed by an action plan to pivot our accompanying behavior, we’ll be better positioned to experience lasting growth in our personal and professional life.
Self-awareness is not self-deprecation. Nor is it self-consciousness. Instead, self-awareness will keep you focused on that which matters most and keep you away from those things that will distract you from your purpose, allowing you to grow in areas of strength and at the same time be aware of your blind spots.
That’s the point. We’re all in process. If we’re going to be our best for those who matter most in life, we do need encouragement and empowerment. But we also need a healthy dose of honest, growth-motivated, truth-founded feedback. We can gobble-up all the self-help guides and personal growth strategies money can buy, but if we don’t know ourselves well enough to put any of it into effective, specific practice, we’ll never arrive at the greatest place of success possible in this short life. And that is simply, yet powerfully, becoming the best version of who we were destined to be.
Related: How to Overcome the Fear of Feedback
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