Sunday, 25 January 2015

How to get more self awareness


Here I was, sitting in my car in the parking lot after work, unwilling to turn the key in the ignition. As much as I wanted to go home, I hesitated - there were guests in my house, and I couldn't face to see them just yet. However, just sitting there made me bad tempered, because it felt to me that other people were keeping me out of my own home. I muttered to myself how stupid it was and how much I resented the whole situation and got myself pretty worked up.
As you can imagine, by the time I got home I was in a foul mood which radiated off me like toxic fumes and made everyone feel uncomfortable.

You may ask yourself: Had something happened? Were these guests unwelcome ones? Had there been a huge fight? Were they obnoxious?
Nothing of the sort. They were actually dear friends whom I loved and whose company I enjoyed greatly. I honestly didn't know why I was feeling that way, and was ashamed of myself. What was wrong with me?

Today I want to talk about something that is absolutely essential for your well-being and happiness. I didn't possess it for the longest time, which caused me a lot of anguish and unhappiness. You can probably guess what it is from the title - I'm talking about self awareness.

The above scenario happened a few years ago when I was sorely lacking self awareness. What I didn't realize at the time was that I am an introvert. I am outgoing, not shy at all and enjoy being around people. That's why I always regarded myself as a "people person". However, after a day at work where I deal with dozens of patients and co-workers I need some alone-time to recharge.
But here is the thing: I didn't know that about myself. I didn't know that there was a simple explanation for my feelings of dread towards having to deal with my friends at home. All I needed was an hour or so of being by myself, and then I would have enjoyed the evening ahead with my guests.
As it were, I felt stressed, resentful, and guilty about feeling stressed and resentful. Our guests sensed that something was off, my husband was angry, and the evening was a disaster.

This is only one example of what can happen as the result of a lack of self awareness. If you don't know yourself you might end up in the wrong relationship, with friendships that are bad for you, in a job that makes you unhappy, living a lifestyle that keeps you wishing for more.

I am the furthest thing from an expert on this topic (after all, I didn't know myself for 33 years), but I did learn a few things about gaining more self awareness over the last year and a half. It has made a world of difference in my life, and made me a whole lot happier!

Here are a few tips that helped me:

Read (blogs, books, magazine articles...)
I first started to recognize myself in the stories of others. I would read a blog post and find myself nodding along, thinking "yes! exactly!". Often it surprised me, because I had thought of myself as a different person. Then I came across Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, and it was one of the biggest revelations ever. It felt incredibly liberating to find so many examples of people who are like me, and to learn that I'm not the only one feeling the way I do. With the internet at our fingertips, you can search literally anything - type "why do I feel" into the search engine, you might be surprised at the suggestions that come up!   

Talk - and listen
Having honest and open conversations is essential to learning about yourself. It doesn't even have to be with close friends - I have had amazing connections with virtual strangers, be it patients at work, someone I met at a dinner party, or via email exchange through blogging.
I particularly enjoy listening to older people who have a wealth of wisdom to share: you may identify yourself with a stranger more than with friends and family sometimes. Life has a funny way of sending people our way who can be helpful to us - let it happen and learn from it!

Be honest to yourself
Have you ever tried to describe yourself in a few words? It is surprisingly difficult. But since we all have to do it occasionally (for job interviews, our Instagram or Twitter accounts, online dating, the About page), it is a necessary task. And an important one! Here is the kicker: we may inadvertently lie about our character traits because we like to see ourselves in a certain light. For example, I used to always describe myself as a spontaneous, adventurous person, and I truly thought that I am.
However, after lots of self reflection I have to admit that I only like to be spontaneous when it's carefully planned, and while I like the idea of being adventurous, I often balk at the reality of it.
In short: I'm not as cool as I always thought I was.  
Which brings me to my next point:

Be accepting
Accept yourself for who you are. In the past I really struggled with perceiving myself as being different from most people. All I wanted to be was "normal". Normal, yet also cool, the life of the party, up for anything and a bit wild! Turns out I need to take medication for depression, I can't make small talk, I am awkward, and a creature of habit. Totally not how I wanted to see myself!
I also had to come to terms with my lack of desire for wanting children (I was convinced something was wrong with me), for not needing as much "girl time" as most other girls seem to, and for being a bit wacky. But you know what? That's me! That's how I was made, and there is nothing wrong with it.
Learn who you are, what makes you happy, accept yourself and be YOU! I believe that's the secret to happiness.

Journal
This may not be for everyone, and to be honest, I don't do it myself. But I blog, which is different yet similar, and it has helped me tremendously to figure myself out. Writing things down has a way of clarifying them for me. To quote Joan Didion: "I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear."
I couldn't have said it better.
      
Do you have any advice of how to become more self aware? Please share in the comments, I would love to hear it! 
  




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6 comments

  1. thanks for this post miriam, it's what i needed to read today :)

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  2. This really spoke to me and I agree that by reading blogs I have been able to find so many stories out there that have resonated with me.

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  3. What a great way to start off my Monday :) I definitely know what you're talking about - if you don't know yourself, you don't know what you actually want, who you actually like, what really makes you happy, and so many other things...I've definitely been there! I think self-awareness isn't necessarily "attained" at one point and then you're good: I think it comes and it goes. There are some periods of time when I feel completely self-aware and other days when I wake up with just no idea. But I have to agree, blogging and reading blogs definitely helps :)
    ~ Samantha

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  4. Isn't it such an aha! moment when you find self awareness or learn something else about yourself that makes emotional reactions just click into place and make perfect sense? Great tips and resources!

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  5. I feel like blogging is very introspective at times, and makes me reflect on things more. All good tips!

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  6. "after a day at work where I deal with dozens of patients and co-workers I need some alone-time to recharge." I am the EXACT same way. Even sometimes when Pete comes into the bedroom after I haven't had enough alone time I get kind of snappy or resentful - I neeed "me" time!

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