The True Meaning of Self-Awareness (& How to Tell If You're Actually Self-Aware) (2023)

Self-awareness is a critical tool to help you reach higher levels of job satisfaction, become a better leader, improve relationships with colleagues, and manage your emotions better. It’s also positively correlated with higher levels of overall happiness.

The True Meaning of Self-Awareness (& How to Tell If You're Actually Self-Aware) (1)

And yet, as one study estimates, only 10-15% of people are truly self-aware.

Luckily, self-awareness can be practiced and cultivated -- it’s not a fixed trait.

If you begin to consciously practice self-awareness, you can evaluate how your values, passions, and goals fit into your current environment and emotions -- and how to align them better. You can also understand how other people view you, creating stronger, more authentic relationships with colleagues.

Self-awareness will help you become a happier and more productive employee and leader, and can help you align your current life with your passions.

Here, we’ll explore what self-awareness truly means, how to tell if you’re self-aware, and, best of all, how to improve your own self-awareness, right now.

If you’re still unconvinced that self-awareness is a valuable trait to cultivate, here’s a list of general benefits of being self-aware.

Benefits of self-awareness

  1. Improve skills by recognizing what you do well and what you need to improve
  2. Raise happiness levels by aligning your ideals with your actions
  3. Become a better leader by understanding how employees perceive your behavior
  4. Strengthen work and personal relationships by managing emotions
  5. Increase work motivation by seeking out your true passions
  6. Decrease stress by identifying emotions and lessening tasks you don’t enjoy

What is self-awareness?

Self-awareness was first defined by Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund (1972), who proposed that, at a given moment, people can focus attention on the self or on the external environment.

(Video) Increase your self-awareness with one simple fix | Tasha Eurich | TEDxMileHigh

Duval and Wicklund noted, "When we focus our attention on ourselves, we evaluate and compare our current behavior to our internal standards and values. We become self-conscious as objective evaluators of ourselves."

In other words, when you focus on yourself, rather than your environment, you compare yourself with your standards of correctness. These standards of correctness specify how you ought to think, feel, and behave. They are, essentially, your values and beliefs, otherwise known as your ideals.

You feel pride or dissatisfaction depending on how well your behavior matches up with your standards of correctness. If you’re dissatisfied, you might make changes to your behavior to better align with your standards. For instance, you might note feelings of discontent in your current role, and recognize you value creativity but don’t have the opportunity to exercise that passion. That dissatisfaction could lead you to pursue other creative outlets, changing your behavior to fit your standards.

Self-awareness, then, is a fundamental tool for self-control.

Make sense? One more thing.

Tasha Eurich, a researcher and organizational psychologist, and her team of researchers came up with two categories of self-awareness, which I think are important to note: internal self-awareness, and external self-awareness.

Internal self-awareness is something I’ve already mentioned -- it is how clearly you see your values, passions, and aspirations, and how well those standards fit with your environment and your reactions (which include thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses).

Essentially, internal self-awareness is recognizing your current job doesn’t match your true passion for marketing, or feeling dissatisfied with a heated conversation you had with your colleague, which conflicts with your belief that kindness is important.

External self-awareness, on the other hand, is the ability to clearly see how other people view you. People who know how others see them are typically more empathetic. Leaders who can see how their employees view them are usually more effective, and have stronger relationships with their employees.

External self-awareness is recognizing your employee took your feedback personally because of your tone, or realizing your employees are disheartened by the data provided in your last email.

The definition of self-awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to focus on yourself and how your actions, thoughts, or emotions do or don’t align with your internal standards. If you’re highly self-aware, you can objectively evaluate yourself, manage your emotions, align your behavior with your values, and understand correctly how others perceive you.

(Video) 10 Signs You Lack Self Awareness

Self-awareness test

Okay, so we’ve covered what self-awareness is, and why it’s important. Now, how are you supposed to know if you’re as self-aware as you should be?

The iNLP Center self awareness test is a quick, free online test to measure your self-awareness. Although it’s not a scientific or clinical assessment, the test was created by Mike Bundrant, who has 25 years experience as a counselor, NLP trainer (Neuro-linguistic programming, which is an approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy), and life coach. The test, made up of 12 multiple-choice questions, provides you with a score and interpretation of your level of self-awareness, and which areas you should focus on improving.

Additionally, consider taking a basic personality test: the results might contradict with how you view yourself, encouraging you to re-evaluate your true strengths and weaknesses.

There are other, non-standardized test ways to measure your self-awareness, too:

First, you could apply feedback analysis to your own life whenever you make important decisions. For instance, you might write down why you chose to switch departments at work, including your motivations, thoughts during the decision-making process, and what you expected would happen as a result. Then, a couple months later, check back in with your notes -- what’s gone according to plan, what were you wrong about, etc.? This can provide you with a deeper understanding of how you make decisions and how you can improve the process, as well as what motivates you.

Or, write down a list of what you perceive to be your strengths and weaknesses. When you’re finished, check with someone you trust to give honest feedback: are you missing any strengths or weaknesses, or do other people perceive you differently?

Ideally, over time, you’ll use various methods to slowly gain a deeper understanding of who you are, what you want, and how those things overlap or conflict with how you behave, think, and feel.

How to become more self-aware

Once you’ve discovered how self-aware you are, you’re probably wondering how you can get better at it.

There are dozens of ways to improve and cultivate self-awareness, but here are four of the biggest to start you off.

1. Ask “What?” instead of “Why?”

(Video) What is Self-Awareness + 5 reasons it's important

When people assess their current state, emotions, and environment, they all too often ask, “Why?” Like, “Why am I feeling so sad? Why did my boss give me that feedback? Why isn’t my project going the way I’d hoped?”

Here’s why asking “Why?” is ineffective: research has shown you don’t have access to a lot of your unconscious thoughts, feelings, and motives. Odds are, you’re wrong about why you act, do, or think certain things. For instance, you might hear harsh feedback from a boss, and rationale it’s because you’re not cut out for the job, or harp on your insecurities -- it’s hard for you to unbiasedly evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and come to a correct conclusion.

Plus, you don’t often factor physiological responses into the equation when you’re trying to understand your behavior. For instance, maybe you lost your temper at your employee because of low blood sugar or lack of sleep, not because you’re an unfit leader.

Research has also found people who are introspective are more likely to ruminate on negative thoughts when evaluating the self. Self-evaluation through “Why” questions could leave you feeling depressed and anxious, while being entirely unproductive.

Rather than asking “Why,” highly self-aware people ask, “What?” “What” questions are more productive, and focuses on objectives and future goals, rather than past mistakes.

For instance, let’s say you’re feeling frustrated at work. “Why am I feeling awful?” will likely only leave you feeling more depressed, forcing you to ruminate on negatives. On the other hand, “What are the situations at work making me feel bad?” guides you to recognizing factors outside your control that don’t align with your passions or goals, and helps you strategize how to fix those situations.

2. Spend Time With Yourself

It’s not easy to reflect on yourself when you’ve got the TV blaring, you’re out to dinner with friends, or you’re glued to your phone.

Give yourself the space and time necessary to self-reflect, by avoiding distractions. Try spending time reading, writing, meditating, or practicing other solo activities to connect with yourself.

Try to give yourself 30 quiet, distraction-free minutes a day.

3. Practice Mindfulness

(Video) The Truth About Self-Awareness

Mindfulness allows you to be present with yourself and observe your thoughts in a non-judgmental way. What better way to become self-aware than focusing, nonjudgmentally, on you?

Mindfulness forces you to focus on yourself on purpose, in the present moment. Next time you’re feeling frustrated at work, use mindfulness to check-in with yourself: what thoughts are going through your mind? How are you feeling? Simply being present enough to acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, will help you become more acquainted and better at recognizing them properly within yourself.

Take a look at these Mindfulness apps if you need help getting started.

4. Become a Better Listener, and Ask for Feedback

When you learn how to listen to your friends, colleagues, and managers without evaluating or judging them, you’ll become more empathetic and understand people better. Listening, by the way, isn’t the same as hearing -- like mindfulness, the practice of listening takes purpose and control. Listening to the important people in your life should give you a true sense of how they perceive you.

You can translate those listening skills to yourself, too, and become better at understanding your own thoughts and emotions. Listening to others and yourself is critical to becoming self-aware.

Additionally, it's important to ask for feedback from the people you work with, or lead. It’s impossible to have true, complete self-awareness, if you only turn inwards -- gaining different perspectives on who you are will help you see a truer, more complete picture.


What is self-awareness answer? ›

What Is Self-Awareness? Self-awareness involves our perception of different aspects of the self including traits, behaviors, and feelings. Essentially, it is a psychological state in which oneself becomes the focus of attention. People are not born completely self-aware.

What are the 4 different views of self-awareness? ›

The Johari Window can be looked at from many angles and provides four basic forms of the Self (the Known, Hidden, Blind, and Unknown Self). You may find the Johari Window quite useful as a tool to help you discover who you are.

What are the 3 types of self-awareness? ›

Three "types" of self-awareness
  • Bodily self-awareness. This sense of awareness allows animals to understand that they are different from the rest of the environment; it is also the reason why animals do not eat themselves. ...
  • Social self-awareness. ...
  • Introspective self-awareness.

What are the 4 components of self-awareness? ›

Key areas for self-awareness include our personality traits, personal values, habits, emotions, and the psychological needs that drive our behaviors.

How do I know if I'm self-aware? ›

Self-awareness is the ability to focus on yourself and how your actions, thoughts, or emotions do or don't align with your internal standards. If you're highly self-aware, you can objectively evaluate yourself, manage your emotions, align your behavior with your values, and understand correctly how others perceive you.

Can you be too self-aware? ›

Excessive self-conscious emotions can be extremely unhealthy. They may worsen symptoms from conditions like anxiety, depression, and borderline personality disorder. They can also cause social anxiety and isolation.

What causes lack of self-awareness? ›

Fear of being vulnerable

People who are not self-aware are afraid to be vulnerable. They are worried that they will be judged or rejected by others, which causes them to remain unaware of their feelings, thoughts, motives, and behaviors.

What does it mean to lack self-awareness? ›

When you lack self-awareness, you fail to identify what you're feeling and how it manifests itself in your daily actions. You fail to see the patterns in your behaviors and thinking. As a result, you tend to experience more negative emotions because you don't know how to better align your choices with what you want.

What are the 2 types of self-awareness? ›

There are two types of self-awareness: private and public. Private self-awareness is when people are aware of something about themselves that others might not be — like being anxious about reading out loud. Public self-awareness is when people are aware of how others see them.

What is an example of self-awareness? ›

We'll cover some of these examples in-depth here: Being able to focus on something positive when in a negative situation. Being able to recognize a bad habit and the effect it can have on you. Learn about your emotional triggers, so you can better deal with negative emotions like anger or hate.

What is an important element in gaining self-awareness? ›

Practice mindfulness and meditation

Both practices can help you become more aware of your internal state and your reactions to things. They can also help you identify your thoughts and feelings and keep from getting so caught up in them that you lose your hold on your “self.”

What are the tools used for self-awareness? ›

Self Awareness Tools for A Better Life
  • Meditation. When it comes to connecting with your inner self, nothing is more powerful than meditation. ...
  • Yoga. Although the love for it is quite modern, yoga has been around for centuries. ...
  • Journal. ...
  • Life Coach. ...
  • Reflective Questions. ...
  • Books. ...
  • Environment and Surroundings.
13 Dec 2017

What's another word for self-aware? ›

In this page you can discover 15 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for self-awareness, like: self-worth, self-knowledge, self-consciousness, self-direction, self-acceptance, self-development, self-reflection, receptivity, self-esteem, self-confidence and self-discipline.

What does lack of self-awareness look like? ›

More specifically, we've found several consistent behaviors of un-self-aware individuals: They won't listen to, or accept, critical feedback. They cannot empathize with, or take the perspective of, others. They have difficulty “reading a room” and tailoring their message to their audience.

What does it mean to be too self-aware? ›

But there's a catch. Being too self-aware can be detrimental. If we're always analyzing ourselves and trying to figure out what others think about us, then we will never be happy with who we are. It can cause us to question ourselves and even doubt our own abilities.

Are most people self-aware? ›

Self-awareness is a staple in contemporary leadership jargon. Although many leaders will brag about how self-aware they are, only 10 to 15 percent of the population fit the criteria.

What is the opposite of being self-aware? ›

MOST RELEVANT. clueless. oblivious. uninformed.

Is being too self-aware anxiety? ›

External self-awareness can also lead to evaluation anxiety in which people become distressed, anxious, or worried about how they are perceived by others. Habitual intense public self-consciousness can lead to chronic conditions, such as social anxiety disorder.

What do you call someone who is not self-aware? ›

Synonyms & Near Synonyms for unself-conscious. imperturbable, nerveless, unflappable, unshakable.

Do Narcissists lack self-awareness? ›

Most narcissists generally lack self-awareness. Indeed, their sense of self-esteem and self-worth depends on how others perceive them, and they tend to deny flaws in themselves and blame others for their own shortcomings, mistakes, and misfortunes.

Is lack of self-awareness a mental illness? ›

Anosognosia is a common symptom of certain mental illnesses, perhaps the most difficult to understand for those who have never experienced it. Anosognosia is relative. Self-awareness can vary over time, allowing a person to acknowledge their illness at times and making such knowledge impossible at other times.

What are the 7 signs of emotional intelligence? ›

Emotional Intelligence Part II: 7 Signs of Strong EQ
  • Getting Along Well/Interest In Others. ...
  • Self-Awareness of Strengths and Weaknesses. ...
  • Operating With Integrity. ...
  • Self-Awareness of Feelings. ...
  • Present-Focused. ...
  • Self-Motivated. ...
  • Well-Placed Boundaries.

What does it take to become emotionally intelligent? ›

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize your emotions, understand what they're telling you, and realize how your emotions affect people around you. It also involves your perception of others: when you understand how they feel, this allows you to manage relationships more effectively.

Do some people have no self-awareness? ›

“According to our research” says organizational psychologist and researcher Tasha Eurich, “with thousands of people from all around the world, 95 percent of people believe that they're self-aware, but only about 10 to 15 percent really are.” Yikes!

Can self-awareness be taught? ›

The good news is that self-awareness skills can be taught and practiced on a regular basis. Of course, it's important to note that self-awareness skills don't develop all at once. Learning them is a process that takes time and practice.

What are the risks that come with a lack of self knowledge? ›

Key aspects at risk due to lack of self-knowledge include life partner choices, education and career choices, and where and how to live (Morin & Racy, 2021).

At what age do humans become self-aware? ›

Reflective self-awareness emerges between 15 and 18 months of age when children begin to match their own facial and/or body movements with the image of themselves in a mirror, exhibiting mirror self-recognition (see Loveland, 1986, Mitchell, 1993, Rochat, 1995b for alternative interpretations).

Which of the following is true of self-awareness? ›

Which of the following statements is true of self-awareness? Self-awareness means the ability to behave in a uniform manner in response to situational cues. Self-awareness involves the ability to emotionally evaluate one's own worth.

What is the difference between self-awareness and self consciousness? ›

Scientists differ on the difference between consciousness and self-awareness, but here is one common explanation: Consciousness is awareness of one's body and one's environment; self-awareness is recognition of that consciousness—not only understanding that one exists, but further understanding that one is aware of ...

How do you develop emotional self-awareness? ›

  1. Keep an Emotions Diary. ...
  2. Set an Awareness Trigger. ...
  3. Reflect on Behaviors. ...
  4. Develop Your Feelings Vocabulary. ...
  5. Know Who and What Pushes Your Buttons. ...
  6. Ask Yourself Why You Do the Things You Do. ...
  7. Don't Treat Your Feelings as Good or Bad. ...
  8. Observe the Ripple Effects of Your Emotions.
22 Jul 2022

How do I increase my awareness? ›

Consider These Tips To Increase Your Own Awareness, And By Extension, Improve Interactions In Your Personal And Professional Spheres.
  1. Seek feedback from others. ...
  2. Set a positive example. ...
  3. Be open-minded. ...
  4. Observe others' reactions. ...
  5. Discover (or rediscover) yourself.
5 Mar 2019

What activity should be included in the first step of self-awareness? ›

Level 1 Self Awareness Activities: Thinking
  • Taking a walk. ...
  • Taking a walk with a friend. ...
  • Reading. ...
  • Ask why three times. ...
  • Label your thoughts and emotions. ...
  • Meditation. ...
  • Solo exercise & sports. ...
  • Lean out of your stream of consciousness.
14 Apr 2017

Why is it important to be self-aware? ›

When we are self-aware we are able to recognize our strengths and weaknesses. This knowledge helps us to set goals for ourselves. We know where we have to room to grow and that's a good thing! Our strengths help us feel confident in our ability to improve on our weaknesses.

Why have I become so self conscious? ›

Mental health disorders like depression and anxiety can make you more self-conscious as well. One of the most common symptoms of depression is low self-esteem, which goes hand-in-hand with negative self-conscious emotions. Anxiety can cause you to dwell on self-conscious thoughts more than is healthy.

What age do you become self aware? ›

Reflective self-awareness emerges between 15 and 18 months of age when children begin to match their own facial and/or body movements with the image of themselves in a mirror, exhibiting mirror self-recognition (see Loveland, 1986, Mitchell, 1993, Rochat, 1995b for alternative interpretations).


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