Understanding Self-Awareness

In this module, you will reflect on the question “Who am I?” Let’s do a deep dive into your personal passions, interests, causes, and skills. This exercise requires a high level of introspection – a healthy exercise and the first step towards something we call self-awareness.

What is self-awareness?

Self-awareness is having a deep understanding of your own emotions, values, motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. These aspects of the self may be innate and natural to you, or they can be characteristics that you have developed over time. Knowing yourself better helps you to make better decisions that are aligned and in-tune with your unique personhood.

Although each person has their own unique set of characteristics, it may be a challenge to picture the self in its entirety. Perhaps you have a clearer idea of your weaknesses than your many talents and skills. On the flip side, maybe you have a good grasp of your strengths and favorite things but never thought about how you come across to people.

That’s why it’s important to truly know yourself inside and out. We call that internal self-awareness and external self-awareness1.

Internal self-awareness represents your perception of the self; it requires mindful introspection and self-criticism. On the other hand, external self-awareness is brought about by understanding how other people see you; this requires openness to feedback and criticism from others and the wisdom to utilize these new insights, whether positive or negative, towards improving yourself.

People who are able to master the balance between self-reflection and seeking feedback can cultivate lasting, positive qualities that arise from self-awareness, such as: 

  1. Honesty. The practice of self-awareness is an exercise of honesty. You cannot form an accurate image of yourself if you do not approach your self-criticism and feedback-reception with an openness to truth. When you are honest with yourself, it becomes easier to identify your positive and negative qualities, and use them as a starting point for personal development. Similarly, your sincere honesty towards other people allows you to reap the benefits of constructive criticism and present yourself to the world more authentically.
  2. Openness and Empathy. Having the openness to seek out and value other people’s feedback can be a scary thing. On the one hand, compliments and praise are great motivators. On the other hand, criticism can cause emotional distress such as shame, embarrassment, or defensiveness. This is especially true when another person’s viewpoint doesn’t seem to coincide with what you believe about yourself. Nevertheless, a person with strong self-awareness knows how to listen intently, actively understand why they feel that way, and develop better communication skills to arrive at a mutual understanding. These hallmarks of mindfulness and empathy can transform feedback into actionable strategies for self improvement.
  3. Self-Confidence. When you have a firm grasp of your strengths, it gives you ease and confidence to showcase your abilities. Interestingly, awareness of your shortcomings can boost self-confidence as well. Instead of being anxious over your weaknesses, you are able to channel them towards learning opportunities without fear. Self-confidence helps you to face challenges with a clear mind and forward-moving drive.
  4. Sound Decision-Making Skills. Self-aware individuals are guided by their values and goals, helping them make decisions that are authentically aligned with who they are. They have a good sense of which paths to take based on their interests and principles, which learning opportunities to pursue according to their identified weaknesses, and which pitfalls to avoid in order to become a better version of themselves. 

The bottom line is that the advantages of self-awareness are far-reaching, especially for young people (like you!) at the crossroads of major decisions. Going further, the practice of self-awareness is a lifelong endeavor and can be applied to almost all aspects of life – personal development, careers, and even relationships.

1Harvard Business Review. 2018. Self-Awareness (HBR Emotional Intelligence Series). Boston, MA:Harvard Business Review Press.