The art of self-awareness

What makes you happy? What ticks you off? Where does your strength lie? Self-awareness is key to realising one’s true potential and living a happy and wholesome life

Once you know your strengths you can learn to use them to your advantage.

Your boss yells at you in the office and you go into a shell, not wanting to face anyone, least of all the boss. You are sent on an overseas assignment and you are not able to function effectively and enjoy the opportunity because you are insecure about your partner back home, fearing that he or she will cheat on you, or leave you. You weren’t given the promotion you thought you should be entitled to and you snap into a fit of rage on the road when the driver in front of you suddenly changes his lane. These are just everyday occurrences with emotional outcomes that we don’t recognise or understand because most of the time we do not recognise or understand ourselves.

Do you really know who you are? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What challenges you? What triggers you? What are your fears? Who’s got your back and who doesn’t? What are your beliefs on which your reactions are based? What is the foundation you are built on? And more importantly, how strong is it? You probably don’t have these answers and you probably did not realise till this moment that you didn’t have these answers, and that you don’t really know who you truly are.

The science behind it

The Johari window, created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955, is a conceptual window of self-awareness that often shows us how little we know about ourselves. The window has four quadrants:

• What you and others know about you

• What you know about yourself but others don’t know about you

• What you don’t know about yourself but others know about you

• What neither you nor the others know about you

The goal should be to know about yourself as much as possible and reduce the blind spots that you don’t know about as much as possible. This would involve digging within yourself to find out more. And digging within your circle of relationships to find out more about what they know about you that you may not yet know. Being open to introspection and authentic feedback can be an invaluable resource in gaining a whole new perspective on yourself. Minimising what you do not know about yourself can equip you to face the world, and handle your life more effectively.

Let’s start with positives

So knowing who you are is important. But how do you start on that journey? A good place to begin, especially because it is guaranteed to be uplifting, is to know your strengths. Most people struggle with this. I often ask clients to write down their strengths during a therapy session. And as they begin, I insist that they make a list of at least 10. Many say this is the hardest thing they have done. They are so used to beating themselves up and thinking of themselves as not good enough that they fail to recognise that while they may have some weaknesses, they do have a lot of strengths.

This can be done as a simple exercise of thinking about it for yourself and asking friends and family for inputs. Or you can go online and take the free VIA Survey at www.viacharacter.org and get a detailed list generated on the basis of your responses to 120 questions.

Taking this survey certainly proved to be an eye-opener and a game-changer for me as it listed hope and humility as my top two strengths (among a list of others)! Did I really think of those as my strengths? No. But when that is what this survey threw up, I reflected on it and realised that hope and humility had really held me in good stead in the past. I now leverage them as I go forth, feeling all the more energised.

To your advantage...

Once you know your strengths you can learn to use them to your advantage. During this process, you must remember that strengths are not only defined as what you are good at, the ‘doing’ part of you that is visible to the world. It is also about what is good about you, the ‘being’ part of you that is not so apparent to the world but makes for a stronger foundation. Remember, the foundations of buildings are not visible, but the stronger and deeper they are, the stronger the building is.

Another aspect of knowing who you are is knowing what your fears are and understanding them. Identifying and naming them is a critical part of this process, as is getting a grip on them by answering the question, “If my worst fears were to come true, what is the worst that could happen?” Most of the time, the irrationality of your fear will immediately strike you.

Understanding what challenges and triggers you is a function of your underlying beliefs about yourself and your interactions with the world around you — how you should be, how people should be, how the world should treat you. We often miss the link between our thoughts, feelings and behaviour — erroneously regarding these as independent aspects of our lives. On the contrary, our underlying beliefs shape our thoughts, which influence our emotions, which make us behave the way we do.

What lies beneath?

As an example, a common belief that people have is that everyone must love them and approve of them. That makes a boss’s apparent disapproval (because of his yelling, as in my opening example) unbearable and an event of disastrous proportions, as it challenges the employee’s view of how the world should be with him. This ends up making the employee feel like a failure, disliked and dejected, making one want to isolate oneself socially and not face anyone.

On the contrary, if the employee did not have that debilitating belief about how the world should think of him, but instead thought that people were entitled to their own opinions and what they thought was not the reality and did not define him, then the boss’s apparent disapproval of him is not such a disastrous event for him, making it much easier for him to go about his normal functioning.

So, understanding your underlying beliefs will help you understand your current behaviours and emotions. And with this awareness, you can decide to change or challenge the beliefs so that your thoughts do not get in your way and make you dysfunctional. The ABCDE Analysis, originally developed by Albert Ellis, is an often-used tool to identify and challenge your beliefs. You can read more about it at www.mindfulnessmuse.com.

To get you started on this journey of self-awareness, though, you may need the help of a therapist, as changing a lifetime of beliefs about yourself and the world around you may be more than just a cakewalk. Nevertheless, get started. It is never too late to improve your life. And there is always room for improvement!

(The author is a counsellor)

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The art of self-awareness

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