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KNOWLEDGE BANK

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  • FAQ1 item

    Apr 7, 2023

If you want to cultivate or enhance self-awareness, here’s what mental health experts recommend:

1. Be curious about who you are

“To be self-aware, a person needs to be curious about themselves,” says Ana Jovanovic, psychologist and life coach at Parenting Pod. “Our minds and bodies are territories for which we yet need road maps. Every person has some roads they do not wish to take, and some roads they feel are worth exploring. How far you’ll go in your journey of understanding yourself depends on what you’re ready to explore and experience.”

2. Let your walls down

When we see something we don’t immediately like in ourselves, our first reaction could be to defend ourselves from it, which is partly why self-awareness is so challenging.

Try to let go of judgment and the instinctual urge to protect yourself.

“You become self-aware through a willingness to let go of defensiveness, and an openness to seeing yourself in a way that is different from what you have always assumed,” says McManus. “Often this means you have to be willing to see yourself in a less-than-positive light.”

3. Look in the mirror — literally

“In my own research, I teach people to use mirrors as a meditation tool that increases their self-awareness,” says Well. “When people first look at themselves, they are often very critical. I teach them how to shift their perspective and use their reflection for deeper self-awareness. They learn to track their attention and emotions and gain new insights into how their thoughts are affecting them in real time — this sort of mimics face-to-face conversations that involve deep listening and being fully present with another person.”

4. Keep a journal and note what triggers positive feelings

“Journaling is a great way to start this process of being mindful,” says Celeste Viciere, a licensed mental health clinician. “As you are journaling, pay attention to your day. Ask yourself how you feel. If there are negative feelings associated with the day, think about what triggers may have caused them to bubble up. For any positive feelings, think about what may have triggered you to feel happy.”

5. Substitute some screen time with people time

“The average amount of time we spend alone gazing at our screens now surpasses our time in face-to-face contact,” says Well. “Science tells us that we need reflections to develop our sense of self in relation to others. As we spend more time alone and on our devices, we miss this essential human mirroring. The symptoms of lack of mirroring are becoming more apparent in our society: increases in anxiety, lack of empathy and intense self-objectification (as in the selfie craze). There’s a call — if not an urgent cry — for greater self-awareness and reflection.”

6. Ask others how they see you

Not only should we build out our face-to-face social actions, but also use a portion of this time to learn about how our loved ones perceive us.

“Talk to your closest loved ones and be courageous enough to ask how they perceive you in various situations,” says Krimer. “Getting perspective on how you behave or come off in certain situations can help us bring into our awareness something that was previously invisible to us. Therapy is great for this, too.”

7. Angry at someone? Take the ‘third-person’ perspective

Ultimately the benefits of self-awareness are to serve not only you in emotional management, but also to serve your relationships.

Michal Strahilevitz, a consumer psychologist and marketing professor at St. Mary's College of California, speaks to the importance of catching yourself when a situation or person agitates you.

“If you catch yourself raising your voice, you may feel justified due to being upset,” says Strahilevitz. “However, for the person with you (second person), the experience will be quite different. Trying to imagine yourself in that person's place will improve self awareness, reduce defensiveness, and quite possibly improve your relationship with that person as well. Third person is particularly effective for people who are overly self-critical or who trend to be self-destructive. What would you advise if you were a caring friend watching your behavior? That would be taking a third person perspective.”

8. Keep checking in with yourself (and a list of feelings)

“Clinically, the most effective method for the development of self-awareness is a pause and brief check-in with oneself: ‘How am I feeling right now? What do I think might be driving that feeling?’” says Duffy. “This may seem absurdly simple, but in practice, my clients find it to be quite difficult. Many need to carry a list of possible emotions with them as they begin this exercise, as the pat answers (‘I feel fine.’; ‘I feel bad.’; ‘I feel angry.’) are not particularly rich or productive.”

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