Why is building self awareness so important in personal development?
In personal development coaching there is a lot of talk about awareness and a lot of inner work devoted to building and expanding self awareness. Awareness is also known in other domains as consciousness and mindfulness. It’s the same thing people have been talking about, studying, practicing and also forgetting, for thousands of years.
The reason why so much time and energy is devoted to building awareness is because it is fundamental to initiating and sustaining positive change. The first step in making a change or improvement of any kind is to be aware that a change is wanted or needed. ‘What do you want?’ is one of the first (and often asked) questions in coaching. It takes self awareness to know what you really want and why.
Self awareness is a lifelong journey of discovery. It’s a process of getting to know who you are and who you are constantly becoming.
It is about understanding yourself – how you think, how you feel and how you behave in general, and specifically, in response to certain people, situations and events in your life. And how you got to think, feel and be this way.
To help spark self awareness, which then informs the change process, coaches ask questions like:
- When are you most content?
- When are you least content?
- What makes you happy?
- What makes you angry?
- What gets on your nerves and pushes your buttons?
- What scares you?
- What do you believe in?
- What do you believe about yourself?
- What are your dreams? Aspirations?
- What would you do if you had all the skill, money and time you needed to create the life of your dreams starting today?
Questions Are Powerful Awareness Builders
Questions are a coach’s primary tool because a well intended and optimally phrased question focuses the mind and activate parts of the brain that don’t often get accessed or used. When asked a really powerful, open ended question, most people get taken off guard. They wonder, ‘how do I answer that? ‘There’s no Wikipedia page on what does Mary want? or what makes Rob happy?’. People actually have to do some digging to come up with the answers, because the answers to those types of questions can only be found inside you, nowhere else.
Becoming Aware of Your Thoughts, Feelings
& Behavior Patterns
On this journey of self discovery, a good place to start is to become aware of how you think and what you think about. So how do you become more aware of what you think? Do you have to catch yourself in the act of thinking as it’s happening?
Have you ever caught yourself daydreaming? Or driven all the way home from work, lost in thought, 25 minutes went by and you wondered how you got home?
What part of you noticed that you were daydreaming? What part of you noticed when you got home that you were lost in thought and can’t remember a minute of the drive home?
Let’s call that part of you the observer or your higher self. It can drive your thinking and help you create the life you want or it can shrink into the baby seat in the back, all buckled up, being driven around all the while an over-active brain chatters away and perpetually repeats your default thought patterns.
Many people have so much mental chatter (self-talk) going on all the time that they have lost themselves in their thoughts. All it takes to get back into the driver’s seat is to simply notice that your brain is thinking. The observer, or your higher self, is the part of you that you will call on more often in your day as you become more self-aware.
Let’s ask your higher self some questions to start getting to know how you think:
- What is on your mind most of the time? (Guys no giggling! Girls, no judging the guys!)
- Are your thoughts generally positive? Negative? Neutral?
- Are you a creative thinker or analytical thinker?
- Are you more of a doer than a thinker?
- Can you avoid thinking about specific things (i.e. push things away that you don’t want to think about)?
- Do you get lost in thought?
- What puzzles you?
- What can you think about for hours whether it makes you happy or upset?
- How would you rate or describe the quality of your thoughts?
Now just reflect on one of those questions that speaks to you for a moment. What’s coming up for you?
Being aware of your thinking styles and patterns, and the quality of your thoughts, is important because your thoughts control how you feel.
What You Think About, You Feel About
Your thoughts, whether self-directed or left unattended, affect your emotions. Every thought or pattern of thought has a counterpart in a feeling. Think negative thoughts and chances are high that you will feel negative emotions. Think positive thoughts or think positively about something and chances are high that you will feel positive emotions.
Let’s look at some questions to start to get to know your emotions from the observer’s perspective:
- Are you aware of how you feel most of the time?
- What makes you happy?
- When or where do you feel most confident and alive?
- What upsets you?
- What infuriates you?
- What excites you?
- What motivates you?
- What emotions do you feel most often?
- What do you want to feel most often?
Choose one or several of these questions that interest you and reflect on them for a moment. What thoughts came up for you? Did any feelings come up?
How you feel, which is influenced by how you think, will control what you do (how you act, respond, or behave) in any given situation.
Your Feelings Influence Your Actions (and your thoughts)
Your emotions bring thoughts to life – they make your thoughts feel real. They also shape and direct the range of choices you have to behave in response to any given situation.
For example, if happy and content, and given the opportunity to go to a social event, Rick would probably go without a second thought. If in a bad mood or feeling a bit depressed, Rick knows himself better than to step a foot outside the door.
Another example, if calm and relaxed, Maggie can handle having ‘that conversation’ with her husband again. If irritated and stressed from the events of the day and feeling frustrated, she might blow a fuse and resort to knocking him on the head with a frying pan!
To help you become more aware of your behavior patterns, reflect on these questions for a bit:
- What’s life like when you’re happy? When are you happiest?
- What’s life like when you’re worried? When are you most worried or anxious?
- What range of emotions have you experienced in the past week? What was the most frequent emotion? Least frequent?
- What do you do when someone pays you a compliment?
- What do you do when someone cuts you off on the road? Or interrupts you mid-sentence, twenty times in a row?
- What are you like when you’re stressed? How do you treat others?
- When do you get frustrated?
- When do you feel most resourceful?
- What feelings are really uncomfortable for you to talk about? What feelings are off limits?
- What feeling do you miss most?
Realizing that your thoughts and feelings shape your life, you are at always choice with what you want to do about it. Become more self aware and able to make more effective choices over time thus changing your results and changing how you think feel and behave moving forward? Change nothing? Let sleeping dogs lie? It’s up to you.
Is building self-awareness that easy?
The principle of building awareness to help you improve the quality of your life is simple and sound but I’d be lying to you if I told you it was easy. We all have deeply rooted thought patterns and they are called BELIEFS. What you believe can either serve you or limit you – and believe it or not, you can choose your beliefs as well but that’ll be a great topic to explore in another post.
For now, simply notice more often and you will grow more aware – it will change your life.