The art of self-awareness: 10 ways to cultivate a deeper understanding of yourself

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If you ask me what the most overlooked prerequisite to success and happiness is, it’s this: self-awareness.

Hard work, determination, and consistency—these are all important, don’t get me wrong. 

But if you don’t really understand yourself…

…how you think and feel…

…what you need and want… 

…how you act and come across to other people…

Then you’ll never reach your full potential!

This article is about the art of self-awareness: 10 ways to cultivate a deeper understanding of yourself and unlock your full potential.

1) Keep a journal

The best way to explore your thoughts is to write them down. By putting them into words, you can get an “outer” perspective of what goes on in your head.

You’ll gain new insights and perspectives, allowing you to understand yourself better.

Need help coming up with things to write? Here are some prompts to get you started:

  • How have you been feeling? Why do you think you feel this way?
  • Have your actions aligned with what you value?
  • Are you having a hard time? How are you dealing with it?
  • Have you achieved anything lately? How did you do it? Did you learn anything from your journey?
  • What triggers you? What instantly arouses intense negative emotions in you? How do you usually react?

2) Be aware of your knee-jerk reactions

Speaking of triggers…

I believe this is something too few people are self-aware about. When we are triggered, we often respond with knee-jerk reactions.

After all, these knee-jerk reactions usually aren’t the best way to respond to the situation. In fact, they usually make them worse.

Try reflecting on your triggers:

  • Who or what things typically trigger you?
  • When and where do they usually happen?
  • How do you usually respond?

By answering these questions, you gain better self-awareness and react in a better way next time. 

You’ll also be able to understand where other people are coming from when they’re overreacting or behaving in a strange way. 

Maybe they’re triggered by the same things as you are?

3) Ask for feedback

Sometimes the best way to know how you come across to other people… is to ask other people.

Find a loved one you can trust to give you some honest yet constructive criticism

It might be a tense or awkward conversation, but if they really love you, they’ll support your efforts toward self-development.

Here are a few questions you can ask them:

  • What do you think are my strengths?
  • What are things I have room to improve on?
  • How do I usually behave in social situations?
  • Do I seem approachable or trustworthy?
  • Do I seem like someone you can rely on?
  • How do I act when I’m at my best? At my worst?
  • What do you think is my strongest and weakest trait?

Then you can compare what they said to how you’ll personally answer these questions about yourself.

4) Welcome change

Here’s a bit of a paradox:

Developing self-awareness… needs some self-awareness.

Because if you’re not aware that you lack self-awareness, then you won’t try to develop it. You can’t change if you’re not trying to change.

And hey! If you’re already reading this article, that’s probably not the case.

But you need to keep this awareness—this drive to change and improve—at the back of your mind. As you go on this journey, you’ll realize that you need to change a lot of things in the way you think and act.

You’ll likely resist many of these changes. 

After all, change is uncomfortable, and you’ve grown accustomed to how you’ve been before. 

5) Be grateful

I keep being asked why I always include practicing gratitude in virtually all my articles—even when it’s seemingly irrelevant to the topic.

Well, here’s why: because it’s never irrelevant.

Thinking of things you’re grateful for—a loved one, your job, your health, the weather today, your pet, whatever—puts things into perspective.

And if the topic at hand hasn’t made it obvious yet: perspective is everything!

Practicing gratitude will simply make you more keenly aware of your place in the world, in both the big and small things.

6) Recognize what your pet peeves are 

Especially in people, because relationships are everything.

It might take some time to realize (I know it did for me)… 

…but the things that annoy or even piss us off about people are usually reflections of qualities we hate about ourselves.

No one’s perfect, after all. We all have our flaws.

For example, just for the sake of an example, here are mine:

  • I’m stubborn sometimes;
  • I’m not always punctual;
  • I have a hard time saying no;
  • I can be too sensitive about other people’s words.

And surprise, surprise—I was typically annoyed at people like this too.

When I became more self-aware, I also developed more empathy toward people like this ( like me, haha). 

As a result, I also had a far easier time resisting responding with the knee-jerk reactions we talked about above.

7) Read some fiction

Great fiction, okay?

Because here’s the thing: good writers are not only good wordsmiths, they’re good observers too. 

They notice details and patterns about people and environments that may not be so obvious to other people.

Then, based on these observations, they create worlds and characters that, while fictional, reveal great truths and insights about the human condition. 

They then fluently portray them in a way that is both moving and profound and relatable and accessible.

Most of us probably won’t be authors, but by reading, we can definitely pick up the skill of looking at things more deeply—reading between the lines, if you will.

8) Get out of your comfort zone

We all know the saying: always staying within your comfort zone will prevent you from growing. 

That’s true not only because you won’t have the opportunity to learn new skills or experience new things. It’s also true because you’ll have very limited chances to become more self-aware.

After all, staying in your comfort zone will leave you feeling complacent. You’ll be lulled into a false sense of security, and you’ll feel that you already know everything there is to know about yourself.

Sure, you may know how you usually are in the situations you put yourself in. 

But what about in other situations? In other environments with other people?

Challenging yourself will truly make you realize what your strengths and weaknesses are. You’ll also grow to be more adaptable.

And that’s just as important because you never know when your world might be turned upside down.

9) Remain open-minded

In this journey, you might learn or realize things about yourself that you don’t like. 

Your sense of self might be shattered because you realize you’re not exactly how you perceive yourself to be.

It’s easy and tempting to reject these realizations, but you need to keep an open mind.

Accept that a change in perspective is almost always necessary for growth and a deeper sense of self-awareness

Sometimes, learning is hard—but that’s often when we learn the most!

10) Get professional help

Talking to a therapist or psychiatrist isn’t just for those who struggle with mental illness!

They can also offer valuable advice about how to cultivate self-awareness and better mental health overall. Even counselors or coaches can be of huge help.

These professionals aren’t exactly the same— do your research first as to what is best suited for you!

What are the signs of a lack of self-awareness?

Overall, a person with poor self-awareness will not be emotionally intelligent.

They cannot understand their own emotions, much less that of others. Thus, they will act in immature ways as well.

Here are tell-tale signs of a lack of self-awareness.

  • A lack of accountability. Failing to recognize when you make a mistake and blaming others instead is a huge sign of poor self-awareness;
  • Close-mindedness. Thinking you’re always right (especially despite contradictory evidence) is another key sign of not being self-aware. They will also tend to dismiss other people’s ideas;
  • A judgemental attitude. Because people like this are so uncritically self-assured of their own opinions and will judge those who think or do things differently;
  • Unregulated emotions. Because they can’t understand their emotions well, they also cannot manage them well;
  • Impulsiveness. People with poor self-awareness are not aware of how their thought processes affect their actions. That’s why they rarely take the time to contemplate first before acting;
  • A lack of empathy. Because they cannot understand themselves, they likely have a hard time understanding other people too.

In a nutshell

We all need self-awareness to achieve true success and happiness. Follow these 10-pointers, and you’ll be well on your way to maturing as a person overall.

However, it’s also important to remember that developing self-awareness is also a lifelong endeavor. 

No one is perfectly self-aware!

After all, we also see things differently, no matter how mature we may all be. And we’re all flawed human beings too. 

The best thing we can do is be as aware of our beautiful imperfections.

Anna Dovbysh

With 8 years of writing experience and a deep interest in psychology, relationship advice, and spirituality, Anna’s here to shine a light on the most interesting self-development topics and share some life advice. She's got a Master's Degree in International Information and is a life-long learner of writing and storytelling. In the past, she worked on a radio station and a TV channel as a journalist and even tought English in Cambodia to local kids. Currently, she's freelancing and traveling around the globe, exploring new places, and getting inspired by the people she meets and the stories they tell. Subscribe to her posts and get in touch with her on her social media:
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