What is self-awareness and how can it help you to live a more fulfilled life?
I believe self-awareness begins by living authentically.
You can't pretend to be someone you're not, live by rules that aren't your own, or make choices reactively — without compromising your self-esteem and emotional health.
So how do you begin to live authentically?
It's hard to be authentic when you aren't sure who you are, what you want from life, and how you wish to live. Authenticity requires self-awareness in many different areas of your life.
What Is Self-Awareness?
If you're looking for a self-awareness definition, Merriam-Webster says that it's “an awareness of one's own personality or individuality.” It is the capacity to be introspective about your own character, feelings, motivations, and desires.
But I see self-awareness as more of an action verb than a descriptive noun. I see it as a process that continues throughout your life.
It requires you to be a detective, investigating yourself to find out who you are and what's important to you and then taking action on what you've learned to create your life accordingly.
Self-awareness isn't something that occurs magically. You must make a decision to seek it and explore the multi-faceted expanses of the unique person known as you.
Sometimes this process can be daunting, as it requires you to uncover and face parts of yourself that may not be so attractive. As Henry David Thoreau says, “Explore thyself. Herein are demanded the eye and the nerve.”
But having the nerve to look at your strengths, weaknesses, blind spots, and biases, you unlock new possibilities for your personal growth, relationships, and overall happiness and success in life.
Here are 30 essential actions for self-awareness and authentic living:
1. Understand your personality.
Knowing your personality type and whether you're an introvert or extravert gives you a basic understanding of the dynamics of your personality.
It helps you identify your natural aptitudes, preferences, and motivations, and also gives you tools for improving relationships and choosing a career path.
2. Define your values.
Your values are the core principles that define who you are and how you want to live. By defining them, you create personal guidelines for all of your decisions and actions.
Without knowing your values, you live in a reactive mode, allowing life circumstances and other people to define you. Take a look at this list of value words to help you define your personal values.
3. Align with your integrity.
Your values help you define your integrity — what you believe to be right and wrong, good and bad. When you're living out of alignment with your integrity, you are living inauthentically and subjecting yourself to feelings of guilt, confusion, fear, and remorse.
4. Recognize your needs.
We all share some very basic needs — for health, safety, and belonging. But beyond those basics, you have personal needs related to your personality and values that must be met in order to feel whole and secure. Recognize your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs, and take action to get your needs met.
5. Define and set your boundaries.
Often we don't recognize we have boundaries until someone repeatedly crosses them. We feel angry, frustrated, or controlled but don't understand exactly why.
Be proactive in determining and setting your boundaries — what people can say to you, how you wish to be treated, and who you wish to spend time with. Having strong boundaries reinforces self-esteem and emotional health.
6. Know your habits.
Habits are behaviors and thoughts we perform almost unconsciously. Some of our habits are positive, but some aren't useful or can even be harmful and self-defeating. Begin to notice your habits and start to change those that no longer serve your greater good.
7. Understand your emotions.
Our feelings shift and change like waves in the ocean. Sometimes there's an obvious cause for our emotions, but other times we don't know why we're feeling sad, angry, anxious, or agitated. Take time to acknowledge your emotions and seek out the possible cause for them. Watch for triggers and patterns that might help you manage or treat your emotions in the future.
8. Know your intelligence type.
Intelligence isn't just dominated by a measure of linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities. In recent years, the theory of multiple intelligence suggests there are a variety of abilities involved in intelligence and that each individual possesses a unique blend of all the intelligences. You can learn your intelligence type by taking this assessment.
9. Embrace your skills and talents.
When you identify and improve upon your natural aptitudes and talents, you empower yourself and create opportunities for professional success and personal happiness.
Recognizing your skills also improves your self-confidence and sense of personal fulfillment.
10. Identify your strengths and weaknesses.
Honestly assessing your strengths and weaknesses allows you to make a proactive decision about improving yourself and accepting yourself as you really are. We all have weaknesses, and it's a sign of emotionally maturity and self-esteem to accept them.
11. Seek out your stress triggers.
Pay attention when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed and determine the source of the stress. Rather than lashing out or allowing yourself to get sick or anxious, manage your stress by dealing with the triggers that cause it.
12. Know what motivates you.
Pay attention to what excites and inspires you. What do you feel passionate about? What gives you a sense of fulfillment, purpose, or energy? When you recognize these things, find ways to make them more a part of your daily life.
13. Identify and address limiting beliefs.
We all have negative beliefs triggered by past situations that we unconsciously cling to. These beliefs hold us back and create a false shroud of fear and doubt, limiting us from living to our potential.
Most of these beliefs are no longer true for us. Begin to dismantle these outdated beliefs to free yourself to live fully.
14. Understand your communication skills.
Our ability to have healthy, fulfilling and happy relationships in our personal and professional life hinges on our communication skills. If you have poor communication skills, you push people away and diminish opportunities for real connection.
15. Analyze your problem-solving skills.
Are you able to deal with life's challenges and problems calmly and effectively? Do you understand the steps involved in unraveling a problem and creating solutions?
Learn how to define a problem, generate alternatives, and implement solutions so difficulties don't undermine your happiness.
16. Define what is meaningful.
We all crave meaning in life, but often we have no idea what is meaningful to us. For some, meaning relates to their religious beliefs. For others, a meaningful life is defined by a specific passion or purpose. What is meaningful for you, and how can you make that part of your life?
17. Determine your parenting style.
If you're a parent, have you defined the kind of parent you want to be? Are you parenting based on the advice of your parents or parenting books, or do you have your own beliefs about the best way to raise your children?
Determine the kind of parent you want to be and the actions involved in being that parent.
18. Know your emotional intelligence score.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others. Strong emotional intelligence is essential for healthy, happy relationships. If you don't know how strong your emotional intelligence is, you can take an assessment here.
19. Examine your marriage or love relationship.
What kind of marriage or partnership do you want with the one you love? Are you currently living your definition of a strong and happy marriage?
Define what is and isn't working about your relationship. Look honestly at yourself and your contribution to difficulties or miscommunication. What actions can you take to improve the relationship and align it with your vision?
20. Understand vulnerability.
Here is a beautiful quote I found on Tumblr about vulnerability . . . “Emotional vulnerability is when an individual surrenders fully to the joys and sorrows of giving and receiving love. It is when you break open locks and tear down walls—being open and transparent.” Are you capable of opening yourself up to another person and being completely transparent and real?
21. Recognize your passive-aggressive behaviors.
According to Wikipedia, “passive-aggressive behavior is the indirect expression of hostility, such as through procrastination, sarcasm, hostile jokes, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible.” Do you see yourself in any of these behaviors? Passive aggression will sabotage your relationships and undermine your self-esteem.
22. Examine what triggers anger.
Begin to notice your feelings of anger, how you express your anger, and the circumstances or people who might have triggered it. Develop solutions for managing anger, communicating in calm and mature ways, and removing yourself from anger-provoking situations.
23. Acknowledge and heal pain from the past.
Untreated pain from your past will infect your happiness and success. Acknowledge where old wounds are still causing you grief, and work with a professional counselor to help you move past those wounds.
24. Examine your assumptions and beliefs.
Often we have beliefs and assumptions we've adopted over time but have never challenged. These might have come from parents, peers, social expectations, or lack of knowledge.
Look at all of your beliefs and determine if they still apply to you. Read and research contrary opinions so you fairly view all angles of your assumptions. This broadens your horizons and makes you a more balanced, understanding, and interesting person.
25. Acknowledge how you've caused pain.
Have you caused someone pain or offended someone? Do you need to apologize and make amends? Be honest with yourself about the pain you have caused and take action to rectify it.
26. Notice the words you choose.
Our words have power for good and bad. Do you speak words of kindness, acceptance, and love? Or do your words reflect judgment, resentment, or insecurity? Think before you speak, and choose your words carefully so you reflect truth and kindness.
27. Tune in to your body.
Your body sends you strong messages about what's going on with your emotions. It also lets you know when you aren't taking care of it with nutritious food and proper exercise.
Pay attention to the messages from your body.
28. Notice and address your fears.
Your fears can warn you about danger, but some fears aren't based in reality or truth. Examine your fears to determine how they are holding you back and whether or not they are legitimate. Begin to challenge unfounded fears by taking action in spite of them.
29. Watch out for the victim mentality.
A victim mentality is a developed personality trait in which one sees himself as powerless and victimized by others. Once you adopt this trait, you begin to accept your victimhood as true.
Sometimes we use a victim mentality to manipulate others, as a form of passive aggression. This is a very off-putting trait to those around you, and will eventually undermine your self-esteem.
30. Be mindful of expressing love.
Part of being completely authentic and vulnerable is the ability to openly express your love for others in words and actions. This ability is essential for close and intimate relationships. Do you regularly and openly express your feelings of love to those whom you love? If not, today is not too soon to begin.
Related: What Is Passive Aggressive Behavior?
Self-awareness in these thirty areas empowers you to be fully yourself and to live an honest, authentic life. When you are free to be yourself completely, create your own personal operating system, and live on your own terms, you will experience far more happiness in your relationships and your work.
Only by living authentically can we become self-actualized, fully functioning, emotionally healthy adults. As you practice self-awareness, you'll find you want to explore the depths of your true self, and this exploration itself is an exciting and life-altering adventure.
Need something more concrete to help you become self-aware? Here are a few examples that might resonate with you.
Example #1: Personality
All your life you've felt uncomfortable in large social groups. Even though you love your friends, you are often eager to go home during a get-together so you can have some alone time.
You feel weird and guilty that you're not as sociable and gregarious as your friends. And they don't understand why you sometimes withdraw and need to be by yourself.
But through exploring your personality traits, you discover you're an introvert and that most of your friends are extroverts. You recognize your personality type is normal and natural, and now you feel confident enough to explain this to your friends.
You're better able to manage your social life and your friends' expectations, and you feel more comfortable in your own skin because you took the time to learn about your personality.
Example #2: Limiting Beliefs
You've always feared stretching yourself by trying something new when it came to sports. You remember when you were a kid and finally had the courage to try out for the baseball team and failed spectacularly. You felt humiliated and defeated.
That memory, along with a few other similar experiences along the way, has left you believing that you don't have what it takes to be athletic. So you just stopped trying.
But as you've explored this belief (“I don't have what it takes to be athletic”), you've found holes in your premise. You recognize that you've painted your abilities with the broad brushstroke of failure based on a few isolated experiences.
You recognize that you may be athletic in other ways. Or that maybe it takes continued practice and effort to become a good athlete. Or that you don't have to be an expert — you can enjoy sports and athletic pursuits even if you are “bad” at them.
Example #3: Assumptions and Beliefs
You grew up with parents who had strong religious beliefs, and they passed these beliefs on to you. Your parents are loving and kind, and you always took it for granted that what they taught you was the best and only way to believe.
In fact, when you had conversations about religion with others who thought differently, you strongly defended your beliefs with the certainty that you were right and they were wrong.
But one day you read something that made you question, and that question was like pulling a thread. As uncomfortable as it made you feel to think you might be wrong (or not 100% right), you took the leap and began to explore your own beliefs independent of what your parents taught you.
Now, you've defined for yourself what is the best way to practice your spirituality — or lack thereof. You feel more authentic and independent in your beliefs because you've taken the time to investigate them. And you are more accepting of others who share different beliefs.
Example #4: Victim Mentality
There's no question, you've had some difficult things happen in your life. These experiences have left you wounded and challenged your ability to be successful in your career and relationships. Your lack of success in these areas has further weakened your confidence and self-esteem.
In fact, you've found yourself making excuses for failure and bad relationships by blaming people from your past and viewing the challenges you've faced as a reason not to try.
You've been trapped in a cycle of real and imagined victimhood. But you finally feel so tired of this cycle that you seek help from a counselor and learn that you can heal from your past and create a better life for yourself.
You discover that remaining a victim traps you in failure and unhappiness and recognizing your victim mentality frees you to escape it. You are now willing to do the work, as uncomfortable as it might be, to move forward with your life.
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I hope you'll use this list of self-awareness actions to improve all areas of your life.
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