It is told to us over and over that the road to personal growth starts with self-awareness. By looking at ourselves in the mirror we can trace patterns that are directing us away from what we really want out of our lives. This is not an act of self-recrimination but rather an honest but kind gaze at our inner selves to ask how we can be true to who we want to be.
We can however, get stuck in our own thinking and viewpoints. Here therefore are some tools that will help you examine your life through different lenses. Hopefully this variety of perspectives will give you information that will become insight and then wise action.
1. Listen To Your Stories
We use stories to understand the events of our lives and to make them meaningful. But our stories do not simply reflect what has happened to us. Our stories actually create the realities in which we live. In other words we become the stories that we tell.
We have many stories running through our lives. There will be stories about our abilities, struggles, desires, relationships, work, interests and beliefs. We will also have stories about our families, gender, communities of faith, cultural groups and countries of origin. The beliefs, ideas and practices of the groups of people to which I belong and the broader culture in which I live will strongly influence the way I understand my life and the stories I tell about myself. Over time we draw all our stories together into a narrative which we call ‘Me’, who I am, the face I present to the world.
What are the stories that you tell yourself about who you are, where you come from and what matters in life? But stories can be told in new ways, the same truth but from different angles. Are there some stories you have been telling yourself that could be told in such a different way?
2. Listen To Your Intuition
Every experience that we have an emotional reaction to, no matter how subtle, seems to be stored in a part of the brain called the amygdala. Which is why the more experiences we have, obviously the older we are the more have, the more signals we store and therefore, literally, the more wisdom we have.
Interestingly, although this happens in our brain, we feel it in our “gut”. It is as if we have a sense located in the centre of our being.
We often rely on this sixth sense, hunch or gut feel to make decisions or avoid potential danger. This inner guidance system was described by an entrepreneur as “An intuitive decision (that) is nothing but a subconscious logical analysis.”
A factual analysis of a situation is still critical, but our intuitive sense is also vital. The best decisions are made when these two streams of thinking are combined with due diligence and self awareness.
3. Listen To Your Feelings
“Every feeling is a signal. It signifies that something you value is being called into question or there is an opportunity to be seized — to strengthen a relationship, for example, or to make a change and create something new. Every emotion is a wake-up call to capture your attention. By design, it’s supposed to move you — to ask a question, to clarify things, to learn and stretch your capabilities, to take action or a stand. The emotional ‘signal system’ is designed to help free us to be the best person possible.” — Cooper and Sawaf, Executive EQ
When we listen to our feelings we are paying attention to an internal barometer that is designed to gauge whether what we are doing or about to do is worthwhile. Where there is a gap between our expectations and reality, we experience an emotional response. Or if there is a disconnect between the action and our values, the result will be uneasiness in the form of guilt, or doubt or nagging second thoughts.
Isn’t amazing that we have an inbuilt system that warns us when we are thinking about betraying ourselves!
4. Listening To Your Body
‘Tuning into our physical self is where self-awareness must begin.” Sterrett, Emotional Intelligence
Our emotions trigger a physical response. Therefore our bodies are likely the first place where we experience what we are feeling.
It is up to us to pay attention to that physical reaction, interpret the feeling and then discern the reasons for our emotional reaction. Remember our feelings are signalling something. We need to listen to our bodies to know what our subconscious may be communicating to us.
5. Take Time To Reflect
Richard Abdoo has a resolution: No matter how busy his work gets, he reserves eight hours a week for solitary reflection. As CEO of a large energy company that resolution takes some effort. Abdoo often uses those hours for long walks. Or sometimes his contemplative time takes other forms, like working in his hobby shop — or riding his Harley. “You have to force yourself to spend some time away from the hustle and bustle of your job in order to get down to reality again,” Abdoo explains. “If you don’t spend enough time doing that you can lose hold of the reins and get into all kinds of trouble.” — Cooper and Sawaf, Executive EQ.
Taking time to reflect on what we are feeling and why, where we are in our lives and if it is where we want to be, what is going well and what is not going well can be very revealing. It can prevent mistakes; it can help us change direction; it can re-energise us because of a new awareness we didn’t have before.
6. Lean Into Your Discomfort
Most people have difficulty accepting their shortcomings, so they avoid exercises that increase their self-awareness. Avoiding this pain is however, a short term fix. “Leaning into your discomfort is the only way to change.” Bradberry and Greaves, The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book1
Self-awareness is not self-absorption. We do not want to be so internally focused we are not relating healthily with the world around us. In fact the opposite is true. If I reflect with purpose on who and where I am, I can better connect with people and my context.
This is also on condition that when I identify something that needs to be addressed, perhaps an old wound that we realize is not healed or a self-sabotaging habit, I seek help. Personal growth is not a Do-It-Yourself exercise. It may start with self-awareness but we grow and learn and heal in community.