Cultivating Self-Awareness

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Self-awareness is a key trait for effective leadership. As a leader, self-awareness allows you to clearly read a situation and adapt to changes in your organization and environment. Self-aware leaders are mindful in their interactions with others- both perceived and actual. They sense their feelings and the impact they are having on others and make the necessary adjustments.

The following are ways to cultivate self-awareness:

1. Create space for yourself.

Set aside time and space every day to connect with yourself. Remove all digital distractions and spend time with yourself, reading, writing, meditating, doing whatever nourishes you.

2. Practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness is essential to self-awareness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”. Research has found that a daily mindfulness practice leads to changes in the structure and function of the brain that enhance self-awareness. Mindfulness training enables you to expand your awareness of what’s happening from moment to moment. It helps you to notice and regulate your emotions, and it helps you to better understand the behavior, reactions and emotions of the people you lead. Through mindfulness practice, you will be more present with yourself so that you can “be there” to observe what is going on inside and around you. Mindfulness can be practiced at any time, such as through mindful listening, mindful eating or walking.

3.Keep a journal.

Writing not only helps us process our thoughts, but also makes us feel connected and at peace with ourselves. Letting your thoughts flow out onto paper also creates more space in your mind for new information and ideas. Writing down things we are grateful for or even things we are struggling with can increase happiness and satisfaction. You can also use the journal to record your inner state, what you are feeling and what you are observing. Take time each night to write in your journal about your thoughts and feelings, and your successes and failures of the day. This will help you grow and move forward.

4.Practice being a good listener.

Listening requires being present and observing other people’s emotions, body movement and language. It is about empathy and understanding without constantly evaluating or judging. As you become a better listener, you will become better at listening to your own inner voice.

5. Gain different perspectives.

Ask for genuine, balanced feedback from the small group of people you depend on: your loving critics- people who care about you and are honest with you. You need to be intentional about getting feedback from others. Listen to the feedback of our peers and mentors, and let them play the role of an honest mirror. Please be aware that not all feedback is valuable. Don’t ignore others, but bounce their comments off of your loving critics. Research has shown that conducting 360 degree feedback in the workplace is a useful tool to improve managers’ self-awareness. We all have blind spots, so it is helpful to gain different perspectives to see a fuller picture of ourselves. Research also suggests that when we see ourselves clearly, we make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships and communicate more effectively.

6. Take regular breaks.

When we are under pressure, we tend to default to doing what we have always done- our habitual thinking and behavior. There is little awareness in that, and little space for understanding yourself or the people you lead. Taking regular short breaks- of even just one minute, gets you out of habitual thinking and behavior. It provides you the space for awareness to arise and to see things more clearly.

An awareness break, is a break where you simply do nothing. Refrain from checking the news, your phone or social media because that information occupies space in your mind and obstructs awareness. Instead, put your phone down, turn away from your computer, and simply look out the window, close your eyes, or go for a walk.

In Closing

As you develop self-awareness, you will find that your thoughts and interpretations will begin to change. This mental change will in turn alter your emotions and increase your emotional intelligence. This awareness will help you recognize where your thoughts and emotions are leading you and empower you to direct your future. It is this journey of self-awareness, of exploring, understanding and becoming ourselves that makes life truly worth living.