Self-awareness is positively correlated with increased well-being, stronger relationships, greater acceptance of others and increased empathy. Research suggests that when we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and more creative. We make better decisions, communicate more effectively and build stronger relationships. We are less likely to lie, cheat and steal. We are better workers who get more promotions. And we are more effective leaders with more satisfied employees and more profitable companies.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions as well as the emotions of others. Self-awareness is the cornerstone of the 5 key elements of emotional intelligence. The other 4 are: listening, acceptance, empathy and right action. This ability to monitor our emotions and thoughts from moment to moment is key to understanding ourselves better, being at peace with who we are and proactively managing our thoughts, emotions and behaviors.
Self-aware people tend to act consciously rather than react passively, be in good psychological health and have a positive outlook on life. They also have greater depth of life experience and are more likely to be more compassionate to themselves and others. Self-awareness is clearly an essential component of emotional intelligence.
Self-awareness allows us to listen without assumptions and judgments-which compromise healthy communication. Before we are able to listen deeply to others, we need to learn how to listen deeply to ourselves. It is this self-awareness that helps us to truly understand another’s frame of reference. Deep listening can be transformative.
Consider Carl Rogers’ approach to listening:
When a tough discussion arises, stop the discussion and adhere to the following rule: each person can speak up for themselves, only after they have first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous person- to that speaker’s satisfaction. If you really understand another person’s perspective, you are more likely to see it their way. Ultimately, “the risk of being changed is one of the most frightening prospects we can face”.
When we engage in self-judgment and resist accepting ourselves exactly as we are, we impede self-awareness. Acceptance is an integral part of self-awareness. It is critical that we acknowledge and accept who we are and what we have done, rather than second-guessing or beating ourselves up (“I should/shouldn’t have done that”). Self-awareness requires rigorous honesty, it also requires leaning into the discomfort of vulnerable thoughts or feelings. The façade of perfection can also limit self-awareness. It is essential to aspire to fully open to who you are with an open heart and open mind and a willingness to completely surrender to what you see, feel, think and experience. Only when we truly accept ourselves can we accept others.
To better understand others, we must first better understand ourselves. Once we become more aware of what makes us who we are, we are better able to understand the differences between ourselves and others, and what makes them who they are. Empathy, along with self-awareness is considered to be one of the main pillars of emotional intelligence. When you become more aware of yourself, you become more aware of others. The self/other dichotomy becomes clearer and you begin to recognize the ways you are both similar and different from others in your thinking and feeling. That’s a very important aspect of empathy – it’s not just about recognizing the ways you are different from others, but also recognizing the ways you are very similar to others.
Two studies published in Emotion and Mindfulness, surveyed more than 700 college students. The students answered questions about their emotional self-awareness and their empathy, including both cognitive empathy (the ability to understand other people’s emotions and perspectives) and affective empathy (their emotional response to other people’s feelings). The results for both groups were the same: The more self-awareness students demonstrated, the greater their cognitive empathy.
To get an even more accurate picture of empathy, researchers in the Emotion Study gave participants a test. They watched videos of other students in a stressful situation (preparing and then delivering a five-minute speech on why they should be hired for their dream job) and tried to discern what the students in the videos were feeling before and after their speech. The speech-giving students had also rated their feelings, so researchers could compare the ratings to measure empathy. Again, the more self-aware participants excelled at this cognitive empathy test. Compared to their less self-aware peers, they could better detect negative emotions in the students who had just given their speech.
The root of empathy may very well be self-awareness.
When we are self-aware, we are better able to monitor our thoughts and feelings as an observer, pause and determine right action. In this state, we are more likely to be consciously responsive and less likely to be reactive.