Strengthening Your Self-Awareness

The great philosopher Aristotle once said that all wisdom begins through self-knowledge.  As such, the very first step towards strengthening your willpower is growing in self-awareness.

Think about the following:

  • How many food choices do you normally make daily?
  • How many choices do you need to make every day regarding whether to cross the street now or later?
  • How many times do you have to choose which songs to play on your Spotify playlist while during your daily commute to and from work?

Many people have been asked about how many choices they normally make during the day. On average, they estimated making more or less 14 choices daily.  But in reality, the actual number may be more within the vicinity of more than 200 choices every day. What does this imply?  That most people, maybe you included, are not aware that they make that many choices every day and that those choices are often made unconsciously.  And behaviour that’s unconscious can be very challenging to regulate or manage.

Despite the relative simplicity of the activity, it has been established that people make most of their decisions without the benefit of much thought, without awareness of the possible consequences of such decisions.  That’s why when it comes to any behavioural change, self-awareness is often the first step.  It’s also the same when it comes to training your willpower.

To put it simply, self-awareness is the capacity to recognize the things you do while you’re doing them. Your reasons for acting the way you do, your emotions, and your thought processes are crucial parts of being able to make better choices.  And given today’s fast-paced society that’s saturated with many stimulants and distractions, self-awareness becomes even more relevant.

According to Stanford Graduate Business School Marketing professor Baba Shiv, people who are distracted are more likely to succumb to temptations.  And that’s why shoppers who are distracted – ever wondered why supermarkets and department stores have so many promos? –- have a higher chance of walking away from the stores with things that they didn’t plan on buying in the first place.

If you want to increase your self-awareness, one thing you can do is to be cognizant of all the choices that you make for a particular day.  At the end of that day, think about which of those numerous choices really contributed to your long-term goals – assuming you have them – and which of those didn’t.

Self-Awareness Development Exercises

Willpower is a mental muscle.  And as with physical muscles, you can train it so that it can get stronger over time.  Here are several things you can do that can help you develop a keener sense of self-awareness, which can contribute much to the strengthening of your willpower.

Say No to You

When you’re able to say “no” to yourself more often in order to delay gratification, the more you’re able to say “yes” to your long-term goals.  And this is a crucial life skill to have.  And it’s like a physical muscle that only gets stronger the more you practice it.  Saying “no” to yourself more and more often, even in the smallest daily situations, can help you become much stronger so that you can say “no” to bigger and stronger temptations.

Gossiping, junk food, social media, partying all night…take your pick among the myriad number of temptations that you face on a daily basis! For this exercise, try to say “no” to at least 5 different forms of temptation.

Widen Your Heart’s Vocabulary

It has been once said that one’s world is limited by the limits of one’s language. That being said, your words definitely have power in terms of creating powerful emotions, which in turn can lead to strong behavioural and physical responses that are much more complex than just sad or happy ones.

Using words to express or capture how you feel can be like therapy for your brain.  How?  Consider this:  your brain gets stressed when you’re unable to articulate your emotions.  That’s why it’s crucial that you’re able to put into words how you really feel.  And to help you do that, here’s a list of words that can help you better articulate how you really feel through a much wider emotional vocabulary:

Pleasant Emotions

Absorbed, Accepting, Admiration, Affected, Affectionate, Amazed, Animated Anxious, At Ease, Attracted, Blessed, Bold, Brave, Bright, Calm, Certain, Challenged, Cheerful, Clever, Close, Comfortable, Comforted, Concerned, Confident, Considerate, Content, Courageous, Curious, Daring, Delighted, Determined, Devoted, Drawn Toward, Dynamic, Eager, Earnest, Easy, Ecstatic, Elated, Encouraged, Energetic, Engrossed, Enthusiastic, Excited, Fascinated, Festive, Fortunate, Free, Free and Easy, Frisky, Glad, Gleeful, Great, Hopeful, Inquisitive, Inspired, Interested, Intrigued, Joyous, Jubilant, Keen, Kind, Liberated, Loved, Loving, Lucky, Merry, Nosy, Optimistic, Overjoyed, Passionate, Peaceful, Playful, Pleased, Quiet, Reassured, Receptive, Relaxed, Reliable, Satisfied, Secure, Sensitive, Serene, Sure, Surprised, Sympathetic, Tenacious, Tender, Thankful, Thrilled, Touched, Understanding, Unique, Warm, Wonderful.  

Difficult or Unpleasant Emotions

A Sense of Loss, Abominable, Aching, Afflicted, Aggressive, Agonized, Alarmed, Alienated, Alone, Anguish, Annoyed, Anxious, Appalled, Ashamed, Bad, Bitter, Boiling, Bored, Cold, Cowardly, Cross, Crushed, Dejected, Deprived, Desolate, Despair, Desperate, Despicable, Detestable, Diminished, Disappointed, Discouraged, Disgusting, Disillusioned, Disinterested, Dismayed, Dissatisfied, Distressed, Distrustful, Dominated, Doubtful, Embarrassed, Empty, Enraged, Fatigued, Fearful, Forced, Frightened, Frustrated, Fuming, Guilty, Hateful, Heartbroken, Humiliated, Hostile, Despair, Incapable, Incensed, Indecisive, Indignant, Inferior, Inflamed, Infuriated, Injured, Insensitive, Insulting, Irritated, Lifeless, Lonely, Lost, Lousy, Menaced, Miserable, Misgiving, Mournful, Nervous, Neutral, Nonchalant, Offended, Offensive, Pained, Panic,  Paralysed, Pathetic, Perplexed, Pessimistic, Powerless, Preoccupied, Powerless, Provoked, Quaking, Rejected, Repugnant, Resentful, Reserved, Restless, Scared, Shaky, Skeptical, Sore, Sorrowful, Sulky, Suspicious, Tearful, Tense, Terrible, Terrified, Threatened, Timid, Tormented, Tortured, Tragic, Unbelieving, Uncertain, Uneasy, Unhappy, Unpleasant, Unsure, Upset, Useless, Victimized, Vulnerable, Wary, Weary, Woeful, Worked Up, Worried, Wronged. 

Why Times Three

Every time you’re about to decide, ask yourself “why?” three times.  By coming up with at least three good reasons for doing something or making a certain decision, you can develop better awareness of your decision-making processes and eventually have more confidence and clarity in your decision-making.  How?  It’s because recognizing why you’re doing or choosing things, and knowing whether or not they’re reasonable, is part of being self-aware.

Know How You Act

While most people get the heebie-jeebies when watching themselves on video, it can be a very useful tool in developing a keener sense of self-awareness.  Now, you don’t need to video yourself, although that’d be a swell idea for becoming more self-aware.  But essentially, what you’ll need to do is be more aware or cognizant of your body language, i.e., your mannerisms, posture, and gestures.  By becoming more aware of these things, you can improve your self-confidence.

Your self-esteem can start to slack when you slouch or assume a pose that projects “low power.”. On the other hand, standing tall or other poses that project “high power” can help boost testosterone and, consequently, performance, which can elevate your self-esteem.  Even hand gestures can help improve self-confidence as proper gestures can help you articulate what you’re thinking much better to other people, connect with them much better, and elicit responses from them that can boost your self-esteem.

You can either record yourself on video as you give a talk or presentation, or ask others for feedback on your body language so you can become more aware of them and make necessary adjustments.  You’ll be glad you did.

Take Responsibility for Your Shortcomings

Because nobody’s perfect, including you, you must be ready and willing to take full responsibility for your shortcomings like submitting a poorly written and edited report to your boss or forgetting to get milk for the baby on your way home.  Self-condemnation isn’t the point of this exercise or habit.  Keeping yourself from becoming a hypocrite is.  And the best way to do that is by becoming more aware –- not condemning –- of your own shortcomings and accepting responsibility for them.  So instead of always making excuses for them, try to acknowledge them more and more frequently.  Over time, you’ll be more self-aware, particularly of your not-so-good side, and become a much better person.

Breathe In, Breathe Out

By becoming more aware of how you react to certain situations or circumstances, the better you become at managing or controlling your initial or knee-jerk reactions. Better self-awareness can help you make better and more objective assessments of your circumstances or situations and, consequently, react much better.

One way to help you do this is to take several slow and deep breaths whenever certain situations or circumstances trigger your frustration or anger.  By making this a habit, you give yourself a big enough gap between the circumstantial triggers and your reactions.  And it’s in this “gap” that you can be aware of the situation and how you feel, both of which can help you practice more self-restraint or willpower.

Oppose Yourself

What I mean by this is to make it a habit to “question” your assumptions or points of view because there’s no guarantee that your current worldviews and deeply held beliefs are reasonable.  When you make this a habit, you’ll become more aware of why you view and believe certain things in your life the way you do. And the more aware you become of these things, the more (will)power you can have to change them if needed.

Discover Your Type

You can maximise your strengths and minimise your weaknesses by becoming more self-aware of your personality type. Your ability to understand your talents and strengths can spell the difference between an excellent choice and a disastrous one. Your talents are innate while your strengths are knowledge and skills that you can acquire. You can begin by understanding where you lie along the extrovert/introvert spectrum. Then, try to find out what your Myers-Briggs type is, followed by a personal analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Listen To Your Self-Talk

Oftentimes, there is an ongoing commentary in your head that isn’t always positive or beneficial. Consider this: even a hint of negative self-talk can worsen into stress or, worse, depression. That is why paying attention to how you respond verbally to certain situations, both positive and negative, can be a very good practice in terms of not just developing higher self-awareness but also developing a stronger will power that can help you successfully change the way you talk.

Because it can be very challenging to continuously listen to yourself talk and evaluate such talk, it can be much better to either record yourself talking for a couple of hours under normal circumstances, or ask other people who know you very well or whom you interact with a lot for feedback on the things you say as a reaction to certain situations and on a normal basis.

Reflection and Self-Evaluation

One practice that many people do that many people take for granted is journaling or maintaining a diary. By making this a habit, you will be able to significantly up your level of self-awareness because journaling or keeping a diary makes you naturally reflect and evaluate yourself, your situation, and other people. If that’s not being aware of yourself and others, I don’t know what is.

Regularly Ask Others for Constructive Feedback

Everybody has their own blind spots when it comes to behaviour and thinking patterns. You and I are not exempted. If they are blind spots to begin with, then how can you become aware of them?

Obviously, the answer lies in feedback from other people. When you ask for regular feedback from others, especially those who know you well, you will be able to cut through many of your one dimensional or biassed views about yourself. Make sure that the people you ask for feedback from are ones that you respect highly, are trustworthy, and have impeccable integrity. Otherwise, the quality of the constructive feedback that you might get from others may not be very good.

The Gratitude List

The Quantum Evolve

 NLP Consultancy, specialising in Smoking and Substance Abuse and  advocates of general Mental Health & Wellbeing.