Recently I have made the decision to walk away from a role that I asked for. Getting the role and using it as a platform to learn and develop myself was something that I had established as a goal – I wanted it and I jumped in with both feet. It wasn’t an easy role either, I had to step out of my comfort zone and climb a huge learning curve and I did. I was at a point where I was making a real difference, adding significant value and was given the opportunity to take on even more responsibility – so why did I walk away? I took the time to reflect on myself daily and all the areas I seemed to be struggling with. My brain was foggy, I couldn’t focus as long as usual and after getting home from work all I wanted to do was sleep. I was becoming a shell of who I was. If I didn’t take the time to reflect regularly I may have taken on more responsibility and burnt out. My growth would have suffered, my friendships would have suffered and my marriage would have suffered. This may not have been the right action for everyone but it was for me – and that’s the point. Being able to reflect on yourself can allow you to have some real insight into what is working, what isn’t and what is causing you to feel a certain way. You can use it to manage your emotions, your responses and your growth.
I believe one of the most critical skills someone can have to distinguish themselves as an effective manager, leader and human being is the ability to self-reflect. This skill allows you to be aware of how your actions impact others and how daily life impacts you. Self-awareness was cited as the most important capability for leaders to develop in the MIT Sloan Management Review. Becoming more self-aware is something I have worked long and hard on over the last few years specifically because it allows me to identify areas of improvement and show grace and kindness to others in situations where I may not feel like it.
Now you might be sitting there thinking, no worries Hass – I am already there and I don’t need your tips to become more self-aware! Well… According to this study, it has been shown that 95% of people believe they are self-aware when they are not. In fact, only 10-15% of people are self-aware.
So, it is very likely you are in the not-so-self-aware bucket – let’s see what we can do to change that.
The proven benefits of self-awareness
Some of the proven benefits of increased self-awareness are stronger relationships, you are more creative, you are more confident, you become a better communicator, you perform better at work, you are more promotable and you are more effective as a leader. Bottom line: self-awareness gives you control.
Being more self-aware can allow you to adapt to different situations. It allows you to understand how your brain works and fails and provides you with an option of doing something about it. We all live in a dynamic world where things change at a quick and drastic rate. If we become more self-aware then we will be able to adapt and be more mindful of how we act rather than just reacting to what comes our way.
How to be more self-aware in 10 steps
1. Observe yourself neutrally
The first step is a difficult one. You need to become a neutral observer of yourself – your actions, your thoughts and your emotions. You need to observe and see when things change and how they affect you. One way to do this is to do what I like to call quarterly journaling. Split each of your days into 4 quarters – thinking about the different environments you might be in. Spend 5 or so minute just jotting down what has happened, how you have felt and how you have acted. Try to make it detailed, where were you, who was there, what words were said etc. As an example, my quarters would be:
1) Waking up + post breakfast
2) Arrival at work
3) Middle of the workday (12pm-1pm)
4) End of the day before bed
All the observations you make should be neutral – don’t judge yourself or any of your interactions – simply note them down. You are David Attenborough observing yourself from afar!
Next, you need to have a think about what you observed and try and find patterns and links between how you felt, how you reacted, the people there, the environments and the different situations you were in. Again, don’t judge – just focus on identifying the link behind your thinking, actions and circumstances. At this point, you are just trying to work out how your brain works.
Now that you understand how you act and react and why you need to spend some time deciding whether it is in line with how you want to act. You need to make a decision of how you want to act in each of the different scenarios you have identified – rather than doing X, I now need to do Y. Check this post out if you are looking at how you can be more emotionally intelligent, and why you should. Identify your values and compare them to how you are currently acting. Where is the gap?
As you continue steps 1 and 2 you need to reflect on them in light of the decisions you have made., ask yourself, has there been a change? Why not? Did you miss something in your analysis – the real reason you are acting in a certain way? Dig deep.
4. Make it a habit
Make this a habit. The world keeps changing and so will everything around you. If you make this a habit it will allow you to stay in control of your thinking and actions, ensuring they align with your values.
What to look out for
When you are trying to be more self-aware you need to look in particular at 3 main areas of your life.
1.Your inner rhythm
Did you know that you have an internal body clock called the circadian rhythm? It can dictate which parts of your day you are most energised, alert and creative. Daniel Pink highlights in his book “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” (grab a copy on Amazon UK / Amazon US) suggests that you can improve your creativity and decision making by simply doing appropriate tasks at the right time – according to your circadian rhythm. Check out this podcast episode to hear more about it. Spend some time trying to understand your internal clock – observe and analyse. You can then look at finding the optimal timings in your day to do the things you need to do. For example, I am a morning person so I tend to do all my best thinking early on. I do anything that needs a lot of analytical thought in the morning. I tend to push meeting out to the afternoon and do my creative thinking after the afternoon lul.
2. Running on empty
One of the most mind-blowing books I have read this year is “Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams” by Matthew Walker (get your copy on Amazon UK / Amazon US). It essentially gives you a very scientific based answer to why you need to be giving yourself enough sleep and how when you deprive yourself of sleep you can be doing a lot of damage. It’s quite scary to think how many of us try and get by with as little sleep as possible to keep up with our busy lives. One of the ways you can make the biggest improvements to your health, to your focus, to your energy, to pretty much everything in your biology is by giving yourself enough sleep. You need to make yourself aware of what happens when you don’t sleep enough, eat enough, exercise enough, do enough learning, have enough fun or give yourself enough downtime. These are often areas that we compromise on when things get stressful and busy but they have a very large impact on how we perform. When you are doing your observations and analysis make sure you look into these areas.
3. Where do you get your energy?
Make sure you take the time to find out what things you do or don’t do that give you more energy. For me, recently I identified that if I don’t drink 2 litres of water a day then my brain basically grinds to a halt and more than 2 cups of coffee do the same thing to me (probably because coffee is a diuretic). What about the food? Do certain foods make you feel less energetic than others? Does too much sugar slow you down? Before my wife found out she was gluten-free she would always suffer from brain fog – maybe you have an allergy? Check this post out for a list of some things you can try doing.
Self-awareness is key to allowing you to adapt to a changing world and to align your thoughts and actions to your values. Being more self-aware will help you to become a better leader. This is what you need to do to be more self-aware:
- Take the time to understand your thoughts and actions through journaling and make it a habit
- Decide how you are going to change those outcomes and replace bad habits for good ones
- Have a long hard look at what things you can do or stop doing to improve energy and productivity
If you want to dive deeper on this topic, check out “Insight: The Surprising Truth About How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More Than We Think” by Tasha Eurich (get a copy on Amazon UK / Amazon US).
In addition to going it alone on your journey of self-awareness – I would recommend you get a coach to help you work through some of the analysis. A coach can provide an objective set of eyes to help you get to where you need to. I happen to offer coaching so please do get in touch if it is something you would like to do: https://hitleader.com/consulting-and-coaching/.