Imagine you’re out for dinner. While you’re waiting for your dinner, a notification pops up on your phone screen. Fearing it might be something important from the office, you immediately check it. Somehow after a few minutes, you find yourself looking at cat videos reacting to their owners with cat face filters on. So, you think to yourself ‘that was enough internet for today’. But, how did that happen? The idea most people have towards self-awareness is that they have pretty much mastered it and know exactly what they’re doing. Really? Do you?
The human mind is on autopilot most of the time. However, the problem is we’re not aware that our mind is on autopilot. Taking in every information and carefully processing them requires so much of mental energy that can wear us off so easily and to be alive in a time like this where information is coming at you from every other direction, it’s not plausible to do so. Thus, when information that exists exceed your mental capacity, your mind automatically shifts to autopilot to prevent information overload. Now, ask yourself again. Are you really that conscious of all your actions and thoughts? This is not including the cognitive biases that our mind exhibits that prevents an accurate understanding of the world around you. So, let me break it to you that we all pretty much suck at this. Big time.
But self-awareness is so crucial because what happens within you decides your actions and behaviours on the outside world. The worst part is, what happens within doesn’t completely come from you either. If you deeply believe students who don’t excel in their academics are just lazy, is it because you have encountered such people in your life for you to form that belief or is that what your parents always told when you were growing up to make you work harder? Self-awareness is important because it frees ourselves from the conditioning and preconceptions of the mind. Often times many of the beliefs that we hold come from what society and our parents have conditioned us to believe in based on their experiences, expectations and the time they lived in. But it comes down to us to pick them up one by one, examine the validity of those beliefs and if they fit into today’s world before allowing them to shape our perception of the world and our actions. Thus, to be able to do this, we need to be aware of how our belief systems functions to spot the faulty misconceptions. Women earning more than men threaten their positions in society might be a widely accepted belief decades ago. But in the modern world today, where there is a relentless fight for equality and justice, the statement is no longer viable and we need to be self-aware for this process of unlearning to take place.
Additionally, self-awareness is also deeply necessary as it is a part of your emotional intelligence (EQ) which is the ability to be aware, control and express your emotions that in turn affects your interpersonal relationships. We, humans, are undeniably emotional beings and getting hold of that component of ourselves requires awareness about them in the first place. We typically feel a lot in a day, but are all those feelings valid? No. Some of our emotions are the product of incessant overthinking that leads to a downward spiralling to more negative emotions. This, however, could be avoided if we are more aware of these negative thought patterns that allow our emotions to control us instead of us controlling them. Impulsive actions or behaviours that stem from this poor emotional regulation and the regret that follows could be avoided too.
As much as it is necessary to have self-awareness, we need to understand that it is not within our immediate reach. Self-awareness is a skill that needs to cultivated and practised. It is more of a journey than a destination and the first step towards it is introspection. Don’t be alarmed by the term, it is just a fancy word for looking inward to find the causes of our behaviour. Introspection helps us to generate theories to explain why we behave the way we behave. It is not always a coincidence that you lose your temper only to your family members. Maybe, it is because you are carrying the hurt, they caused you in the past and haven’t completely forgiven them yet. The theories that you come up with through introspection will help you derive solutions to deal with the behaviour you might consider problematic. Introspection can be carried out through either having a conversation with oneself or journaling. Regardless, the purpose of both methods is to provide yourself with a safe space to be vulnerable with your emotions and thoughts without the fear of being judged. However, there is something important that introspection needs to be accurate, which is conscious decision making because introspection can be misleading if the wrong reasons and conclusions are generated for our behaviours.
This leads to the next way of practising self-awareness which is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the mental state of focusing on and being aware of the present which is essential for conscious decision making. Mindfulness is how we bring back our mind from autopilot mode to the now. When we are mindful of our being, we tend to observe our thoughts and behaviour while we carry out our everyday actions and decisions. Not only this conscious decision making can be used effectively during introspection to be more aware but it can also help us to decide how we want to behave in the first place. Maybe if you practice mindfulness when you’re upset, you’ll be aware that the cause for you being upset is your boyfriend and not your parents. Thus, you shouldn’t be showing that anger towards them.
Self-awareness is important for the process of unlearning and EQ and can be cultivated through introspection and mindfulness. However, it doesn’t come easy and requires dedication to cultivate it. The process is not a straight line but rather a mess. What’s important through this journey is some compassion towards yourself that you’re not a perfect human being rather an extremely flawed one. But practice the self-acceptance that it is alright to be that way and the focus should be on the baby steps to be a better version of yourself that is more self-aware every day.