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Last Updated on March 11, 2020

What Is Self Awareness (And How to Increase Yours)

What Is Self Awareness (And How to Increase Yours)

What is self awareness?

As it turns out, self awareness can mean many different things, depending on who you ask.

In this article, we will look into the true meaning of self awareness, why it is so important to everyone of us, and what you can do to increase your self awareness to live a happy and successful life.

What Is Self Awareness?

Self awareness could be as simple as getting in touch with, and then understanding your thoughts and feelings. For some, it might mean connecting with your innermost beliefs and values and then living a life that is congruent with those values.

For people focused more on professional development, self awareness is understanding their strengths, weaknesses, personality types, and leadership styles.

According to Google’s Dictionary, self-awareness is:

“Conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.”

According to Psychology Today, self-awareness:[1]

“involves monitoring our inner worlds, thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. It is important, because it’s a major mechanism influencing personal development.”

Since publishing his book, Emotional Intelligence in 1995, Daniel Goleman’s idea of Emotional Intelligence (a.k.a. EQ or EI) and self-awareness have taken the world by storm. And as you can see, there are a wide array of meanings, definitions, and interpretations.

The two larger questions, in my mind, are 1) Why does self-awareness matter so much and 2) How can we become more self-aware in our lives?

Those are the two questions we’re going to dive into today.

Why Does Self-Awareness Matter?

In a study undertaken by Green Peak Partners and Cornell University, 72 executives at public and private companies ranging from $50 million in revenue to $5 billion in revenue were studied. Here’s what the study found:[2]

“The executives most likely to deliver good bottom line results are actually self-aware leaders who are especially good at working with individuals and in teams.” The study went on to say, “A high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.”

So there it is!

Higher self awareness equates to higher levels of success. But this goes beyond our professional lives—it also applies to our personal lives.

In his book Emotional Intelligence, Goleman saw emotional intelligence as a vital factor in success, especially for children. He proposed that emotional intelligence would not only improve their learning abilities, it would also help them succeed in school by reducing or eliminating some of the most distracting and harmful behavioral problems.[3]

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Since 1995, there have been countless studies on self-awareness and EQ as a whole. Some have shown that improved EQ could help college students succeed, both academically and socially.

Other findings have shown that self-awareness can improve communication and reduce conflict in relationships, especially in married couples.[4]

As you dive into the rabbit hole of research online, you’ll find that self-awareness affects everything you do. It affects your leadership, your relationships, how you treat others, how you communicate, what you expect of people, how you respond to situations, and so much more.

Self awareness is, without a doubt, a critical skill that everyone should seek to improve upon.

And here comes the good news! Self-awareness is something you can learn.

In 2009, Delphine Nelis and colleagues conducted a controlled experiment to test whether or not it’s possible to increase Emotional Intelligence.

Participants of the experimental group received a brief empirically-derived EI training while control participants continued to live normally. At the end of the experiment, they proved that improving emotional intelligence is possible.[5]

How to Become More Self-Aware

If I’ve done my job correctly, you should be 100 percent sold on the importance of self-awareness, and you should be hungry to know how to improve on this area of your life.

That’s great because I have six strategies to help you do just that.

1. Create Space for Yourself

Have you ever heard the saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees?”

Sometimes, when we have our heads down, and we’re immersed in our everyday lives, it’s hard to see what’s really going on. Life is busy, so if you want to become more self-aware, you have to create space for yourself.

I don’t necessarily mean a meditation room, although that might help.

What I mean is, you need to carve out time in your day to reflect on your life:

How are you feeling?

Are you stressed, worried, or upset? Are you filled with joy and passion? Or, are you somewhere in between? It’s important to touch base with your feelings every day; otherwise your feelings can build and emerge in unpleasant ways.

What are you thinking about?

Do you have big problems but no time to think of solutions? Could things be going better in certain areas of your life?

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What are you focused on?

What is getting the most of your time? Should that thing or those people be getting so much of your time? Are you drifting through life, or are you attacking your life plan with passion and energy?

Most people are far too busy running through the motions of everyday life that they forget to pause and reflect. But not you! You’re on a quest to become more self-aware.

Maybe you can reflect during an early morning walk or meditation. Perhaps you could reflect during an hour in the gym, on the treadmill, or on a hiking trail.

It really doesn’t matter where you create the space for yourself—all that matter is that you make the time.

I’ve tried meditation, and it doesn’t work for me. Instead, I tend to check in with myself the most while I’m mowing the lawn, jogging, lifting weights, or journaling. Those are the times it happens naturally for me. There’s just something about being engaged in repetitive activity that clears my mind.

Find what works for you and create some space in your life. You need it!

2. Practice Mindfulness

For me, this is a tough one!

Google’s Dictionary defines mindfulness as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.”

I’m bad about moving through life at hyper speed, fueled by copious amounts of coffee while trying to crush my goals as quickly as possible. Stopping to smell the roses every once in a while is just plain hard for me.

It’s easy to be so future-focused that you lose track of the present, but by creating space in our lives, we essentially carve out dedicated times to practice mindfulness.

During these times, it’s important to listen to your inner voice, tune into what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it, and to acknowledge and understand yourself better.

How many times have you been upset and had no idea why?

This has happened to me, but then later on, when my mind became clear, it was easy to see why I was upset and what I needed to do about the situation. But we can’t always wait until our mind clears on its own!

In today’s fast-paced environment, the time may never come on its own. We have to make time for it.

Find some space in your life and use it to practice mindfulness each day. Here’s a beginner guide to try: Meditation Can Change Your Life: The Power of Mindfulness

3. Keep a Journal

What better way to create some space for yourself and practice mindfulness than to develop a daily journaling habit?

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According to Psych Central,[6]

“The act of writing accesses your left brain, which is analytical and rational. […] In sum, writing removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others and the world around you.”

I had no idea! Did you?

In addition to that, journaling can help you clarify your thoughts and feelings, get to know yourself better, reduce overall stress, solve problems more effectively, and even resolve disagreements with others.

If it helps, think of journaling as practicing mindfulness on paper.

Take some quiet time to think about your inner world, how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, and so on. While you’re analyzing your inner world, write down all of your thoughts as they occur to you. I call this a stream of consciousness.

If you can, do this at least once a day, either in the morning or in the evening. If you want to take your self-awareness to an even higher level, try journaling your observations every hour throughout the day.

According to the National Science Foundation, we have an average of 50,000 thoughts per day, most of which we are not self-aware enough to notice.[7] Imagine if you took a little time to practice mindfulness and wrote some of those thoughts down.

4. Become an Excellent Listener

Stephen R. Covey, the author of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, once said,

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Do you fall into that category?

For the longest time, I absolutely did. As people were talking to me, I was trying to hold onto as many of my own thoughts, replies, and rebuttals as possible. Then, moments later, I couldn’t recall a single thing I had been told.

A couple of years ago, I became aware of this phenomenon when I read John Maxwell’s Becoming a Person of Influence. There was an entire chapter on listening, and I learned that I was a terrible listener!

When you stop to listen to someone, your goal is to do a lot more than just hear their words better—you need to observe their tone, their body language, their emotions, and their attitude. You need to become acutely aware of how they feel and how you’re making them feel.

Instead of evaluating and judging what the other person is saying, connect with them, and listen and observe what they have to say. As you become a better listener to those around you, you will learn to listen to your inner voice better as well.

5. Seek New Perspectives About Yourself

Most of us think we have ourselves pretty figured out, don’t we? We spend more time with ourselves than with anyone else. We know all of our own intimate secrets, hopes, dreams, and guilty pleasures.

How could we not know ourselves inside and out? Well, I would argue that it’s tough to honestly know ourselves, at least entirely.

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Here’s why:

I think we often know ourselves as the person we aspire to be, not the person we are in the present.

My favorite show of all time is NBC’s The Office. In one episode, Michael Scott is introducing a new salesman to the staff. The new salesman is highly skilled, attractive, charming, and so on. Michael says this to his team:[8]

“I respect him, because he reminds me of somebody. Can anybody guess who that is?”

The staff takes their round of incorrect guesses, and Michael responds, “No, me. Right? Sorta like, a little younger version of me?”

In his eyes, he and the new guy were very similar, but Oscar replies, “It’s hard to judge ourselves accurately isn’t it.”

Oscar sees Michael through a completely different lens than Michael sees himself. And if you’ve seen the show, Oscar’s perspective is dead on.

It’s difficult to get pure, honest feedback free of bias and fluff, but by asking our friends, family, and coworkers for 360-degree feedback, we can gain a new perspective about ourselves that would be challenging to get on our own.

If you want to become truly self-aware, seek feedback from those you know and trust. The insights may surprise you, but the new perspective will be incredibly valuable.

6. Live and Breathe Personal Development

The last strategy I’ll leave you with for increasing your self-awareness is to consume as much personal development content as you can.

I love to listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos, read books and blogs about leadership, mentorship, goal setting, high performance, building good habits, and so on. The more I dive into personal development, the more I learn about myself.

A year ago, I didn’t know about scarcity mindset or risk aversion, let alone that I suffered from both. Now that I know I suffer from these things, I can work towards overcoming them in my life.

The more you learn about the world around you, the better you can begin to understand yourself, and that’s why self-awareness is so incredibly critical to success.

Final Thoughts

The impact that self awareness has on success is undeniable, but mastering self-awareness is going to take some effort from you. Are you up for it? I think you are!

You’ve got this!

More Tips for Increasing Self Awareness

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Psychology Today: What Is Self-Awareness, and How Do You Get It?
[2] American Management Association: New Study Shows Nice Guys Finish First
[3] Positive Psychology Program: What is Emotional Intelligence? +18 Ways To Improve It
[4] Fatherly: How to Become More Self-Aware in Your Marriage
[5] Delphine Nelis: Increasing emotional intelligence: (How) is it possible?
[6] Psych Central: The Health Benefits of Journaling
[7] National Science Foundation: Thoughts
[8] The Official Quotes: The Sting

More by this author

Austin Bollinger

Austin is the founder, blogger, and podcast host at Daily New Years. He's on a mission to help people identify, set, and crush their goals.

How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong What Is Self Awareness (And How to Increase Yours) The Ultimate List of 29 Goals for Living a Fulfilling Life What Is Self-Actualization? 13 Traits of Self-Actualized People

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Last Updated on September 30, 2020

Why Intrinsic Motivation Is So Powerful (And How to Find It)

Why Intrinsic Motivation Is So Powerful (And How to Find It)

Motivation is one of the main reasons we do things — take an action, go to work (and sometimes overwork ourselves), create goals, exercise our willpower. There are two main, universally agreed upon types of motivation — intrinsic motivation (also known as internal motivation) and extrinsic motivation (external motivation).

The intrinsic kind is, by inference, when you do something because it’s internally fulfilling, interesting or enjoyable — without an expectation of a reward or recognition from others. Extrinsic motivation is driven by exactly the opposite — externalities, such as the promise of more money, a good grade, positive feedback, or a promotion.

And of course, we all know about the big debate about money. It’s surely an external driver, but is it possible that it can sometimes make us enjoy what we do more? A meta-analysis that reviewed 120 years of research found a weak link between job satisfaction and money[1].

And what’s more — there is some evidence to suggest that more money can actually have an adverse effect on your intrinsic motivation.

Regardless of its type, motivation is still important to get you moving, to improve, excel, and put that extra effort when you feel like you don’t have a single drop of energy left to keep going.

So, let’s see some of the best things you can do to keep the fire going, even when you’d rather just indulge in pleasant idleness.

Why Intrinsic Motivation Tops Extrinsic Motivation

“To be motivated means to be moved to do something.”[2]

Generally speaking, we all need motivation.

An avalanche of research, though, shows that when it comes to finding the lasting drive to “do something,” internal incentives are much more powerful than extrinsic rewards.

Why? It’s simple.

There is a great difference when you engage in something because “I want to,” as opposed to “I must.” Just think about the most obvious example there is: work.

If you go to work every day, dragging your feet and dreading the day ahead of you, how much enjoyment will you get from your job? What about productivity and results? Quality of work?

Yep, that’s right, you definitely won’t be topping the Employee of the Month list anytime soon.

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The thing with external motivation is that it doesn’t last. It’s susceptible to something psychologists call Hedonic Adaptation[3]. It’s a fancy way of saying that external rewards are not a sustainable source of happiness and satisfaction.

When you put in 100-hour weeks in order to get promoted, and you finally are, how long does your “high” last? The walking-on-a-cloud feelings wear off quickly, research tells us, making you want more. Therefore, you are stuck on a never-ending “hedonic treadmill,” i.e. you can progressively only become motivated by bigger and shinier things, just to find out that they don’t bring you the satisfaction you hoped for, when you finally get them.

Or, as the journalist and author Oliver Burkeman wonderfully puts it[4]:

“Write every day” won’t work unless you want to write. And no exercise regime will last long if you don’t at least slightly enjoy what you’re doing.

If you want to find out more about the different types of motivation, take a look at this article: 9 Types of Motivation That Make It Possible to Reach Your Dreams

Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation

If you are still unconvinced that doing things solely for kudos and brownie points is not going to keep you going forever, nor make you like what you do, here is some additional proof:

Studies tell us that intrinsic motivation is a generally stronger predictor of job performance over the long run than extrinsic motivation[5].

One reason is that when we are internally driven to do something, we do it simply for the enjoyment of the activity. So, we keep going, day in and out, because we feel inspired, driven, happy, and satisfied with ourselves.

Another reason has to do with the fact that increasing intrinsic motivation is intertwined with things such as higher purpose, contributing to a cause, or doing things for the sake of something bigger than ourselves or our own benefit. A famous study done by the organizational psychologist Adam Grant is case in point[6].

By showing university fundraisers how the money donated by alumni can help financially struggling students to graduate from college, their productivity increased by 400% a week! The callers also showed an average increase of 142% in time spent on the phone and 171% increase in money raised.

Internal motivation has been found to be very helpful when it comes to academia, too. Research confirms that the use of external motivators, such as praise, undermine students’ internal motivation, and, in the long-run, it results in “slower acquisition of skills and more errors in the learning process.”[7]

In contrast, when children are internally driven, they are more involved in the task at hand, enjoy it more, and intentionally seek out challenges.

Therefore, all the research seems to allude to one major revelation: intrinsic motivation is a must-have if you want to save yourself the drudgery we all sometimes feel when contemplating the things we should do or must do.

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6 Ways to Enhance Your Intrinsic Motivation

So, how does one get more of the good stuff — that is, how do you become internally motivated?

There are many things you can do to become more driven. Here are the ones that top the list.

1. Self-Efficacy

The theory of self-efficacy was developed by the American-Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura in 1982[8]. Efficacy is our own belief in whether we can achieve the goals we set for ourselves. In other words, it’s whether we think we “got what it takes” to be successful at what we do[9].

Find intrinsic motivation with self-efficacy.

    It’s not hard to see the link of self-efficacy to higher self-esteem, better performance, and, of course, enhanced motivation. People with high self-efficacy are more likely to put extra effort in what they do, to self-set more challenging goals, and be more driven to improve their skills[10].

    Therefore, the belief that we can accomplish something serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy — it motivates us to try harder to prove to ourselves that we can do it.

    You can learn more about self-efficacy in this article: What Is Self Efficacy and How to Improve Yours

    2. Link Your Actions to a Greater Purpose

    Finding your “why” in life is incredibly important. This means that you need to be clear with yourself on why you do what you do and what drives you. What is intrinsically rewarding for you? 

    And no matter how mundane a task may be, it can always be linked to something bigger and better. Psychologists call this “reframing your narrative.”

    Remember the famous story of John F. Kennedy visiting NASA in 1961? As it goes, he met a janitor there and asked him what he did at NASA. The answer was:

    “I’m helping to put a man on the Moon.”

    Inspirational, isn’t it?

    Re-phrasing how your actions can help others and leave a mark in the universe can be a powerful driver and a meaning-creator.

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    3. Volunteer

    Volunteering is a great way to give back to the world. It can also help boost your internal motivation by making you feel important in supporting the less fortunate, learning new skills, feeling good about yourself, or linking to some of your inner values, such as kindness and humanitarianism[11].

    When you remove any external reward expectations and do something for the pure joy and fulfilment of improving others’ lives, then you are truly intrinsically motivated.

    4. Don’t Wait Until You “Feel Like It” to Do Something

    A great piece in the Harvard Business Review points out that when we say things as “I can’t make myself go to the gym” or “I can’t get up early,” what we actually mean is that we don’t feel like it[12]. There is nothing that psychically prevents us from doing those things, apart from our laziness.

    But here’s the thing: You don’t have to “feel like it” in order to take action.

    Sometimes, it so happens that you may not want to do something in the beginning, but once you start, you get into the flow and find your intrinsic motivation.

    For instance, you don’t feel like going to the gym after a long day at work. Rather than debating in your head for hours “for and against” it, just go. Tell yourself that you will think about it later. Once in the gym, surrounded by similar souls, you suddenly won’t fee that tired or uninspired.

    Another way to overcome procrastination is to create routines and follow them. Once the habit sets in, suddenly getting up at 6 am for work or writing for an hour every day won’t be so dreadful.

    5. Self-Determination, or the CAR Model (As I Call It)

    The Self-Determination theory was created by two professors of psychology from the University of Rochester in the mid-80s—Richard Ryan and Edward Deci[13]. The theory is one of the most popular ones in the field of motivation[14]. It focuses on the different drivers behind our behavior—i.e. the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

    There are three main needs, the theory further states, that can help us meet our need for growth. These are also the things which Profs. Deci and Ryan believed to be the main ways to enhance our intrinsic motivation—Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness (CAR).

    If our jobs allow us to learn and grow, and if we have enough autonomy to do things our way and be creative, then we will be more driven to give our best, and our performance will soar. In addition, as humans are social beings, we also need to feel connected to others and respected.

    All of these sources of intrinsic motivation, separately and in combination, can become powerful instigators to keep us thriving, even when we feel uninspired and unmotivated .

    6. Tap Into a Deeper Reason

    Some interesting research done in 2016 sought answers to how high-performing employees remain driven when their company can’t or won’t engage in ways to motivate them—intrinsically or extrinsically[15].

    The study tracked workers in a Mexican factory, where they did exactly the same tasks every day, with virtually zero chances for learning new skills, developing professionally, or being promoted. Everyone was paid the same, regardless of performance. So there was no extrinsic motivation at all, other than keeping one’s job.

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    A third kind of motivation was then discovered, which scientists called “family motivation.” Workers who agreed more with statements such as “I care about supporting my family” or “It is important for me to do good for my family” were more energized and performed better, although they didn’t have any additional external or internal incentive to do so.

    The great thing about this kind of driver is that it’s independent of the company one works for or the situation. It taps into something even deeper—if you don’t want to do something for your own sake, then do it for the people you care for.

    And this is a powerful motive, as many can probably attest to this.

    Final Thoughts

    Frederick Herzberg, the American psychologist who developed what’s perhaps still today the most famous theory of motivation, in his renowned article from 1968 (which sold a modest 1.2 million reprints and it the most requested article from Harvard Business Review One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees? wrote:[16]

    “If I kick my dog, he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again. Similarly, I can charge a person’s battery, and then recharge it, and recharge it again. But it is only when one has a generator of one’s own that we can talk about motivation. One then needs no outside stimulation. One wants to do it.”

    Herzberg further explains that the so-called “hygiene factors” (salary, job security, benefits, vacation time, work conditions) don’t lead to fulfillment, nor motivation. What does, though, are the “motivators”—challenging work, opportunities for growth, achievement, greater responsibility, recognition, the work itself.

    Herzberg realized it long ago…intrinsic motivation tips the scales when it comes to finding long-term happiness and satisfaction in everything we do, and to improving our overall well-being.

    In the end, the next time when you need to give yourself a bit of a kick to get something done, remember to link it to a goal bigger than yourself, and preferably one that has non-material benefit.

    And no, don’t say that you tried but it’s just impossible to find internal motivation. Remember the janitor at NASA?

    Because once you find your internal generator, you will be truly unstoppable.

    More Tips to Boost Motivation

    Featured photo credit: Juan Ramos via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: Does Money Really Affect Motivation? A Review of the Research
    [2] Contemporary Educational Psychology: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions
    [3] Scientific American: The Science of Lasting Happiness
    [4] The Guardian: Is the secret of productivity really just doing what you enjoy?
    [5] European Journal of Business and Management: Impact of Employee Motivation on Employee Performance
    [6] Adam Grant : Impact and the Art of Motivation Maintenance: The Effects of Contact With Beneficiaries on Persistence Behavior
    [7] Grand Valley State University: The Effect of Rewards and Motivation on Student Achievement
    [8] Encyclopedia Britannica: Albert Bandura
    [9] Pinterest: Self-Efficacy Theory
    [10] Educational Psychologist: Goal Setting and Self-Efficacy During Self-Regulated Learning
    [11] University of Minnesota: The Motivations to Volunteer: Theoretical and Practical Considerations
    [12] Harvard Business Review: How to Make Yourself Work When You Just Don’t Want To
    [13] Richard Ryan and Edward Deci: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions
    [14] Richard Ryan and Edward Deci: Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being
    [15] Nick Tasler: How some people stay motivated and energized at work—even when they don’t love their jobs
    [16] Harvard Business Review: One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?

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