If we do not pay attention to feelings and learn how to label and deal with them through better communication, they reveal themselves in the body: fatigue, lack of concentration, pain, and poor health. If we focus on emotions and allow ourselves to feel them, little by little, they will deepen in intensity and help us learn and connect with others. Suppressing emotions, both the positive and negative ones, seems to deny our brains access to important natural chemicals. The alternative, prescription and illicit drugs, are poor substitutes for the natural chemicals that are released through emotional experience and expression.
Suggestions for Increasing Self-Awareness
Look inward. We are bombarded with messages about the outside world, yet we often fail to communicate with the world inside ourselves. Here are some ways to get to know who we are:
1.Journal. Also try writing about a specific question: “What’s important to me?” After you spend a number of days writing on this topic, begin to ask yourself: “Is how I spend my time reflective of what’s important to me?”
2. Get in touch with your own work preferences as a clue to your passions. Instead of just taking on any project, work to become part of those activities you love. If you have lost touch with yourself to the extent that you don’t remember what you love anymore, write about what you really loved in the past.
3. Become aware of where in the body you are feeling an emotion: the neck, shoulders, jaw, throat, abdomen, chest. If you tune in to your physical responses, you can guide the energy and respond flexibly, rather than be in the grip of the emotion. To get the most out of our energy, we want its intensity—but we should not let it control us.
4. Develop a habit of self-observation and self-curiosity: Visualize yourself as if you are observing a third person. Think about your own thinking. Rather than allowing yourself to operate on autopilot, tune in to yourself and your emotional stream of consciousness, and thus identify your subtle moods.
5.Make yourself spend 15–20 minutes daily on self-reflection and awareness-building. Schedule this in your planner and don’t let other things interfere with it. Do something silent, pleasant, and relaxing, such as a quiet walk, and let your thoughts wander at will.
6. During your commute to work, think ahead about two situations that you will encounter during the day: one that will produce no strong emotion, and another that will result in some emotion. As you live the experience of each situation, pay attention to yourself: How are you reacting? What’s going on in your body and in your head?
7. When you sense tension or low energy, fix it immediately. Take a few bites of a healthy snack (junk food does not count!), get some fresh air, take a little walk for a change of scenery, stand up and stretch and shrug your shoulders a few times, or do a few twists. We need a creative pause of two to three minutes every 20–30 minutes to keep energy high.
8. Increasing self-awareness means that you will also become more aware of “the bad stuff,” things you don’t particularly like about yourself. Challenges and problems are normal, so accept the fact that you will never get to be wise enough and powerful enough to eliminate flaws. Being self-aware means that when you have a problem, you can turn it into a challenge—an opportunity to grow. Here are some ideas:
• Define your problem very carefully. Ask yourself What’s really going on here?
• Brainstorm new solutions, including silly ones (they often have useful elements).
• Weigh the pros and cons of your ideas. Try to balance your brain and your heart. What is your heart or your “gut” telling you? Is your alternative truly something you can commit to with your whole being? Facts and figures are not the only things that matter.
• Live with your preferred solution for a while, rather than jump in to take immediate action. Let your intuition take over, and incubate your plan for a few days. If you still feel committed with your heart as well as your head, then…
• Take action. Evaluate how it’s going as you implement your plan, and modify only as needed.
Ask for Feedback. Interestingly, self-awareness comes not only from careful observation of ourselves but from those around us. In fact, significant others in our lives can provide valuable data to increase our self-awareness. Many organizations make use of this idea through some form of 360-degree feedback in which customers, peers, and subordinates, as well as supervisors, provide feedback on how you are doing.