Self-awareness is the first step to personality development

1 Introduction to the importance of self-awareness

In our first section, we discussed important background information on what makes up one’s personality and why personality defects are most likely to reduce one’s capacity to grow and develop as human beings. Personality defects are one of the main reasons why we are unhappy. If due to one’s destiny one has to experience pain, then personality defects are one of the main mediums through which we experience this unhappiness. More importantly for those who are genuinely seeking spiritual growth, personality defects can severely restrict their capacity to grow regardless of which spiritual path they may follow. Once an individual experiences better mental health and stability (i.e., with less personality defects) it is easier for him or her to make rapid spiritual progress and achieve an ideal personality by practising Spirituality.

2 What is self-awareness?

Anyone who is dedicated to self-improvement, personal development or the higher goal of spiritual growth needs to actively seek to understand oneself. This is because only when one understands where one lacks, can he or she focus their efforts on what to improve.

Definition of self-awareness:

  1. Self-awareness is the capacity that a person has to introspect.
  2. It includes gaining an understanding of and insight into one’s strengths, qualities, weaknesses, defects, ideas, thoughts, beliefs, ideals, responses, reactions, attitude, emotions and motivations.
  3. Thus introspection also includes assessing how one is perceived by others and
  4. How others are impacted based on one’s behaviour, responses and conduct.

Psychologists often break self-awareness down into two different types, either public or private.

  1. Public Self-Awareness: This type emerges when people are aware of how they appear to others. Public self-awareness often emerges in situations when people are at the centre of attention, such as when giving a presentation or talking to a group of friends. This type of self-awareness often compels people to adhere to social norms. When we are aware that we are being watched and evaluated, we often try to behave in ways that are socially acceptable and desirable. In short we display our best behaviour, which may not be reflective of our true personality. Public self-awareness can also lead to ‘evaluation anxiety’ in which people become distressed, anxious, or worried about how they are perceived by others.
  2. Private Self-Awareness: This type happens when people become aware of some aspects of themselves, but only in a private way. For example, seeing your face in the mirror is a type of private self-awareness. Feeling your stomach lurch when you realize you forgot to study for an important test or feeling your heart flutter when you see someone you are attracted to are also good examples of private self-awareness. Close family members and friends are privy to some aspects of our private self as we let our guard down in front of them. Hence, they become invaluable aides in helping us assess ourselves.

As we practice becoming more aware of ourselves and how we are perceived by others, we learn many more shades of our characteristics to a minute level. Hence we are in a better position to overcome our personality defects and understand where our strengths lie. In the following paragraphs, we will examine some of the ways one can increase one’s self-awareness.

3 How to increase self-awareness – By observing oneself

To understand our personality, we need to understand the nature of our mind. The mind is made up of two parts – the conscious and sub-conscious mind. The sub-conscious mind is vast and the impressions that are buried deep inside are not easy to uncover and analyse. However, ever so often during the day one’s mind erupts and reacts to some events and situations negatively. As a result, one feels a certain amount of restlessness and emotions such as insecurity, fear or anger. Most of us plod on through our daily lives not taking a moment to pause and introspect as to why we experienced that emotion in the first place. In fact, through such situations in one’s day-to-day life, one’s mind, by reacting negatively to situations and events opens up a window and gives one a vignette into its nature. If one is alert and objective in one’s outlook, one can follow the pathway through the window that the mind opens up. As a result, through this process one begins to gain greater self-awareness as to how one’s mind works and how it responds to various stimuli. This is known as metacognition, which means having awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes. This particular type of self-development pertains to becoming conscious of one’s own body and mental state of being including thoughts, actions, ideas, feelings and interactions with others. It is therefore the first step in overcoming negative emotions and reactions.

A person generally responds negatively to situations and events due to impressions of personality defects in the sub-conscious mind. 

Self-awareness by observing oneselfLet’s take an example. Annette felt restless when her boss praised her colleague. She kept on thinking of the incident throughout the day which only increased her restlessness. She was consumed with the negative thought that, ‘No matter how hard I try, I never get noticed.’ In short Annette’s day did not go well. After a good night’s sleep, she forgot about it and she went on with her life. Alternatively, if Annette had been alert to the feeling of restlessness and introspected as to why she had felt like that, she could have gained insight into her mind and understood which personality defect of hers was manifesting so as to cause such restlessness. Accordingly, in the future she would be able to be more solution oriented to avoid the restlessness caused by such incidents and gain stability.

As Annette becomes more alert to introspecting about her feelings and emotions in such situations, there will be further stages to her becoming more self-aware. For example,

  • How long does her restlessness continue before she becomes alert to it?
  • Will she then be able to put the brakes on it and control the feeling of restlessness?
  • Does she try to go within and learn more about herself and her personality defects?
  • Where else does this type of restlessness occur? Who else are involved?

4 How to increase self-awareness – Someone providing us with feedback or telling our mistake

“Turn that music down Raul”, Raul’s father shouted. “There is not a moment’s peace in this house with you continuously playing such loud music.” Raul cursed under his breath and sullenly turned the volume of the music down.
It is never easy to take negative feedback from others about our actions or our life. In such times, thoughts such as, ‘why can’t they understand me’, ‘I am not like that’ and ‘I do not want to hear about it’ will often cross our mind.
Suppose Raul stopped for a moment and looked at the situation objectively; he would probably learn a thing or two about how others perceived him. When other people give us some feedback however stern it may be, it provides us with a clue as to how we are perceived by others. If someone has experienced pain due to our actions, it is mostly due to some personality defect in us that is causing our action to impact others adversely.

5 How to increase self-awareness – Observing someone else’s mistake and then introspecting

Self-awareness by observing oneselfJeremy and Ruth were arguing about household chores. Ruth insisted that Jeremy was not doing enough at home while Jeremy continued to provide lame excuses about why he was unable to do the household chores on time. When their friend Mark overheard their argument, he realised that he was the same as Jeremy. Now as a third person and not being emotionally involved, Mark could objectively see that Jeremey’s lame excuses were childish and illogical, and were exasperating his wife Ruth. Seeing the impact of this, Mark made a mental resolve to overcome his own laziness and help his own wife at home without making any excuses.

This is an example of how when one observes a situation that involves other people, one gains a greater understanding of oneself. As one may not be emotionally involved in the situation, one is more objective and hence the ability to learn is more.

6 Our dreams can also tell us about ourselves

Sometimes stronger impressions in our subconscious mind surface in our dreams to the extent that we are able to remember the dream and even learn about our mind.
One seeker had a dream where she was experiencing fear before going on stage to deliver a lecture. She woke up in a sweat and could not go back to sleep for over an hour. Such kinds of dreams are worth introspecting upon as they may shed some light on deeper issues in our sub-conscious mind.

7 In summary

  • Becoming self-aware is the first step in overcoming personality defects.
  • Self-awareness can be achieved through observing one’s own mistakes, asking others for feedback, observing others mistakes objectively and through some dreams.
  • Whenever one becomes emotionally unstable, restless or upset one should become alert as on deeper introspection, it usually provides insight into some personality defect that has been triggered.
  • We should be open to learning about ourselves and have the courage to take feedback from others. By this we can objectively analyse our mistakes and find practical solutions to change for the better.

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