SELF-AWARENESS: MEANING AND DIRECTION IN LIFE


Life is accompanied with a number of challenges that individuals have to deal with. There can be uncertainties and insecurities, and a sense of incertitude that tends to develop. When such experiences occur too often, it becomes difficult to cope with. It gives rise to a state of confusion and waywardness, and individuals tend to lose direction.
One way of preventing and avoiding such experiences is to develop a sense of focus, and deep self-understanding; in other words, have self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to focus attention on the self as an object. It is a state, which involves an active identification and processing of information related to the self. Being self-aware enables individuals to focus on their private self-aspects like traits, emotion, mood, and feelings; and public self-aspects such as physical appearance and mannerisms.
Self-awareness helps a great deal in developing a deep understanding of oneself. Individuals who are highly self-aware have a more accurate understanding of themselves; they develop a good sense of self-knowledge. Self-awareness makes individuals understand their abilities and realize their true potential. It gives an understanding of who one really is.
An important aspect of self-awareness is that the individuals are able to identify their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to do a proper self-assessment or self-evaluation. This, in turn, gives a good understanding of their abilities and gives them an idea of the things that they can do in a better way. It helps them in setting appropriate goals, and give an understanding of where they can head towards, giving them proper direction in life. It gives individuals a good perspective of their standing in their surroundings, which further helps them to play along to those strengths and weaknesses. Playing along strengths has been found to give meaning and satisfaction in life.
Realizing strengths and abilities, due to self-awareness, further, makes individuals feel good about themselves. Self-awareness, then enhances self-esteem. It makes the individual feel confident and develop self-belief. Development of self-belief increases the self-efficacy – belief in one’s ability to succeed or accomplish tasks - of the individual. Consequently, the person becomes more motivated, goal-oriented, and focused.
Along with realization of strengths and abilities, by focusing attention on inner, private self-aspects, self-awareness allows individuals to understand the subtleties with respect to feelings, emotions, and mood. Self-awareness enables to understand one’s feelings and emotions in a better way.
Self-awareness helps in identifying and understanding the finer aspects of one’s feelings and emotions. The individual is able to identify the finest of changes in mood, and even understands the cause(s) behind it. Individuals with high self-awareness will have a realization of what exactly they are feeling, and why they are feeling that. This helps them not to over-react in situations, not tend to be edgy, and be able to keep a check on their impulses to express emotions such as anger, which may be inappropriate in specific situations.
Further, being aware of what one is feeling, helps in regulating of emotions and channelizing of emotions in a proper direction. For instance, an individual experiencing negative affect, and being high on self-awareness will be able to not just recognize it, but even understand the reason behind it. The person will then, with relative ease, be able to overcome that negative affect and mould it into a more positive feeling.
In a similar manner, a person with self-awareness, is able to channelize anxiety to calm oneself down, or be able to adopt mechanisms to cope with stress, and even be able to understand the sudden mood swings and react appropriately. Self-awareness, thus, helps in developing psychological and emotional wellbeing. It helps in keeping the person in a positive frame of mind, making it easier to deal with uncertainties, and not getting demoralized too often.
Because self-awareness enables individuals to identify their strengths and abilities, feelings and emotions, it helps in realizing how they are different from others. This makes them understand others in a better manner, and develops perspective-taking. Knowing about oneself, about one’s uniqueness gives an understanding of the perspective of others. It helps in understanding abilities and limitations of others as well as what others might be feeling. It develops a sense of empathy and compassion for others.
This aspect of self-awareness becomes useful in having fruitful social interactions and developing satisfying interpersonal relationships, which further helps in enhancing the wellbeing of the individual. Having fruitful interactions and developing positive relationships has been found be very satisfying.
Additionally, understanding the perspectives of others helps in dealing with the toxicity that one may often be surrounded with. With a lot of negativity around, one does realize that it’s the other person that is going through those feelings, and has nothing to do with oneself. This enables one to not indulge in self-blaming and shame, and helps in not experiencing distress.
It also helps in managing conflict with others. Understanding others’ perspective, what they are going through, helps in knowing the other side of the story. Because of this, instead of getting into a conflict and making matters worse, the individual understands the other person in a situation of conflict, and responds in an appropriate manner, which does not escalate the conflict, and rather allows to move towards a resolution.
Self-awareness, therefore, has been found to be beneficial in a number of ways. The more self-aware an individual is, the more useful it turns out to be. Thus, individuals should always be trying to enhance their self-awareness.
There are a number of simple ways in which people can increase their level of self-awareness. Because self-awareness involves focusing attention on self-aspects, the practice of reflecting on the past has been found to be useful. Reflecting allows the individual to look back at how things have gone, it makes individuals think about what had happened, and re-assess how one behaved and reacted in certain situations. By doing so, individuals get to understand themselves in a much better way. In this regard, journal writing has been found to be enhancing self-awareness.
Apart from that, trying to understand how one is unique and different from others, helps in realizing one’s abilities. In addition to that, trying to associate oneself with as many words as possible, helps in understanding oneself in a better way, and thus, enhances self-awareness. Further, thinking about the future, about the possible goals that one may have in life, and how one’s strengths and weaknesses may relate to them, helps individuals to indulge in some deep self-assessment, which in turn, enhances self-awareness.
Self-awareness, the ability to focus attention on self-aspects, therefore, helps individuals to deal with the uncertainties and distresses of life. By enabling a deep understanding of self-aspects, it develops a positive frame of mind. In a larger perspective it helps in personal growth, and enhances social, psychological, and emotional wellbeing. All this develops satisfaction, and gives a great sense of direction and meaning in life.

Saif Farooqi

A PhD in Psychology (from the University of Delhi). I have been blogging about psychological issues for more than ten years. I am extremely passionate about teaching psychology. I'm a writer, an independent researcher, and conduct workshops and awareness programs in schools and colleges. Currently, I'm also working as an Assistant Professor in Psychology at the Department of Applied Psychology, Vivekananda College, University of Delhi, India.

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