Self-awareness is an essential quality that all good leaders, team players, and high achievers have. People who are self-aware—that is, who know what their strengths, weaknesses, and values are, and how these qualities affect those surrounding them in their lives—are better able to deal with the challenges that work and life throw at them. But does having this trait automatically mean that success is a given?
No, and here’s why.
Being self-aware doesn’t do anything unless you put that awareness to good use. You have to use it to modify your behavior in a way that helps you take steps toward your goals.
Using Self-Awareness to Manage Behavior
Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you exhibit a certain behavior—say you don’t talk as much as you should during meetings. Your colleagues and supervisors have repeatedly given you feedback that they’d like to hear more from you unprompted, but even before they talked to you, you already knew that your performance was lacking. Whatever your reason for staying quiet—anxiety, shyness, fear of being wrong—even though you’ve gotten this feedback and are self-aware, you haven’t changed. That’s because it’s one thing to know and understand something about yourself, but it’s quite another thing to do something about it.
This is where you need to take the next step in self-awareness. The next time you find yourself in a similar situation, you need to do four things:
- Stay in the moment.
- Be aware of your feelings and thoughts.
- Come up with a few different choices that encourage behavioral change.
- Make the choice that is the most productive.
Let’s consider what this would look like using the above example again. By staying in the moment, you will listen to and internalize what is going on in the conversation. Being aware of your feelings and thoughts will provide you with what you need to say. Thinking of your options gives you different ways to approach being more active in the conversation—for instance, you could ask questions, provide feedback on someone else’s point, or give your perspective. The most productive choice depends on the situation.
Change Can Be Difficult
Of course, this is all easier said than done. When you use your self-awareness to change your behavior, you’re essentially breaking the habits that are holding you back. Habits are easy to maintain and hard to break because they are comfortable, but it is often our habits that prevent us from achieving our potential. The important thing is to be patient with yourself and to take each opportunity for change as it comes. Pick and choose the right moments to exercise your new self-awareness muscles, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you make a mistake. Change is always more difficult than it seems.
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