Interacting with others is a key part of everyday life – we cannot thrive alone. Our success in life thus depends to a significant extent on how well we are able to manage our relationships with other people both at work and in a variety of other contexts. However we often take this too far and start blaming others for our own inadequacies especially when we make embarrassing mistakes or outright bad decisions. Reactions like this point to the need for increased self awareness.

It’s so easy to forget that we have little or no control over what others do to us but we have the full ability to control how we respond. The real problem then, is not so much about others but about ourselves. When you know yourself better and consistently act in line with this knowledge, you’ll improve your relationships with others and your general outcomes in life. Self awareness thus becomes the foundation for self improvement. Lao Tzu captured it well when he said, “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”

Now that we’ve seen the importance of self awareness, let’s go further to clarify exactly what it means and how to develop it. At the most basic level, self awareness is knowing what makes you tick. It is understanding your personality – your strengths and weaknesses, the things that make you happy or sad, your thought pattern, how you interpret things and the effects that the interplay of these factors have on your actions, behaviour and emotions.

He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened. -Lao Tzu Click To Tweet

Self awareness explains why two people will respond differently to the same situation. The one that has attained a heightened state of self awareness will respond in a positive and empowering way while the one that is not self aware is likely to respond in a negative and destructive way. Self awareness is an important part of emotional intelligence which involves identifying and managing your own emotions and the emotions of others.

Like every other skill, self awareness is not a natural endowment or something that happens automatically. Rather it is developed by deliberate practice over time. Here are a few ways to get started:

Become an objective observer

Self awareness starts with taking the position of an observer in your own life. As you go through each day, objectively assess your actions and inactions, attitudes, behaviours and emotions. Review your responses and reactions to people, situations and circumstances. Find out what makes you angry. Identify emotional triggers. If someone offends you, do you react impulsively or do you respond intelligently? Self awareness will not silence your feelings but it will help you to act right in spite of them.

Do you make decisions based on facts and your convictions about what is right or do you swing with other people’s opinions and societal expectations? Are you putting up appearances and living a fake life or are you being true to yourself? Monitor yourself as you pursue the business of everyday life. Are your habits and character in sync with the person you would like to become or does something need to change? Identify where you’re doing well and where you need to improve.

Developing an objective perspective about yourself is hard but it’s important and it’s worth the effort. For example, I found that exhaustion often makes me irritable. So I am putting deliberate effort into saying ‘No’ more often, turning down tasks that drain me without creating commensurate value and deferring or delegating those that contribute to my higher purpose but which I don’t immediately have the bandwidth to accommodate.

Developing an objective perspective about yourself is hard but it's important and it's worth the effort. Click To Tweet

Keep a journal

To become an objective observer in your own life you will need to practise self-reflection. Make out time to think about your life and honestly assess yourself. Then go ahead and record your thoughts in a journal. Writing forces you to clothe your thoughts in words thus giving them tangibility and permanence while also helping you achieve greater clarity.

You can go over your journal entries from time to time and get a snapshot of your actions, behaviours, thoughts and emotions in several instances. You can see similarities and differences, make useful extrapolations and get a more accurate picture of who you really are.

It’s good to mentally acknowledge the events and circumstances of your day, examining them in light of your quest for heightened self awareness. But you shouldn’t stop there. Go further and put it all in writing.

Seek candid feedback

Ask your friends and family members for their honest perspectives about you. Let them know that you’re engaging in a personal development exercise and their candid feedback will help you have a more accurate picture of who you really are. Feel free to ask questions if they say something you don’t understand and don’t take offence if they say something you’re not particularly happy with. The essence of receiving feedback is not merely to validate what you already know about yourself; it also serves to reveal blind spots in your thinking.

Apart from receiving informal feedback from friends and family you should also take advantage of performance reviews and other forms of formal feedback at work. You probably spend most of your waking hours at work thus giving your colleagues and managers ample opportunity to observe you closely. If you’re a solopreneur, asking clients for feedback will also prove useful because your business will usually reflect your personality and how well you have developed yourself.

Self awareness is not developed in isolation. It is formed within the matrix of participation and empowering relationships. Click To Tweet

Exert yourself

Far too many people adopt a passive approach to life. They just take whatever comes to them instead of going out to get what they want. While some personality traits may make one predisposed to either side, everyone can benefit from adopting a proactive approach to life. Pick up a job that tasks your mind, volunteer for a cause that interests you, participate in group conversations instead of just being a passive observer. Like many other soft skills, self awareness is not developed in isolation. Rather, it is formed within the matrix of participation and empowering relationships. No matter how much you read about self awareness it won’t do any good if you don’t practise and you cannot practise if you are not willing to exert yourself.

Take personality tests

One of my earliest introductions to the concept of self awareness came from Tim LaHaye’s book, Why You Act the Way You Do, where I first got introduced to the Four Temperaments Theory. I have since found that frameworks like this and other psychometric tests can go a long way to help one understand oneself.

Personality tests prompt you to think about a set of traits or behaviours that closely describe you, relative to other people. By answering questions which are often scientifically validated, you can have a better understanding of who you are. Three of such tests that I have personally found to be very helpful include the DISC personality test, the Myers-Briggs test and the Enneagram.

Now I have seen people use results of personality tests to pigeonhole others. That’s not right; it defeats the very purpose of taking the tests in the first place. You would do yourself more good when you understand that self awareness is essentially about knowing yourself and relating with others from that place of knowledge.


Self awareness empowers you to act and behave in the way that is most beneficial and serves some higher purpose instead of being driven by other people’s opinions or reacting to some other external stimuli. As you advance in your personal development journey and develop heightened sense of self awareness, you must recognise the need to focus more on developing your strengths than fixing your shortcomings. You don’t ignore your weaknesses but you also don’t devote so much time to them at the expense of getting the most value from the areas where you have an advantage. Amplifying your strengths will help you to increase your self awareness without making you self-conscious, ultimately putting you in a better position to maximise your potentials.