Much has been said, written, and researched about self-awareness since its conception. Self-awareness has historically been associated solely with understanding how your thoughts, feelings, and belief systems impact you. It's known for being achieved through introspection, mindfulness, and meditation. While that is accurate, it does limit growth and can limit your overall potential when seeking a balanced, healthy, and satisfying life. Here’s why internal self-awareness only accounts for half of what you need to achieve balance. The other half? External self-awareness.
Complete self-awareness can be broken down into both internal and external self-awareness:
- Internal self-awareness is the understanding of your values, purpose, passions, needs, wants, emotions, beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses. It requires the work of introspection, mindfulness, and meditation, and at times, support from a third-party professional such as a coach or therapist.
- External self-awareness is the understanding of how others see you, the objective impact, triggers, limitations, and reactions of others. It requires honest feedback and observations of yourself from an objective party. Additionally, external awareness can be single actions, generalized behaviors, or large scale.
Both types are essential, but they are unrelated, kind of like mini golf verse traditional golf. They both require similar principles (18 holes, putting, and accuracy), but they require vastly different skills.
Therefore, introspection will only get you half of what is needed to reach your full potential, because it does nothing for your external self-awareness.
Here are two ways you can improve your external self-awareness while making little changes to your everyday routines:
- Ask for feedback. While it seems obvious, we often shy away from asking for feedback, because it makes us uncomfortable. But how else can we understand how people perceive us in various settings and environments if we continue to shy away from feedback? You can ask simple questions in your daily interactions to receive this feedback and consume the information. Here are some tips for productively using this skill:
1. Simple one-word responses can be easier to remember, analyze and understand when gathering feedback. Try asking simple questions such as: How would you describe me? What do you think I do well? What do you think I need to work on? These questions are great because they can be brought up in daily conversations with family and peers, where you can see how responses change over time, or can be used in formal conversations with supervisors, recruiters, or even strangers, which can show you environments, triggers, and blind spots.
2. Keep a digital notepad on your phone for feedback responses. The goal of external self-awareness is to understand how others perceive you. It’s important to have accurate information to analyze so the data can be seen as reliable. This helps ensure that if you are doing the uncomfortable work of self-awareness, you have objective raw data to pull from. This is especially helpful if you struggle with self-worth, perfectionism, or anxiety.
- Read the room. While we don’t have access to the internal world of others, there are ways to learn how people are receiving you. Observe the body language and interactions that are happening around you, then spend time noticing patterns you see.
1. How the same action is received by different clusters (management v. peer) in the room.
2. How the same person responds to different variations of an action you take (e.g., asking for help v. demanding help).
3. How the same person responds to multiple people in the room doing the same action as you.
Both internal and external self-awareness has their benefits, the only way to reach your highest potential in all areas of your life is to cultivate and manage both the internal and external aspects of self-awareness. Push through the discomfort and fear of receiving feedback, and you will be excited to see what you can unlock for yourself by putting in the work!