Self-awareness is the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively through reflection and introspection.
While it may not be possible to attain total objectivity about oneself (that’s a debate that has continued to rage throughout the history of philosophy), there are certainly degrees of self-awareness. It exists on a spectrum.
Although everyone has a fundamental idea of what self-awareness is, we don’t know exactly where it comes from, what its precursors are, or why some of us seem to have more or less than others.
This is where the self-awareness theory comes in, offering some potential answers to questions like these.
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This Article Contains:
- What Is Self-Awareness Theory?
- Research on the Topic
- 4 Proven Benefits of Self-Awareness
- 3 Examples of Self-Awareness Skills
- 5 Ways to Increase Your Self-Awareness
- Importance in Counseling and Coaching
- Meditation, Mindfulness, and Self-Awareness
- Self-Awareness & Emotional Intelligence
- 4 Tips for Improving Self-Awareness in Relationships
- Role in the Workplace and Leadership
- Self-Awareness in Students and Children
- A Take-Home Message
What Is Self-Awareness Theory?
Self-awareness theory is based on the idea that you are not your thoughts, but the entity observing your thoughts; you are the thinker, separate and apart from your thoughts (Duval & Wicklund, 1972).
We can go about our day without giving our inner self any extra thought, merely thinking and feeling and acting as we will; however, we also can focus our attention on that inner self, an ability that Duval and Wicklund (1972) termed “self-evaluation.”
When we engage in self-evaluation, we can give some thought to whether we are thinking and feeling and acting as we “should” or following our standards and values. This is referred to as comparing against our standards of correctness. We do this daily, using these standards as a way to judge the rightness of our thoughts and behaviors.
Using these standards is a major component of practicing self-control, as we evaluate and determine whether we are making the right choices to achieve our goals.
Research on the Topic
This theory has been around for several decades, giving researchers plenty of time to test its soundness. The depth of knowledge on self-awareness, its correlates, and its benefits can provide us with a healthy foundation for enhancing self-awareness in ourselves and others.
According to the theory, there are two primary outcomes of comparing ourselves against our standards of correctness:
- We “pass,” or find alignment between ourselves and our standards.
- We “fail,” or find a discrepancy between ourselves and our standards (Silvia & Duval, 2001).
When we find a discrepancy between the two, we find ourselves with two choices: to work toward reducing the discrepancy or avoid it entirely.
Self-awareness theory (and subsequent research) suggests that there are a couple of different factors that influence how we choose to respond. Basically, it comes down to how we think it will turn out. If we believe there’s little chance of actually changing this discrepancy, we tend to avoid it. If we believe it’s likely that we can improve our alignment with our standards of correctness, we take action.
Our actions will also depend on how much time and effort we believe that realignment will take; the slower progress will be, the less likely we are to take on the realignment efforts, especially if the perceived discrepancy between ourselves and our standards is large (Silvia & Duval, 2001).
Essentially, this means that when faced with a significant discrepancy that will take a lot of consistent and focused work, we often simply don’t bother and stick to avoiding self-evaluation on this particular discrepancy.
Further, our level of self-awareness interacts with the likelihood of success in realigning ourselves and our standards to determine how we think about the outcome. When we are self-aware and believe there is a high chance of success, we are generally quick to attribute that success or failure to our efforts.
Conversely, when we are self-aware but believe there is a low chance of success, we tend to think that the outcome is more influenced by external factors than our efforts (Silvia & Duval, 2001). Of course, sometimes our success in realignment with our standards is driven in part by external factors, but we always have a role to play in our successes and failures.
Interestingly, we also have some control over our standards, such that we may alter our standards if we find that we don’t measure up to them (Dana, Lalwani, & Duval, 1997).
This is more likely to happen if we’re focused more on the standards than on ourselves; if we fail when we are focused on the standards more than our performance, we are more likely to blame the standards and alter them to fit our performance (Dana et al., 1997).
Although it may sound like merely shifting the blame to standards and, therefore, letting yourself off the hook for a real discrepancy, there are many situations in which the standards are overly strict. Therapists’ offices are filled with people who hold themselves to impossibly high standards, effectively giving themselves no chance of success when comparing themselves to their internal standards.
It’s clear from the research on self-awareness that it is an important factor in how we think, feel, act, and react to our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
4 Proven Benefits of Self-Awareness
Now, let’s shift our attention to research on the outcomes of being self-aware.
As you might imagine, there are many benefits to practicing self-awareness:
- It can make us more proactive, boost our acceptance, and encourage positive self-development (Sutton, 2016).
- Self-awareness allows us to see things from the perspective of others, practice self-control, work creatively and productively, and experience pride in ourselves and our work as well as general self-esteem (Silvia & O’Brien, 2004).
- It leads to better decision making (Ridley, Schutz, Glanz, & Weinstein, 1992).
- It can make us better at our jobs, better communicators in the workplace, and enhance our self-confidence and job-related wellbeing (Sutton, Williams, & Allinson, 2015).
These benefits are reason enough to work on improving self-awareness, but this list is by no means exhaustive. Self-awareness has the potential to enhance virtually every experience you have, as it’s a tool and a practice that can be used anywhere, anytime, to ground yourself in the moment, realistically evaluate yourself and the situation, and help you make good choices.
3 Examples of Self-Awareness Skills
So we know that self-awareness is good, but what does it look like? How does one practice self-awareness?
Below are three examples of someone practicing self-awareness skills:
Bob at work
Bob struggles with creating a quarterly report at work, and he frequently produces subpar results. He notices the discrepancy between his standards and performance and engages in self-evaluation to determine where it comes from and how to improve.
He asks himself what makes the task so hard for him, and he realizes that he never seems to have trouble doing the work that goes into the report, but rather, writing it up cohesively and clearly.