General, How to, Problem solving, Tips

10 simple exercises to improve your Self-awareness

Ezinne Okuku Written by Ezinne Okuku · 6 min read >
self-awareness

In my last post, I promised to explore further the topic of SELF-AWARENESS – its benefits and simple ways to improve our consciousness and mastery to self capacities for greater benefits. The objective of sharing is to help us gain mastery of some psychological aspects of our being for self-actualization, better relationships, communication, and so many other benefits as outlined in the last post.

I hope you enjoy this time with me. It is quite an interesting and detailed read, however, I implore you to get your popcorn, and let’s have a good time. Hopefully, at the end of this exercise, you will unlock a vital potential and/ or learn to love yourself better.

What is self-awareness?

Self-awareness is the state of knowing or understanding one’s own personality or individuality. It is a skill that anyone can learn to improve with the right exercises and habits. The ability to be self-aware is one of the most essential yet difficult to achieve relational skills we humans can achieve. But it is possible!

In my last post, I explained what self-awareness is, my fair experience, and why it’s important. Now, I will walk you through 10 effective and practical exercises you can use to cultivate/ improve self-awareness. Let’s get to it.

Simple exercises to cultivate/ improve self-awareness

1. Mindfulness Meditation

It is a simple practice of keeping your attention focused on your breath or any other physics sensations.

A regular mindfulness practice will open your eyes to how the thinking mind works and how much more there is to you than the mere content of your thoughts.

2. Pay attention to what bothers you about other people

Oftentimes, the things that irritate us the most in other people are a reflection of some quality we dislike in ourselves.

3. Read high-quality fiction

It is often said that the very best writers are expert observers of the world around them and human nature in particular.

Good fiction teaches us how to think about people carefully and with compassion. And the better we get at observing others, the more likely we are to look at ourselves the same way.

4. Identify your emotional kryptonite

We all have certain emotions that we dislike, especially, the means we employ to deal with the emotions (for instance, drinking to avoid feeling sad or alone) The problem is, being so afraid of an emotion that we’re willing to do just about anything to avoid it, can lead to some pretty negative consequences in the long-term (e.g. substance abuse).

Most importantly, by avoiding the emotion, we’re avoiding listening to what the emotion has to say/ deliver. Negative emotions are painful because our mind is trying to get our attention, sometimes for a very good reason. Learning to tolerate the discomfort of our emotional kryptonite can unlock a wealth of insight about ourselves and our world if we’re willing to listen.

5. Draw a timeline of your life/ plans

Being able to think developmentally and in context is key to self-awareness.

Try this exercise

  • Spend atleast 30 minutes drawing a timeline of their life. Sit down with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil and, starting with your birth, mark the major events in your life along the timeline. Specifically, events that had a big impact on you — big or small, positive or negative.
  • Then, project into the future, where do you see yourself, visualize into 10-20 years from now. What do you see? Where do you want to be? At what time? With whom?
  • Now, paint a picture of it and insert timelines. Try to make sense of it.
Interested in more practical sessions? I am here 

6. Ask for feedback (and take it well)

Here’s a question: How often do you deliberately seek out feedback about yourself?

If you’re anything like me or most people, I suspect, probably not often which is a shame because good feedback is one of the fastest and most effective ways to grow, maintain accountability, and improve ourselves.

Particularly, while there are many aspects of ourselves that we can see need improvement, it’s the parts of ourselves we can’t see— our blind spots that are the real problem. And other people are uniquely positioned to notice these and help us see them. If we ask, “how exactly should we go about asking for feedback about ourselves?”

Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Choose a solid relationship in your life: Parent, spouse, best friend, etc. Someone with whom you have enough relationship credit that they would be willing to point out something negative without wickedly hurting your ego.
  • Start small. Ask about something initially that’s not too big or threatening. This is about building up the other person’s confidence that you can take criticism well. They’ll be more likely to tell you about a major personality issue if you’ve shown them that you can take criticism about something simple well and work on them.
  • Don’t make it a frequent habit. Try not to make it a habit for self esteem reason and self doubt, so that you don’t resort to questioning everything about identity, knowledge and decisions.
    • Additionally, avoid making it a habit in order to gain mastery of personal accountability, self control and wit without so much reliance on external compasses.
  • Take the criticism well. Avoid defensiveness at all costs. Anticipate that you’re not going to feel wonderful at the moment someone points out a flaw. And that’s okay. It’s normal to feel that way.
    • Try your best to simply acknowledge their feedback, separate your self worth from the flaws, thank them for giving it, and explain that you plan to work on it.

7. Learn a new skill at least every 3 months (start simple)

Learning something new increases self-awareness by forcing us to think and act in novel ways.

As adults, we all get pretty set in our ways, in large parts, I think because we end up doing the same things over and over again. While this leads to a certain kind of comfort, it also fosters a narrowness of mind and thought. Especially, when the only things we’re doing are things we’re already good at, it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security that we know how things work.

Imagine how you felt during the brush-up session at LBS. I know I felt like JJC (lol). Also, the new learning experience has challenged me to new knowledge hence, pushing me out of the mediocre comfort zone of false confidence, into better light of seeking and progressive learning.

This antidote concept is referred to as Beginner’s mind – committing to learning a new skill is a powerful exercise in mental flexibility and self-awareness.

8. Identify cognitive distortions

Cognitive distortions are inaccurate thoughts and beliefs that warp how we see things, including ourselves. Just like we all can get into unhelpful physical habits (e.g.: nail-biting, tongue suckling, etc.), we all have certain mental habits that aren’t doing us any favors.

For example – whenever something upsetting happens while I’m driving – getting cut off, someone taking a parking spot I wanted—a default script that runs through my head is, What a jerk! For whatever reason, I’ve developed a mental habit of name-calling other drivers nasty names anytime I get upset on the road (Lagos traffic and drivers will do this to you).

This is a problem because even though other drivers do make mistakes, sometimes I do too. But if my default reaction is to always externalize and blame others, I miss the opportunity to see my own vices and self-correct. The point is, a major source of a lack of self-awareness is inaccurate mental habits and self-talk.

If we can learn to identify these patterns of inaccurate thinking, we can become more self-aware and probably end up feeling better too.

9. Make time to clarify your values

Here’s a frightening question: How often do you make time to deliberately and carefully consider your highest values and aspirations?

Again, if you’re like most of us, the busyness of daily life (especially in LBS, Lagos traffic, work expectations & hustle, plus parenting) tends to sweep you up day after day, week after week in a constant stream of activity without much time for reflection, especially reflection on your personal values.

So, is it any surprise then that we have a difficult time reaching our goals and finding satisfaction when we don’t spend any time contemplating what that would even look like for us?

What’s more, it’s probably not surprising that we end up chasing artificial goals that culture and society tell us are important (nice cars, big house, trim waistline, latest accessory, etc.) not that they are bad (No, even I love and want them) but that we don’t genuinely find meaningful and rewarding.

A special form of self-awareness involves becoming aware of your personality and being clear about the things that really matter to us: 

Why are we here? What are we called to do? What makes for a fulfilling life that we can be truly proud of?

ezinne Okuku

These are big questions. And while they sound intimidating, that’s probably because we just don’t spend much quality time actually considering them.

Try this: 

Pull out your calendar and find a 30-minute time slot at least once a month (I like 10 pm on Fridays). Set up a recurring monthly calendar appointment for this time and call it Values Clarification. Each month at this time, take out a sheet of paper and simply brainstorm ideas and thoughts related to this question of values and what you really want.

There’s no right or wrong way to do it. What’s important is that you give yourself the opportunity to think about it. You’ll be amazed at what comes up!

10. Do some micro-travels

New places and strange environments get us out of our routines and force us to be more self-aware.

Micro-travel is the ability to take shorter trips that help us recharge, yet it still fulfills our desire to escape. It’s the chance to see the often-overlooked places closer to our hometown, places that perhaps we took for granted. It’s the ability to explore the world closer to our doorstep, and the chance to enjoy a more rewarding appreciation of the regions around us – all in a slower, safer, and less-frantic way.

If we can broaden our idea of what travel means to include local or nearby locations that are still unfamiliar, we can get many of the benefits of travel including, a boost to our self-awareness at a fraction of the cost in time or money.

Whew, we made it! I hope I was able to help you ask or answer some questions. Take the time to try/ practice some of these life-improving exercises. Also, It will be nice to hear your experiences and feedback on the subject matter. Thank you for spending your time with me.

Until next time. Stay sharp and stay safe.

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

Article by Ezinne Okuku

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