It’s scary how rare self-awareness is. Scary.
One of the best examples of this truth was seen on American Idol. I used to love watching Idol, but I normally bailed on the show after the audition phase. I watched the entire season where Jordin Sparks won because she was from Phoenix, where I was living at the time. Otherwise, I just watched to see the trainwrecks – the people who thought they were Mariah Carey and their voice was, in fact, like nails on a chalkboard. Like these two guys for example.
The Absence of Self-Awareness
The massive lack of self-awareness in so many of those auditioning fascinated me. Whenever Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul or Randy Jackson asked them about their background, the person auditioning would share about a friend or family member (or several) who encouraged them to keep singing or even try out for the show. It was appalling that these “loved ones” were complicit in setting up these people to be laughed at for their lack of talent and ignorance.
While it’s one thing to chuckle at someone who cannot sing, many of us are just as lacking when it comes to our own self-awareness. We don’t actually know our strengths and weaknesses, the places where everyone else sees what we’re blind to ourselves. And because we’re blind to these strengths and weaknesses, they remain liabilities, endangering ourselves and those around us.
The enemy of self-awareness is self-absorption. Self-absorption means we’re ultimately and primarily for ourselves, making us bad leaders, terrible encouragers and friends who take and never give. Self-absorption empowers us to be more greedy, judgmental and discouraging. Self-absorbed people are like vampires; they suck all of the life out of the room and the people in it. We leave conversations with self-absorbed people feeling drained and empty, instead of encouraged and filled. None of us want to be the friends, teammates, or worst of all, family of someone like this
The Power of Self-Awareness
In contrast to self-absorption’s disempowering impact, self-awareness empowers us to answer big questions in our lives. What it’s like to be around us every day? What’s it like to be led by us, married to us and friends with us? Yet, while self-awareness include us, it ultimately is not about us. Self-awareness is ultimately for other people, helping us to be better friends, encouragers, and leaders to and for them. Self-awareness empowers us to be more generous, empathetic and grateful.
One of my favorite fictional stories of someone who gains self-awareness in a transformational way is told in the movie, Run Fat Boy Run. Starring Simon Pegg, this 2007 British-American comedy follows the story of Dennis Doyle. Doyle got cold feet on the day of his wedding, leaving his then-pregnant fiancee, Libby, at the altar. He later discovers Libby has fallen for Whit, a successful yet arrogant man. When Dennis discovers Whit is running the Nike River Marathon in London, Dennis sets out to run the race too as a way to prove himself to Libby, his son Jake, and his cynical friends. As one might guess, the training leads to several hilarious episodes. You’ll have to watch the film to see the ending but I will say that everyone gains more awareness by the time the credits roll, most especially Dennis about himself. (Note: the film is rated PG-13 for language and sexual references.)
Gaining Self-Awareness Via Adversity
Like Pegg’s character, Dennis, I gained self-awareness through adversity. I learned that I was ignoring people when a friend told me I walked around my church on Sundays more focused on completing my agenda than connecting with the people I passed. I discovered I had been hiding behind my mentor when he moved on to a different state and I had to stand and lead on my own two feet. Last year, my sermon feedback group consistently reminded me that while I wasn’t angry when I was preaching, my lack of smiling indicated otherwise. (I’m still working on all of these.)
Uncomfortable conversations produced these insights, without which I’d still be like this woman on American Idol.
5 Steps to Increase Your Self-Awareness
So, how do you increase your self-awareness in order to save yourself embarrassment and others around you pain and frustration? These 5 steps have helped me become more self-aware and I believe they could lead to breakthroughs for you too.
1. Take an assessment.
The market is overflowing with assessments which can increase our self-awareness. StrengthsFinder by Gallup maps our top 5 strengths (things we do where we’re naturally inclined and in doing we feel stronger). StandOut by Marcus Buckingham builds on StrengthsFinder by showing us how our strengths can help those around us. Myers-Briggs, Ennegram and DISC help us understand our personality type and temperment with greater clarity. While none of these assessments are meant to assign value to who we are, nor are they as 100% scientifically accurate, I’ve found them to be helpful tools, enabling me and those around me to understand ourselves better.
2. Create a safe space for others to share with you.
The people around us probably have more awareness about us than we have about ourselves, especially our family and friends. Talking to them can help us see more than we might see on our own. But how many people know the truth about us yet are afraid to share because of the possible consequences?
How Gary Vaynerchuk Creates a Safe Space
Gary Vaynerchuk, successful entrepeneur and social-media expert, describes his process for engaging other people to gain self-awareness.
“If you do not have self-awareness (which I think I have and I think a lot of people don’t have), the only way you can gain it is by getting other people to give you the data points. But most people won’t tell you the truth. So it’s on you to create an environment, a very safe environment, for somebody to tell you the truth.
You say, ‘This is the most important question I will ever ask you in my life. You need to tell me the truth. My intuition is you’re not going to want to tell me the truth, but you have to understand I’m okay with it – I’m in the right mind space for this. I need the truth.’ Then you ask them, ‘What do you think I’m good at and what do you think I’m bad at?’ What do they think you’re truly good and bad at? And then gather that data.”
The most important part of this process begins with our response when we hear something uncomfortable. If we do not accept what someone shares, they won’t share again and will likely discourage others from being honest with us too.
3. Invite feedback.
Jeff Henderson, pastor and leadership coach, regularly asks those he leads, “What is it like to be on the other side of me?” This simple question could be asked of our families, friends, and neighbors. We could even ask it of our customers or the people we serve in our organizations. I know someone who asks the people they oversee, “What’s one thing I could do to make your job easier? What’s one thing I’m doing currently to make your job harder?” Self-aware people are the ones asking the most questions because they realize how much they don’t yet know or understand.
4. Observe and measure what you can.
While listening to a podcast recently, I heard the guest say, “What gets measured gets improved.” Recording our eating, exercise, social media, spending and sleeping habits often leads to revelations for us. Until we observe and measure our life, we often miss what’s actually happening. At the end of last year, I saw an ad for a free product which would assemble a wordcloud of my tweets and Facebook posts. I was curious to see what I had posted on most that year. The results? The most popular words included “click here”, “read this”, and “I.” (Gulp.) My posts were narcissistic, always about my writing or speaking. A painful revelation, indeed.
What are you “always” talking about online? Do you know?
5. Engage God in the conversation.
Ever considered asking God about all this? What if you explored your strengths and weaknesses from the perspective of your Creator? What does your life look and sounds like from an all-knowing perspective? Sure, God can speak through the previous four steps, but I think it’s important to intentionally engage God as well. I encourage you to allow God to speak to you as you pray through this self-awareness challenge. For some of us, prayer includes silence and stillness. For others, it looks like journaling or meditating on Scripture. As a follower of Jesus and a pastor, I believe God can speak into our lives and increase our self-awareness even more than any human. Invite God’s revelation, whatever the source.
One of these steps could likely lead to a breakthrough in our level of self-awareness. I encourage you to work your way through them one by one and tell someone else about what you’re doing. Invite them to go on the journey with you or at least regularly ask you about what you’re learning as a means of accountability.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What have you learned about yourself from this process? Where have you recently gained self-awareness? What steps have helped you the most?