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Train Self-Awareness First

© Steve Whiteford 2021

Oddly, self-awareness is a quality some people actively resist. It requires the courage to be introspective, to truly consider the meaning of your way of being and its effectiveness. It often comes to us through feedback or criticism from others, but to accept that, you need to trust the person’s perceptions and intentions.

The most difficult behaviors for us to see and question are our defenses, our “bad” behaviors. Yet our defenses are often how we define ourselves. We take pride in our survival strategies, and our protections, and sometimes even cherish our limitations. They were hard-won, and we may believe they have afforded us whatever our position in life may be.

This is one of the reasons some people dislike assessments. Even though we, ourselves answer the myriad of questions to determine the outcome, many question the validity of the instrument (which has been scientifically proven valid and reliable through hundreds to thousands of participants.)

Assessments provide the first level of externally based self-awareness by pointing out probable behaviors, often as a type, or a collection of preferences, traits, or strengths. Many of us react with fascination as if the results are highly mysterious instead of scientific. Some people reject what is reported, and some hide out in being situational which may be accurate, but a little confusing to everyone. No matter, assessments allow everyone to have a moment of recognition (“I really do like to be in charge and cut through chit chat to get to consensus or decision”) along with a description of which behaviors may work, which don’t, and how to navigate the tendencies.

The reported characteristics are observable and can be noticed by the subject in real-time, and may be observed and confirmed by others. Behaviors, traits, preferences, strengths, values, etc., can be seen and experienced which appeals to logic. Once we notice that the assessment’s description is accurate, our awareness increases and we can choose to use the information.

I’ve taken several assessments over the years and am fascinated by how consistent and reflective the results are. Unfortunately, being aware of behaviors and patterns often isn’t enough. To engage lasting growth another level of self-awareness is necessary. The behavioral motivator – feeling. This is why applying Emotional Intelligence will empower first-level self-awareness and supercharge the information gleaned from any assessment.

Emotional Self-Awareness is the magic elixir for growth and change. It requires openness to interoception: noticing the perceivable physical cues of feeling and emotion. Unfortunately, we have long-standing beliefs in our culture to the level of social agreement that feeling is unreliable and secondary to rational logic.

Here’s an example. Many assessments measure our ability to express empathy. Some people believe that empathy is a trait you either possess or don’t. The behaviors of empathy are motivated by feeling caring and open to another’s distress. Interestingly, it’s also natural for our brains (amygdala) to protect us from pain. If we open to someone else’s distress we are likely to feel some pain. In a social system where feeling is not especially valued, feelings perceived as negative may be harder to accept. When we see someone else’s pain, we may feel a tinge of it. Our amygdala will quickly move to block that cue. We may react with a false, stoic, or ineffective response.

If we practice awareness of subtle bodily cues – a tightening of the jaw, brief holding of the breath…we develop the skill to experience that first tinge of feeling. When we notice such an experience, if we habitually close, we can choose to open and be present for the other person. We can choose empathy. We can override our habitual response.

Our emotional reactions often seem to be hardwired, tied into our identity. “That’s just who I am.” “I get angry quickly.” “I wear my heart on my sleeve.” “I always smile no matter what.” But we can regulate feeling if we open to experience them. We can catch them, and make a choice about expressing them if it would be helpful to do so. We can change – one choice at a time.

Emotional Self-Awareness is the First Step of Emotional Intelligence.

“When those who surround us are clear, forthright, and self-aware, a kind of developmental momentum can be felt in the field. This force is like sunlight; in its glow, inertia is challenged, and it becomes harder to avoid growth, clarity and consciousness.”

– Thomas Hubl

I’m currently offering a series of 45-minute Workshop Segments on Emotional Intelligence, on Zoom or on location. The First Step to Emotional Intelligence

  1. Understanding Emotions
  2. Expressing Emotions Effectively
  3. Putting Emotions to Work

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