Increasing Your Self Awareness

Self awareness is your ability to understand yourself. Being self aware is having a strong understanding your own personality and emotions. You know what motivates you and are able to use that to accomplish your goals. You also know your strengths and weaknesses and are able to use them to your advantage. All of this also allows you to better understand others and what motivates them as well. You are also able to control they way you present yourself to others.

Self awareness is not binary. You don’t have it or not. It’s a scale and you may be more self aware in some areas than in others. To understand your own level of awareness you have to be comfortable comparing yourself to others and to earlier versions of yourself.

Meditation helps you to increase your awareness of the present moment. Just like you can work better in a space without clutter, your mind thinks better when cleared of the clutter. It doesn’t have to be a formal process or set time. Taking a few minutes when getting a little overwhelmed to focus on breathing can help. Walking is a favorite of many developers to clear their heads when working on a difficult problem. Keeping a journal will help you stay objective while you increase your self awareness. Writing on a regular basis will allow you to gain a better understanding of the things that trigger emotions (good or bad). Be honest with yourself, this is for your improvement so there is no need to sugar coat it. A good way to gain understanding about yourself is to take objective psychometric tests. The point of these tests is not there is a right or wrong way to answer instead it’s to determine traits about your personality from your answers.

These tips are designed to help you measure and improve your own ability to understand yourself. The more aware you become about yourself the better you are at making positive changes in your live that will help to improve your self awareness. They create a feedback loop that moves you further along the spectrum of the self aware.

Episode Breakdown

Start by listing our your strengths and weaknesses.

We each have a set of skill we are good at and ones we are not so good at. These are part of who we are as a person. They are not all that makes up who we are. However what we can and cannot do. They will help or hinder us for reaching our goals.

They are transient and change over time. Strengths will fade if not kept up and practiced. “If you don’t use it you lose it.” If you are talented at something you will want to do it more and become skilled as well. If you stop working that skill you’re ability will fade, not completely but will not be as strong. Weaknesses can become strengths through diligent work. Most things in life are skills that can be learned and practiced. Even those things that are considered talents can be viewed as skills. With enough work and effort you can learn the skill. Strengths in one area can be weaknesses in other areas, and vice-versa.

Take ownership of our strengths and weaknesses by listing them out. Know where you are strongest and how to use that strength. Know where your weak points are and have a plan to improve them.

Write down your key plans and priorities.

In order to track your progress you need to write it down. This will help you to know where you are coming from. You can see where you started on the journey toward a goal. Also you’ll know how far along you are toward that goal. It also will give you direction on where you want to go.

Whenever you need to make a decision look at your written goals. Let your goals and priorities guide the decisions you make in your life. They should guide all of your decisions major and minor. This even means where you eat lunch today.

Review them regularly. Use this to make sure you are on the way to your goals. Set aside time on a regular basis to review your goals. This should be based on the length of the goal. Longer goals have longer times between regular reviews. Life changes and what we want or need out of it changes too. If a goal is no longer a priority you may remove it when you review. This is also a time to add new goals and priorities that may have come up since your last review. If you are feeling overwhelmed this may be a time to review your goals.

Get regular feedback to fill blind spots.

As humans we are incapable of perfect self reflection. We need to rely on feedback from trusted friends and mentors. It’s not possible to be completely aware of how others perceive us.

When asking for feedback make sure they feel comfortable giving it to you. This means not reacting negatively when it’s something you don’t want to hear. Thank people for negative feedback, especially if it is constructive. They are doing it to help because you asked. Responding negatively increases the likelihood they will not give honest feedback in the future. You need to be listening more than talking when getting feedback.

Another thing you can do is to ask friends to call you out on bad behavior. Ask them to discreetly let you know if you are behaving in a way you wish to stop. This is to help you learn to be aware of how others perceive you. You may be coming across in a way you do not intend. You may want to stop a behavior that you don’t always know you are doing. Sometimes you intend to be perceived a certain way.

Most workplaces also have a formal feedback process. If your workplace doesn’t have one this is a value that you can bring to the table. To have effective formal feedback you need a few things in place. You need to have a process for feedback to occur. Also you’ll need someone to manage the feedback process. Managing feedback can come from internal HR or an outside consultant or facilitator. Some places have annual performance reviews. These typically involve a manager and performance goals. In some cases they are reviewed by HR or higher management. In the best cases employees are allowed to add comments to the official review documentation.

Learn to identify your feelings but don’t judge them.

Your feelings do matter, learn to trust them. Understand that emotions are amoral. They are not good or bad. Morality comes from behavior. So what you do is good or bad not how you feel. Start just by noticing that you are feeling a certain way. Identify what you are feeling if it is anxiety, anger, or excitement and happiness. Look at the situation you are in and determine what lead to that feeling. Write down how you are feeling, track situations and emotions. Review situations that cause similar emotions for common threads.

We tend to avoid what we perceive as “bad” emotions. We don’t want to feel anxious, angry, or sad. Some people even try to completely get rid of these “negative” emotions. Avoid judging emotions as good or bad. Many times we feel a certain way for a reason. Sadness because of a loss is normal. Anxiety is an early warning of potential danger. It is when the feelings are overwhelming and control our behavior they become an issue.

On the other hand we tend to seek the “good” emotions. You want to feel these so you reward yourself for them. Just as “bad” emotions can be useful the “good” ones can be dangerous. It can be addicting to feel good. You can drain yourself seeking the excitement or good feelings though.

Avoid making decisions in high emotional states.

Our moods change day to day and range in intensity. They can even change minute to minute based on what’s going on. You may start your day off in a good mood but traffic, a grumpy boss, or broken code can change that quickly. We need to be able to function regardless of our emotional state whether it’s good or bad.

Avoid major decisions when in a terrible mood. When you are in a very bad mood you tend to lose sight of the good things in life. You may be frustrated with friends, family, coworkers. You may even be dissatisfied with yourself. You don’t see all the good things that are going on because of the bad mood. Many times when this happens you know deep inside that what you are thinking is false. Sometimes you just don’t seem to be able to stop those thoughts. You need to let them come, then let them go just as quickly. Don’t make any life changing decisions when in a bad mood. This means no rage quitting your job. It also means don’t buy tickets for your next vacation either.

On the same note avoid decisions when you are in a great mood. When you are in a good mood you feel like you can do “All The Things”! You feel ecstatic and invincible. You want to take on all the projects. This is how a sales person will sell you things you don’t even want. They’ll get you excited about it. You’ll over estimate it’s value and want to have it. There are lots of techniques taught to sales professionals on how to do this. Be aware that you are in a more suggestible state when in a good mood. Those close to you may have more influence than normal. You can more easily deceive yourself.

Learn to set boundaries with yourself and others.

By setting and keeping boundaries you’ll maintain integrity. This will help you achieve your goals. Say to yourself “I can’t do that because it is contrary to where I want to go with my life”. This is very big in nutrition and weight loss. It will also avoid back sliding and losing progress. You’ll know when you or someone else comes close to crossing a boundary. Over time you’ll even learn to avoid situations where that may happen.

Setting and sustaining boundaries is a skill. It is something that can be learned. Unfortunately a lot of people never learn how to create boundaries in their life. By setting boundaries you are recognizing your own limits. There may be a time when you are learning or testing your limits. It is one thing to set boundaries but you have practice regularly to be maintain them. This may mean saying no when you know that you could do something. It may also mean getting over your FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

Self discipline is a trait that you can build and maintain. It will help you to focus on accomplishing your goals. Consistency is the key to discipline. Doing it repeatedly will build that ability to do it when stressed. It focuses you by putting you in control of your desires and impulses. Self discipline comes about through setting and maintaining your boundaries.

Get out of your comfort zone.

We like to avoid things that aren’t comfortable. This may be good in the short term for a little while. It is not a long term growth minded approach though.

To improve yourself you need to put yourself into uncomfortable situations. Trying new things will teach you about yourself. You may not know that you enjoy camping until you go out into the woods. Java might be the bane of your existence until you actually have to write it for school. Putting yourself into unfamiliar situations will teach you to respond in new ways. Travelling outside of your native area is a great way to get out there. This is especially true if you can go to a place that doesn’t speak your language. Even better is to travel alone or as part of a group you do not know well.

Emotionally speaking, don’t hide or hide from uncomfortable emotions. Guide yourself through the experience. This may mean seeking help from friends or professionals in more extreme cases. It could also mean taking time to reflect and understand what and why you are feeling a certain way. Ignoring your feelings or pushing them down only holds them off for a time. They tend to come back when you least expect it or when it’s least convenient.

Book Club

The Elements of Computing Systems

Our next book will be The Elements of Computing Systems by Noam Nisan and Shimon Schocken. This is the book that BJ used as a text last semester in school. It is a really good book for understanding the core architecture of computers and how they are designed and built. By following along with the activities in this book you’ll build a computer virtually from the logic circuits all the way to the operating system. The preface and introduction give a good overview of what the book covers and how it is laid out. Next week we’ll talk about the first few chapters.

Tricks of the Trade

People react to emotions, not to things that can help them. You can get a long way ahead of the people around you simply by inverting this rule.

Editor’s Notes:

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