In the self-improvement world, there’s a lot of talk about things like habits, goal-setting, motivation, mindset, etc, and rightfully so.
Despite being one of the most important aspects of personal development, self-awareness is a topic that seems to get lost in the shuffle
Understanding who you are is the solid foundation that makes all of these other pursuits effective, it’s just not as sexy to talk about.
It’s also hard for people to admit that they have a lack of self-awareness. Who wants to admit that they don’t know who they really are? Who wants to admit that they’re chasing the wrong things?
According to a recent study by the Harvard Business Review, many of us settle for the answers that make us feel good, even though they may not be the truth.
The study found that out of a sample of 5,000 people, only 10-15% displayed the characteristics of someone who is self-aware. The most startling finding from this study was this — 95% of people considered themselves to display high levels of self-awareness.
In other words, a whole lot of us aren’t self-aware enough about our level of self-awareness.
Let’s talk about some of the key indicators that you have a lack of self-awareness, and more importantly how to overcome them.
What Is Self-Awareness?
As the study mentioned above continued to progress, interesting trends began to emerge. The researchers found that there are two different types of self-awareness — internal self-awareness and external self-awareness
Let’s paint a full picture of self-awareness by discussing the difference between the two. Internal self-awareness more focused on the self, and is characterized by the following:
- How clearly we see our own values and aspirations
- Our ability to observe our own thoughts
- Our strengths and weaknesses
- Our impact on others
According to the study, having high levels of internal self-awareness is correlated with higher job satisfaction, better personal relationships, and greater happiness levels.
Now that we’ve laid out what constitutes internal self-awareness, let’s shift the focus to external self-awareness.
External self-awareness is actually identical except for one small detail — it’s about our understanding of how other people view us in each of those same categories.
- How other people judge our ability to manage our own thoughts
- How other people judge our strengths and weaknesses
- How other people are impacted by what we do
People with high levels of external self-awareness are typically more empathetic in their dealings with other people due to their ability to view things from their perspective. They’re also likely to make better leaders — it’s hard to be a great leader if you’re blind to the impact you have on your peers.
Internal self-awareness and external self-awareness are two sides of the same coin. The only difference is that one is centered around us and the other is centered around other people.
Why Is Self-Awareness Important?
Both types of self-awareness are important in every aspect of your life. As you go about your day, you have two options.
Option one is to go through life with a lack of self-awareness. And that’s easy to do — you simply do what you usually do without giving it a moment’s thought. You act out the same habits and fall into the same thinking patterns without ever really questioning why you do what you do.
This is the cycle that keeps miserable people stuck and stagnant. It’s what holds them back from evolving into the best versions of themselves.
On the other hand, there’s option two. You can go about your day and really pay attention to your internal dialogue. You can constantly engage in self-reflection and question your thoughts, actions, and feelings.
Accepting that you might not understand yourself as well as you think is daunting. But there’s also great humility in it — constantly questioning yourself can offer new insights that reveal the path towards improvement.
It also ensures that you’re aiming at the right goals, which is a highly important detail that can’t be overlooked.
The greatest failure in life is when you reach the top of the mountain and realize that you took the wrong path. Becoming more self-aware will reduce the likelihood that your goals are misguided representations of what you really want.
So many of us are chasing goals that don’t really align with our values.
We push ourselves to get a promotion without ever considering whether our skillset would be better utilized in another job.
We neglect personal relationships and work 14 hour days to get our business off the ground even though we deeply value quality time with friends.
This sort of imbalance can be incredibly damaging to our happiness and motivation.
Success and fulfillment are not the same thing, yet we have a bad habit of conflating the two. Self-awareness ensures that the actions you’re taking align with who you want to become, not what you want to achieve, and it’s the becoming that you should care about.
7 Signs That You Have A Lack of Self-Awareness
By now, you probably have a pretty good handle on what self-awareness is and how it manifests in your day to day life.
Now let’s talk about seven key indicators that you have a lack of self-awareness and what to do once you notice them.
#1: You Feel Burnt Out At Work
Do you dread Mondays and get ecstatic when it’s Friday? If so, then you’ve got a problem on your hands – your career is something you try to escape from, not something that fills you with joy.
Let me tell you a quick story…
When I was 19, I dropped out of school to start my own marketing agency.
I knew what I was getting into — determination and hard work were prerequisites to reaching the goals I set out for myself.
The problem? Each morning, it felt impossible to overcome the initial resistance that popped up whenever important work needed to get done. Even when the ball got rolling, my work sessions were filled with unproductive multitasking and numerous instances of compulsively checking my smartphone.
Let’s fast forward to this very moment. I’m currently writing this blog post while sipping on a cup of coffee, and I’ve been writing for the past hour with absolutely zero interruptions.
What’s the only difference between situation #1 and situation #2? I love everything about personal development.
Building a million dollar marketing agency sounded pretty sexy and exciting until it was time to put in the work required to make it happen. I wasn’t in love with the process, I was in love with what the process could buy me.
This article isn’t about me, but the reason I tell this story is because I’m guessing most of you aren’t in love with your process.
- Do you dread Mondays and rejoice when it’s Friday?
- Do you procrastinate on the work you’re assigned frequently?
- Do you think about leaving your job doing something else constantly?
Your career should align with your natural interests. The only reason that pivoting to self-improvement seemed like a logical move for me was due to regular self-reflection.
I noticed little things like the fact that I’d practice speeches in the mirror about topics like habits and productivity. I noticed that time seemed to fly by every time I read a self-improvement book.
Even though writing blog posts was challenging work, it wasn’t de-motivating because the subject matter was so intriguing to me.
All of you reading this have work that you find intrinsically motivating. You might even be asking yourself the question right now — can I really turn that into a full-time career?
I still haven’t found the answer yet — but life is too fucking short to leave it unanswered.
#2: You Set Unrealistic Goals
When you set goals, are you a prisoner of the moment? Do you set huge goals and then vow to do whatever it takes to achieve them?
Well, this is the easiest way to get trapped in the vicious cycle that most people spend their entire lives in:
- 1) Setting big goals
- 2) Taking some action towards those goals
- 3) Getting-demotivated when you’re not making huge progress
- 4) Throwing in the towel
- 5) Setting some new goals three months later
If you find yourself stuck in this cycle, it’s safe to say that your lack of self-awareness is sabotaging your ability to achieve your goals.
When it comes to behavior change and goal-setting, it’s sexy to aim high. We don’t want to make our first $1,000, we want to make millions. We don’t want to focus on losing 5 pounds, we want to lose 50.
We want to go from point A to point Z as quickly as possible. We overestimate our ability to change, and underestimate the difficulty of making those changes.
Deploying self-awareness requires flipping the script — start underestimating yourself and overestimating the difficulty of change.
If you apply this philosophy, you’ll begin to set realistic goals that you can actually achieve. Taking action will actually motivate you because the desired target you’re aiming at isn’t lightyears away.
- Turn writing for three hours into writing for three minutes
- Turn 100 pushups into 10 pushups
- Turn reading 30 pages into reading two pages
Getting humble is one of the easiest ways to combat a lack of self-awareness. It’s important to realize that the targets you can hit tomorrow aren’t very impressive.
No one’s going to write a news article about you for writing 50 words, or doing three pushups.
But guess what? It’s a vote for the type of person you want to become — and with each vote you cast, you take one step towards your most ambitious goals.
#3: You Always Blame Failure On External Circumstances
Always playing the victim is another key indicator of a lack of self-awareness.
Blaming your failures on external circumstances has serious consequences. Look at this way — if you blame your failure on someone or something else, what reason do you have to change?
None! You have absolutely no reason to change because in your mind, you did everything you could to get the job, pass the class, win the race, make the team, etc.
Failing to hold yourself accountable is a refusal to look inward. It’s about choosing to identify with the mental narrative that makes you feel good in the present moment.
The problem with this narrative is that it rarely constitutes the truth. Your brain doesn’t want to believe that your shortcomings are your fault — it’s not in the business of believing anything that makes you feel bad about yourself.
In order to overcome the brain’s tendency to show a lack of self-awareness, try to paint a more objective picture of your failures.
- Which daily habits are contributing to failure in this area of my life?
- What is within my control to avoid this kind of feeling/situation in the future?
- What’s one thing I can do today to get back on the right track?
Ask yourself questions like this with the frame that you’re 100% responsible for what happens to you. It may not be true, but adopting this mindset will help you become more self-aware of the habits that are responsible for your current level of happiness in life.
#4: You Identify With Your Thoughts
Let’s get this out of the way right now — you are not your thoughts.
It’s said that we have over 70,000 thoughts every single day. And guess what, 99% of them are completely useless.
Identifying with all of these thoughts is one of the biggest causes of a lack of self-awareness. If you let your mind run wild all day long without controlling your attention, it’s going to try to beat you into submission.
- If you’re feeling anxious, it’s because you’re an anxious person.
- If you’re worried about something happening, it’s because that thing is going to happen
- If you’re having a negative thoughts, it’s because you’re a negative person
This is the kind of bullshit that we deal with all day long. One kernel of idea pops into our mind which leads to a shitstorm of negativity and doubt that wreaks havoc on our internal dialogue.
Part of becoming more self-aware means recognizing your thoughts for what they are — minor annoyances that take your attention away from the present moment.
Your actions dictate who you are. Your thoughts only matter if you give them power. Start taking control of your thoughts by saying things like:
- “I’m having the thought that I’m anxious, thanks mind!”
- “I’m having the thought that X will happen in the future, thanks mind!
- “I’m having the thought that I’m nervous, thanks mind!”
Simply accept them and move on — your thoughts are instruments that guide you, not clear-cut definitions about who you are.
#5: You Get Defensive When Facing Criticism
When you have a lack of self-awareness, you tend to internalize feedback and criticism as personal attacks on your character. The truth is that genuine feedback from other people can be incredibly helpful for understanding yourself better.
We all possess a cognitive bias called self-serving bias, which states that we tend to take credit for positive outcomes and blame failure on external factors. In other words, we like to see ourselves in the best possible light at all times.
When we get feedback from someone else that challenges our self-image, it can be difficult to see things objectively — getting defensive tends to be the knee-jerk reaction.
Self-serving bias causes us to miss out on golden nuggets about our own character. If you want to increase your self-awareness, let other people help you in that pursuit.
Start seeking out as much peer feedback as possible. Ask people who have your best interests at heart about your strengths and weaknesses — force them to be honest and tell you exactly what they think of you.
You’ll be surprised at the level of transparency people will show you when it’s made clear that you won’t be offended no matter what they say.
#6: Your Don’t Really Know What You Believe
We tend to believe that each time we say something, it’s because we actually believe it. That’s the self-serving bias at work once again — always latching on to the most convenient version of events. In truth, it’s quite easy for our beliefs to be influenced.
Our words are influenced by the people around us — we often try to mold our message to fit the norms of a particular group. Our desire to fit in often overrides the urge we have to reveal what we’re actually feeling.
It’s okay to keep quiet and go along with the crowd sometimes in a social situation, but the key is to know when you’re going along with the crowd.
We’re also influenced by our past experiences. Each of you reading this sees things through a certain lens that’s colored by things that have happened to you.
It’s okay to take your own perspective into a certain situation, but the key is to know how your unique perspective is affecting your view of any given situation.
Just make sure that as you go through life, you’re always questioning your beliefs.
If you have a certain belief about a political issue, don’t just listen to news sources that confirm that belief. Expose yourself to new ideas and see if there’s another perspective that you’re dismissing completely.
If you find yourself agreeing with someone, make sure to understand why you’re agreeing with them — are you agreeing to keep the peace or because you’re trying to fit in?
Agreeing to keep the peace is fine because even though you believe something different, you’re not trying to make a scene.
On the other hand, agreeing to fit in with the crowd is a slippery slope. Do this enough times and you’ll find yourself with beliefs and worldviews that were never yours to begin with.
The self-serving bias requires that we always challenge our beliefs. Some of them will change and some of them won’t, but this filtering process is a crucial part of solidifying your identity.
#7 You Can’t Explain Why You Do What You Do
A big part of self-awareness is being able to observe your actions as if you were a stranger.
For example, if you were analyzing the life of a stranger and saw him scrolling through Facebook at work, you’d probably say something like, “Ah, he’s just procrastinating and wants to get a quick dopamine hit by escaping into Youtube for a couple minutes.”
Sounds like a pretty logical explanation to me. But how does the narrative change when we’re the ones doing the mindless Facebook scrolling?
- “I just need a quick break from work and then I’ll get right back to it.”
- “I should check in on what my friends are doing.”
- “Maybe someone sent me a message over Facebook.”
See the self-serving bias at work once again? It’s easy to look at other people and make judgments about the motive behind their actions, but we don’t like holding ourselves to the same standard.
These in-the-moment justifications for the glass of wine we don’t really need to drink, the show we don’t really need to watch, or the app that we don’t really need to check, end up destroying us.
You need to start identifying the motives and triggers that drive your behavior, which will make them easier to change and give you a deeper understanding of why you do what you do.
If you want to do this in a non-judgemental fashion, observe your behavior as if you were a stranger on the outside looking in.
- Why would someone do this particular behavior?
- What might he/she be feeling at the time?
- What would this behavior serve as an escape from? What might he/she be avoiding or suppressing with behavior?
These are the questions that will give you powerful insights as to why you behave the way that you do.
Final Thoughts On Lack of Self-Awareness
Well, that concludes this list of seven common signs of a lack of self-awareness. Did any of them resonate with you?
If so, that’s great! It means that you know exactly what you need to work on going forward.
Self-awareness is an invaluable skill that impacts so many areas of your life. It’s what helps you…
- Set realistic goals that you can actually achieve.
- Understand your own behavior
- Address the root cause of your failures
- Choose a job that actually brings you fulfillment.
Whatever you do, after reading this article commit to questioning yourself. Question your choices. Question your profession. Question your current beliefs.
The development of the self is an ongoing process. If you’re not changing or evolving, you’re not growing or learning anything new.
Don’t be afraid of the ugly truths that can come out of deep self-reflection. It’s these insights that will help you become more self-aware and shape you into who you’re supposed to be.