Last Sunday morning I was on a bike ride with a mate and the conversation turned to the question of “can you be both smart and dumb at the same time?” We were talking about a mutual friend who is one of the most intelligent people we both know, yet is someone who sometimes has difficulty matching the same coloured socks when he takes them off the clothesline.
After the initial chuckling (you need to find lots of ways to fill in time on a three-plus hours early ride), the conversation moved to the topic of self-awareness and how important this is. Self-awareness is about understanding who you are. It's about being able to identify all of the pieces, the sum of the parts that makes you a human being (not to be confused with falling into the trap of identifying who you are based on what you do or purely based on how intelligent you are).
If you're smart, that's a bonus. But if you can improve self-awareness, that's going to put you into another league and increase your likelihood of success even more in all domains of life.
Taking time out to get to know yourself (and improve self-awareness) is an essential ingredient to feeling connected both at work and in your personal life. How self-aware are you? Look at the following 10 steps to help boost your self-awareness.
1. Choose how you think
That's right, we are in control of how we think. This means that by understanding the thought processes going on inside our brains, we can change the way we think and focus more on what we can control.
2. Change the way you feel
Our thoughts trigger emotions. Just like negative thoughts lead us to feel downhearted, when we choose to think positively we broaden and build the positive emotions we feel. Through understanding and being more aware of the range of emotions we feel, we can regulate ourselves and our emotions.
3. Understand how you act
While certain behaviours can be destructive for performance, others can be enhancing. Take time to be aware of which behaviours inhibit your performance and which behaviours enhance it.
4. Be mindful
As you read this, what noises can you hear? What is going on around you? Mindfulness, or being aware of and in the present moment, allows us to acknowledge what is occurring for us. This non-judgmental insight into our own behaviour allows us to respond to situations effortlessly without that inner critical voice.
5. Know your strengths
What are you really good at? Take time out to get to know yourself. Ever wonder why you never ran the City2Surf? Maybe it's because you just don't like running, not because you hate exercise. Getting to know what you are good at and trying to do more of it is a proven way to increase the likelihood of flourishing in all parts of your life.
6. What do you value?
Values are the guiding force of life. When it comes to being truly self- aware, we need to know ourselves down to the core. Values are the non-negotiables of life, they are the driving forces of why we choose to do the things we do. Some may value challenge, so they are constantly pushing themselves to the next level at work, while others might value family so they feel most energised when they read the bedtime stories to their little ones at night.
7. Be reflective
We often gain the most insight about ourselves when we have setbacks or make mistakes. Most people find it easy to criticise their performance, but very few can reflect on it, dissect it and tweak it where necessary. In order to learn and reach the next level of performance we need to review our progress, explore what is going well and identify opportunities for change. We grow through reflection.
Sometimes thinking about ourselves can be destructive. Too much turning inwards can lead to anxious and depressive thoughts. Take time out to just be, do things you love and find time to laugh. Get the balance between reflection and just hanging out. And yes, at times this can feel like a balancing act.
9. Be flexible
As human beings we change and evolve over time. Just like a buoy bopping up and down in the ocean, we are all tightly connected to our anchors. But in a storm we may stray farther from our core than in the calm. Sometimes the ways we are working, the ways we are communicating at home aren't working and we need to change pieces of ourselves. Be open to change and try to see it as an opportunity rather than a stressor.
10. Be kind to yourself
Being self-aware is all about being kind to yourself. Know when it's time to push harder and know when it's time to pull back. Not even the most elite marathon runners can run endlessly day after day after day.
While my mate and I had our Sunday morning theories, maybe it's best to finish with a quote from the Chinese scholar Laozi, who is attributed to penning the Tao Te Ching: “Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment.”
What do you think? Can you be smart and dumb at the same time? Is being self-aware more important than being smart?
(main sources: The Performance Clinic; Danielle Buckley, Go Beyond Psychological Solutions)