What is self-awareness? According Dr. Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist, researcher and New York Times bestselling author of ‘Insight’, self-awareness is the ability to see ourselves clearly. To understand who we are, how others see us and how we fit into the world. Self-awareness gives us power. There’s a ton of research that shows that people who are self aware are more fulfilled…They have stronger relationships. They’re more creative. They’re more confident. They’re better communicators. They perform better at work and are more promotable and more effective leaders.

According to Eurich, in a world of self-awareness there are two types of people: Those who think they’re self-aware and those who actually are.

95% of people think they’re self aware but the real number is closer to 10 to 15 percent. This means that on a good day 80% of us are lying to ourselves about whether we’re lying to ourselves.

So what does it mean if you’re not actually self-aware? It means your introspective and introspection is what’s making you paranoid, stressed and insecure.

The ugly truth about introspection:

Eurich’s team ran a simple study between introspection and things like happiness, stress and job satisfaction. Naturally the people who introspected would be better off? The data told the exact opposite story. People who introspected were less satisfied and depressed. Less in control of their lives.

These negative consequences increased the more they introspected. Later that week she came across a 20-year-old study that looked how widowers adjusted to life without their partners. The researchers found that those who tried to understand the meaning of their loss were happier, less depressed one month later, but one year later were more depressed. They were fixated on what happened instead of moving forward.

Self-analysis can trap us in a mental hell of our own making.

The way you’re pursuing self-awareness doesn’t work. Here’s the surprising reality:

Thinking about ourselves isn’t related to knowing ourselves. So to understand this let’s look at most common introspective question: Why?

The cause of a bad mood maybe. Why am I so upset after that fight? Or we’re trying to understand a negative outcome. Why did I choke in that meeting?

Unfortunately, when we ask why it doesn’t lead us towards the truth about ourselves. It leads us away from it. There are two reasons we shouldn’t ask why:

  1. Researchers have found that no matter how hard we try, we can’t excavate our unconscious thoughts, feelings and motives. And because so much is hidden from our conscious awareness we end up inventing answers that feel true but are often very wrong.
  2. Asking why leads us away from our true nature.

So what can we do? How can we start thinking about ourselves differently. If we shouldn’t ask why, what should we ask?

When the researchers looked at how the self awareness “unicorns” approached introspection, they found the answer. They analyzed hundreds of pages of transcripts and found a clear patterns. For the unicorns, the word ‘why’ appeared less than 150 times while the word ‘what’ appeared over a thousand times.

Instead of asking, ‘why do I feel so terrible?” ask “What are the situations that make me feel terrible and what do they have in common?”

“Why” has a tendency to suck you back into stories and inconclusive rumination; “what” is more likely to help identify your personality traits or patterns of behavior so that you can either change them or change your job, relationship, etc, to accommodate them.

Like meditation and journaling – which Eurich also recommends – this allows you to objectify yourself to yourself.

She quotes Spinoza: “An emotion, which is a passion, ceases to be a passion as soon as we form a clear and distinct idea thereof.”

In some fundamental way, genuine self-knowledge relies on coming to see yourself as a stranger – as opposed to someone you already love (or hate) so much that you’re blinded to the truth.”

This week let’s get in the habit of asking ‘what’ instead of ‘why’ when something goes wrong or we’re in a bad mood. What will prompt us to find an answer, not wallow in.

Now the moment of truth. How self-aware are you? Take Tasha Eurich’s quiz to find out.

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Lauren Martin
Just another girl in the world...and founder of Words of Women

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