This month’s topic is about self-awareness, self-reflection and the power of insight. How well do you know yourself? And does it matter ‘Not that well’ is probably the answer to the first question. Yes, it does matter is certainly the answer to the second. The actions we take, the decisions we make on a daily basis are substantially influenced by our own personal self-awareness. So much so that it is now being referred to as the ‘meta-skill of the 21st Century’.*
Start by watching my introductory video below (click on the bar under the video to read the full text).
Then spend some time on self reflection and further reading.
*Eurich, Tasha (2017) Insight, The Power of Self-Awareness in a Self-deluded World, Macmillan, London
Know thyself - and thrive!
Welcome, Living Money members. Its Jeremy here to introduce this month’s topic which is about self-awareness, self-reflection and the power of insight.
So, here’s a question? How well do you know yourself? For that matter, how well do I know myself. And does it matter?
The last question is easies to answer. Yes, it does matter. The actions we take, the decisions we make on a daily basis are substantially influenced by where we hang out on the spectrum between being totally self-deluded and totally self-aware.
To be totally self-aware means there is congruency between how we see ourselves and who we really are. And that means we will probably be more successful in our day to day living, loving, work and play.
And because it means we know about ourselves we can play to our values, our strengths and our weaknesses. In turn, this means we are more likely to live lives of integrity, to maximise our potential, to do no harm and actually be a force for good in the world. It means we know when to say ’No’ because its beyond our capabilities. We know when to say ‘Yes’ and make a positive difference in the world. And we know when we need to seek advice or participate in further personal development to achieve a goal we consider ourselves unable to reach.
That’s quite a tough call if you think about it. The self-examination (or self-reflection) needed to gain insights about ourselves can be pretty tough, especially if we are in a state of shame about something.
Self-delusion is a bit easier – until it all goes wrong, that is. And self-delusion is made easier by the self-focus of our western societies. Its easy to see why the perfect beings pictured in our glossies and on our screens can lead us to think we are all similarly perfect.
And here self-delusion can work in the opposite way. The gods and goddesses of the media and entertainments worlds are often an airbrushed caricature that we see as real people who we cannot live up to, so we delude ourselves into thinking we are not up to scratch, unable to achieve. If we were self-aware, however, we would see ourselves as more than able to step up to the plate, albeit in a different way.
So how do we achieve greater self-awareness? Dan Gallagher in his TED talk states that ‘life is full of teachable moments’ and to learn about ourselves we ask ourselves or ask others to tell us about ourselves, particularly in those ‘teachable moments’.
Or, as Tasha Eurich describes in her book Insight, we cultivate internal self-awareness in which we gain an understanding of our values, habits, aspirations and impact on others; and we cultivate external self-awareness or knowing how others see us. Both are important and interestingly, as Eurich’s research has shown, there is no pattern of correlation between the two.
Asking ourselves is commonly called self-reflection. Its a technique commonly used by coaches as a tool for their clients and for their own development. However, self-reflection often centres around ‘Why’ or ‘How’ and this can be destructive and self-serving.
You will begin to realise as you become more involved in the community that I advocate self-reflection much of the time. You will begin to notice that I don’t use ‘Why’ or ‘How’. Instead I ask ‘What?’questions. Specifically I ask ‘What?’ – lets find out what actually happened, ’So what?’ – what were the consequences for myself and for others and what have I learned, and ‘What next?’ – what can I do to rectify a situation or do it better next time.
Asking others is possibly more insightful. We are not good at self-assessment and others may be able to tell us honestly more about ourselves than we can. Later on this page I’ve included a small exercise, simply called ‘Five Questions’ to help you start on this route.
Lets go back to Gallagher’s teachable moments for a moment because the concept gives us another path to self-awareness. Take a teachable moment and turn it into a story. Describe the situation, then describe what you did. Finally, describe the impact on you and others. Now, you are the link between what you did, and what the outcome was, so follow up by asking yourself what it was about you that resulted in this particular cause and effect. Our ‘What’, ’So what’, ‘What next’ self reflection will also help here.
Its worth recording these vignettes in some form or other for two reasons. First, they are stories, and stories are powerful tools for change. In the words of Brené Brown, ‘Owning our stories and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do’ (and, by the way, we’ll come on to stories and their power in much more detail later on). Second, vignettes are very useful ways of memorising and describing your skills, especially those transferable skills that might be called upon in work or personal situations. Just remember only to share your stories with those who have earned the right to here them.
Here are a couple of example from my own experience: in the mid ‘70s I was a serving officer in the British Army stationed in Germany and commanding a mechanised platoon. Our training had been somewhat perfunctory and I didn’t really know what I was doing when, shortly after my arrival, we were involved in a the major autumn exercise.
At one point I am ordered to attack a hill. Orders come over the radio of our armoured personal carrier in a prescribed format and in code. My personal organisation is not at its best, I have no structured means of taking down and de-coding the orders. I led my platoon to attack the wrong place and then got hopelessly lost. The result is major disruption of the company and battle group, delays until we rejoined the company and a major dressing down heard by all over the battle group radio net. Embarrassing!
The ’So What?’ (in self-awareness terms) was that my cavalier attitude and poor personal organisation were big weaknesses. The ‘What next?’ was to talk to other more experienced officers about how they managed and to get myself some decent note-taking kit.
Many years later (in 2016 to be exact) I find myself organising a complex trip to South Africa in which Nina, a friend from the US was to join us and we were to visit family in two separate parts of South Africa, Grahamstown and Knysna and have a short break somewhere in between to recharge our batteries.
I do my research. I build spreadsheets and itineraries. I liaise with Nina in the US. I test and book 14 separate journeys by air. I hire cars. I arrange car parking in Manchester. I book the pets into kennels. I make sure I have maps. I research our mid journey respite stop and book a wonderful Airbnb in St Francis Bay. And the entire trip goes without a single hitch, including meeting Nina in Johannesburg Airport exactly as planned. Brilliant!
Apart from the minutae of the two stories, they tell something else as well: through self-awareness it is possible to grow and develop, to become a different and hopefully better person than we were. Life is smoother, more fun, less stressful than it was because my own self-awareness has led to changes in me.
I would encourage you to read Tasha Eurich’s Insight book. It both adds to and reinforces everything I now believe about leading a fulfilled life.
There is more material below, including a selection of videos on the subject and the ‘Five Question’s exercise I mentioned.
Finally, as an exercise in building self-awareness, take a story in your own life, big or small and write it or tell it in the what happened, what you did and the outcome format.
Then use the ‘Why?’ questions to help you reflect on your story to improve your own self-awareness.
That’s it for this month. Please don’t forget to add your comments and thoughts in the comments section below.
Take care and go well.
Ask Five People
Self-reflection and a journey of self-discovery
(Download paper version here)
This important exercise serves two primary functions:
- First, it helps you build your confidence and challenge any limiting beliefs you might have about yourself.
- Second, it helps you understand how others see you, often a more accurate assessment than our own internal self-reflection
Ask five people (whose opinions you respect and trust) from different areas of your life to answer the following seven questions about yourself.
- What do you consider to be my strongest value?
- What do you think I am most passionate about?
- What do you think is my greatest achievement?
- In what circumstances am I most happy and engaged?
- How consistent am I in my actions?
- What do you consider to be my greatest strength?
- In one word, what impact do I generally have on others?
Extend the exercise by answering the questions yourself. Compare your internal answers with the external answers.
Under the bonnet
There is much to learn from this exercise. Here are just three important learnings:
1 The questions themselves are linked to what researcher Tasha Eurich describes as the Seven Pillars of Insight. These are the seven distinct types of insight possessed by ‘unicorns’ – the people in her research study who dramatically improved their self awareness as adults and as a result ‘enjoyed better careers and more successful lives’ than their less aware colleagues.
Values | Passions | Aspirations | Fit | Patterns | Reactions | Impact
2 We are not good at self-assessment. Inviting trustworthy and competent family members, friends or colleagues to give their honest opinions helps us avoid over-hyping or underestimating ourselves.
3 Comparing your own answers to the questions to those of your invited respondents can be revealing. It indicates the congruency between how you see yourself and who you really are (as described by your respondents). In general the greater the congruency, the more successful you will be in your life, love, work and play.
Taking it further
Reflect on this.
- Ask yourself what happened as you did the exercise and describe (in a non-judgemental, truthful and self-compassionate way) the effect it had on you
- Ask yourself so what (what have you learned).
- Finally ask yourself what happens next, what next steps (if any) are you going to take
Read Insight: The Power of Self-awareness in a Self-deluded World by Tasha Eurich (Macmillan, London, 2017) – see below.
Thanks to Kim Morgan and her team at Barefoot Coaching for introducing the concept, and to Tasha Eurich for her inspiration that led to Living Money’s second iteration of the exercise.
(Download paper version here)
Dr Tasha Eurich is an organisational psychologist and researcher. She has been named a Top 100 Thought Leader.
Her Insight book explores the power of self-awareness significantly to improve the way we live, love, work and play.
She describes self-awareness as the meta-skill of the 21st Century whilst at the same time lamenting how few of us practice it or practice it badly – to our detriment. Her own research, supported by a raft of research bu many others, suggests that self-awareness, if done properly, is the source of all those qualities most critical for our success in today’s world, qualities such as emotional intelligence, empathy, influence, persuasion, communication, and collaboration.
Eurich explains her concept of the Seven Pillars of Insight. These are the seven distinct types of insight possessed by ‘unicorns’ – the people in her research study who dramatically improved their self awareness as adults and as a result ‘enjoyed better careers and more successful lives’ than their less aware colleagues.
However, there are many roadblocks to developing self-awareness and the bulk of the book is spent identifying and dealing with these, which can be both internal and external. Her chapter ‘The Cult of Self’ is particularly revealing and both re-inforces and adds to the work of Brené Brown whose starting pint is shame.
If there is one criticism of the book it is Eurich’s assumption or premise that our lack of self-awareness always leads to an over-inflated view of ourselves. This may be because the genesis of her work is in organisational behaviour and the study of leaders, mainly in business, who almost by definition are overconfident, over optimistic and often very unaware of the fact. However, my own experience (literally) and that of my clients is often that we are lack of self awareness often leads us in the opposite direction generated from feelings of shame, inadequacy, disconnection and the ills of perfectionism, comparison and scarcity.
There is a real gem in this book in the Appendices at the back, a series of exercises to help you improve your self-awareness – the correct way.
Recommended reading for Living Money members!
This short afterthought was inspired by reading about the Dunning-Kruger effect in Insight around the same time as reading one of Seth Godin’s outstanding posts on the flip side of the coin.
The Dunning-Kruger effect, named after researcher David Dunning and his graduate student Justin Kruger, is the phenomenon that the least competent people tend to be the most confident of their abilities.
Eurich cites the effect as a potential blindspot in our quest for self-discovery, one that increases our delusions about ourselves.
Godin posts about the Imposter Syndrome, the opposite of Dunning-Kruger, in which individuals consistently refuse to acknowledge their strengths and achievements and feel they are a fraud and will be found out. Or, to rephrase it, competent people often have no confidence in their abilities.
Godin’s argument is that it does not really matter. We are all imposters to a greater or lesser extent because they are doing something that might not work and because statistically, its highly unlikely they are the most competent individuals on the planet for that role.
In short, drop the labels and just do the best you can.