Skip to main content

Self-Awareness: The Key To A Better Life

How do you become a better person? How do you uncover your faults, and once found, how do you know where to focus your energy in order to improve them? How do you even know that there's something wrong in the first place? The answer lies in self-awareness, an absolutely critical life skill that most people spend a lifetime avoiding.

Ever since I was a little kid, I've been possessed of the notion that the world is overrun with people who tramp through life in a nearly unconscious state. I can clearly remember going to the store one day as a child and watching a middle-aged woman pushing a cart while muttering to herself, not like she was crazy, but more like she was just going through the motions of life. She was an NPC, and she was not alone. I was probably three or four years old.

Growing up to be the engineer and scientist (and philosopher?) that I am, I'm constantly searching for elegant solutions to the problems around me. My friends know that I very often start sentences with "I have a theory ...". In this case, I really do have a theory: I think that a great deal of the problems we encounter stem from a lack of self-awareness, and that building your self-awareness will help you develop as a person in ways that you probably cannot even imagine.

So what is self-awareness? Simply put, it's the ability to observe yourself and the way you interact with your environment. As a simple example, let's talk about body awareness, which is a subset of self-awareness. Body awareness means paying attention to your body, its feelings, aches, pains, sensations, and of course skeletal configuration. I used to be a competitive gymnast, but I would say that my body awareness was severely crippled until my later years in college, when I took two life-changing classes: Social Dance my junior year, and Yoga my final year of grad school. Yoga was mind-blowing - the first day of class, our tie-dye-wearing chakra-chanting instructor had us all stand up straight, and then she taught us how much we sucked at it. I kid you not - she taught a room full of twenty-somethings the proper way to stand.

And you know what? We were all doing it wrong.

None of us knew how to stand with correct posture. But not only that, none of us had ever thought about it. After you learn how to stand as a baby, when do you consciously think about the alignment of your hip bones compared to your shoulders compared to your knees and ankles, etc? You don't - it becomes automatic, and you forget that it's actually something within your control. And unless you take yourself off cruise control from time to time and consciously observe yourself, you may very well develop some of the poor posture habits that plague our bipedal ape-descended species.

Social dance was similarly enlightening - if you're Lindy hopping at a high tempo but have poor control over your body, 1) you will not be an effective lead, and 2) you won't be dancing, you'll be flailing. Social dance teaches you that controlling your body is not merely a simple thought-to-action process; in contrast, it's quite difficult. It takes years and years to master. This is one of the reasons I've fallen in love with ballet over the last year and a half. Ballet exemplifies such a pure and unadulterated mastery of body awareness and control, blended so perfectly with music and aestheticism, that I am completely captivated every time I see it. (The beautiful girls don't hurt, either).

Of course, self-awareness is useful far beyond the physical realm. The main difference between people who have a low EQ and people with high emotional intelligence is their self-awareness with respect to how they deal with other people. As you read that, your first reaction is probably, "Well, of course I know how I deal with other people! What sort of a compassionless automaton do you think I am??" Oh really? Have you actually stopped recently to think hard about how you personally deal with emotions, and how you react to other people's emotions? Have you accepted responsibility for your emotional shortcomings and taken concrete steps to improve them? If not (and I can guarantee you, if you think you're perfect at handling and dealing with emotions, you are most certainly mistaken), then self-awareness can help. Next time you have a conversation, pay attention to your listening. Notice the other party's expressions and emotions as they're speaking and as you respond. Take note of the effect that certain words have. Take stock of your unconscious reactions to what's being said. Are those feelings fair? Are they accurate? If you were in the speaker's shoes, would you feel differently? Were you honest in your feelings, or did you misdirect or hold something back?

Congratulations. These are the first steps to becoming a self-aware human being. Over the last year, I've had an awakening of self-awareness that has changed my outlook on everything from health, work, concentration, meditation, art, and most especially interpersonal relationships. None of these changes would have occurred had they not been sparked by a genuine curiosity about how my body and mind operate. And now that my eyes are open, I can't help but be a continually vigilant observer of my path through time and space.

Are you willing to take a hard, objective look at yourself, and take action on the ugly things you find? Or are you content to go through life believing that you're fine and everyone else is the problem? It's up to you. But I can guarantee you, the path of self-awareness has a much happier ending.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why Korean Is Hard For Native English Speakers

A couple of days ago, as an experiment, I wrote my first blog post ever in a non-English language. It was an attempt to explain some of the reasons that Korean is hard to learn for native English speakers, so I figured I might as well try to write it in Korean. Those of you who actually read Korean can see how awkward the attempt was =).

In any case, the post came from an email conversation I had with The Korean from Ask a Korean, a fantastically well-written blog about all things Korea from the perspective of a Korean who moved to the United States during high school. Since I tend to geek out on language things, I figured I might as well post part of that conversation. An edited version follows.

---------

Out of the languages that I've attempted to learn so far, Korean has been the hardest. I've done a lot of meta thinking about learning Korean, and I think there are a number of reasons it's difficult for non-Koreans (and especially Westerners) to learn:

1) Obviously, the…

Don't Take Korean Language Advice From Kyopos

I'm not sure why it took me so long to figure this out, but the last people you should take Korean language advice from are kyopos (foreign-born or raised Koreans). That being said, if you do follow their advice, you will get many laughs from Koreans. Some of my personal favorites, all of which actually happened to me:

- When I first got to Korea, I was at some open-air event, and during a break I started talking to one of the hosts. He said he was only a part-time host, so I asked him what his full-time job was, and he said "백수" (which is slang for "unemployed guy"). I asked him what that was, and he replied, "Comedian". So then the next few people I met, I proudly told I was a baeksu. (Edit: Actually, this guy was Korean Korean, not kyopo.)

- Next, a kyopo who lived in the apartment I moved into back in 2010 asked me what I was doing in Korea, and I told him I was starting a company, and asked how to say that in Korean in case people ask. He told me…

영어가 모국어인 사람들은 왜 한국어를 배우기가 어려운 이유

이 포스트는 내 처음 한국어로 블로그 포스트인데, 한국어에 대하니까 잘 어울린다. =) 자, 시작합시다! 왜 외국사람에게 한국어를 배우기가 어렵다? 난 한국어를 배우고 있는 사람이라서 이 문제에 대해 많이 생각하고 있었다. 여러가지 이유가 있는데 오늘 몇 이유만 논할 것이다.

1. 분명히 한국어 문법은 영어에 비해 너무 많이 다른다. 영어는 “오른쪽으로 분지(分枝)의 언어"라고 하는데 한국어는 “왼쪽으로 분지의 언어"이다. 뜻이 무엇이나요? 예를 보면 이해할 수 있을 것이다. 간단한 문장만 말하면 (외국어를 말하는 남들은 간단한 문장의 수준을 지낼 수가 약간 드물다), 간단한 걸 기억해야 돼: 영어는 “SVO”인데 한국어는 “SOV”이다. “I’m going to school”라고 한국어로는 “저는 학교에 가요"라고 말한다. 영어로 똑바로 번역하면 “I’m school to go”이다. 두 언어 다르는 게 목적어와 동사의 곳을 교환해야 한다. 별로 어렵지 않다. 하지만, 조금 더 어렵게 만들자. “I went to the restaurant that we ate at last week.” 한국어로는 “전 우리 지난 주에 갔던 식당에 또 갔어요"라고 말한다. 영어로 똑바로 번역하면 “I we last week went to restaurant to again went”말이다. 한국어가 왼쪽으로 분지 언어라서 문장 중에 왼쪽으로 확대한다! 이렇게 좀 더 쉽게 볼 수 있다: “전 (우리 지난 주에 갔던 식당)에 또 갔어요”. 주제가 “전"이고 동사가 “갔다"이고 목적어가 “우리 지난 주에 갔던 식당"이다. 영어 문장은 오른쪽으로 확대한다: I (S) went (V) to (the restaurant (that we went to (last week))) (O). 그래서 두 숙어 문장 만들고 싶으면 생각속에서도 순서를 변해야 된다.

2. 첫 째 점이니까 다른 사람을 자기 말을 아라들게 하고 싶으면, 충분히 …