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.


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) Obvi

Stuttering in Korea

I had given up on English. It's my native language, but I figured after 30 some-odd years of disfluent speech, it was time to try something else. So I signed up for language classes in Korean, rationalizing that if I was going to try to teach myself how to speak, I might as well learn a new language along the way. This might seem completely insane, but when the prevailing theme of your conscious thoughts for multiple decades is some variant of "Why can't I say what I want to say?", you come up with lots of crazy ideas. For background, I've been a person who stutters for my entire life. I wrote about it on this blog a few years ago, so I think it's time for a followup. I've learned a lot since then, about myself and about stuttering, but in this post I simply want to give some insight into what it's actually like to stutter, and how my speech has changed over time. After the last stuttering post, the predominant reaction I got from friends was ei

Is It Worth It To Learn Korean?

Learning Korean as a non-Asian foreigner is an exercise in masochism. Note that I specify "non-Asian". Why does that make a difference? Simply because Koreans possess a deeply-ingrained belief that non-Asians are incapable of speaking Korean. The self-fulfilling prophecy of it is that since Koreans expect you to be incapable of speaking Korean, due to this mental block, they are likely to not understand you regardless of your proficiency level. Additionally, they won't respond to you with normal Korean like they would respond to an Asian person, because they assume you couldn't possibly understand. You will rarely ever have an opportunity to hear natural Korean, because Koreans simply won't speak it with you unless 1) they are open-minded and awesome (meaning they have probably lived abroad - thank you to all of you), or 2) they have known you long enough that they've gotten past the odd sight of a foreigner speaking Korean. In short, nearly every time you o