How To Increase Your Self-Awareness & Grow As A Person

Self-awareness and personal growth are both very important, since they often mean the difference between whether we escape our unhealthy behaviors and environments and find happiness, or whether we stay in them and remain miserable. But exactly how we can work on these things is sometimes anything but obvious. Furthermore, a lot of people will tell us to get out acts together, but few of them (if any) will tell us what that even entails, let alone point us in the right direction, so we're left as stuck as we were before. Yikes! If you're one of those people who wants to help yourself but are totally lost on how, here are some essentials to know in order to begin!

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Know who the real you actually is.

I have seen many people who are convinced that they would be liked and appreciated if people would just give them a chance and get to know the "real" version of themselves. The trouble is, what they believe to be their "real" selves are nothing more than imaginary versions of themselves who live in an idealized world inside their heads. As a result, they continually blame all of their flaws and mistakes on other people and fail to do anything that would genuinely help them become more how they imagine their "real" selves to be.

Here's the deal: the "real" you is not the imaginary version of you living in that imaginary, ideal reality. The real you is the one that lives in this reality. How you behave and react in the real world when facing real pressures, challenges, setbacks, and disappointments is the real you.

Taking ownership of your flaws and weak points this way often isn't fun. In fact, it can be downright alarming. You might even feel disgusted with yourself, or feel like you must deserve some awful punishment. But it's important to remember that the point of this isn't to condemn yourself and wallow in self-hatred, but to help yourself get better. Once you identify your flaws and weak points, you can begin to work on fixing them and/or learn how handle them in a healthier way.

Do not forget keep track of your good qualities, too! Do you often make people laugh? Are you good at finding things to brighten their day? Did you recently bake cookies for anyone? That's the real you, and it's important that you never get so focused on your flaws that you forget the good parts of you. (Note that if you feel like you don't have any good qualities, or at least none that actually matter, it would be a good idea to seek a therapist. You may be suffering from depression.)

Examine yourself and your associates for questionable behaviors and habits.

Read resources on manipulative and abusive behaviors, and ask yourself if you or members of your group/groups have done this. Also, think back to the people who mistreated you, made you feel inferior, or just really annoyed you. Think about exactly what they did or said that hurt or bothered you, then ask yourself if you and/or your associates have been doing the same thing to other people.

If you find similarities, you may experience certain unhelpful reactions. One of these reactions is immediate justification: you might think something to the effect of, "Well, it's different when we do it, because we're just defending ourselves/the truth/common sense." Or you might think, "Well, I guess it wasn't really right, but I had an understandable reason for it."

But it's not actually different. Your "understandable reason" is not a real justification. Abuse is abuse no matter what the cause or reason behind it. The damage it causes is no less real, and it will reflect no less badly on you and your associates. And when cruel and abusive behavior is encouraged and normalized, ultimately the only people who will listen to you are other cruel and abusive people who want an excuse to mistreat others.

The other unhelpful reaction is to condemn yourself in the extreme. You might panic and think, "I'm as bad as they are! I deserve the worst punishment imaginable!" First of all, the fact you're feeling guilt like this is proof that you're not a completely evil person, and what's more, you can improve yourself and your behavior. You may have done hurtful things in the past, but right now you have the power to make a conscious effort in doing better. If you make that effort, you're already a pretty decent person. Most abusers won't make that effort. They'll do anything and everything in their power to avoid it, in fact.

So what can you do? Start by listing the behaviors and habits you want to avoid. Next, start being mindful of how you act. If you find yourself acting that way again, stop and take a moment to acknowledge that you messed up and you need to change course. Apologize to whomever was on the receiving end. Eventually it will get to the point where you almost act this way instead of actually acting this way, and eventually, almost will happen less and less, until you do it very rarely, if at all.

If your friends and associates are guilty of these bad behaviors, you might try distancing yourself from them. You might not need to cut yourself off cold turkey - you might start by taking a break for a few days or so, or just spend less time with them overall. By limiting your contact with them, you'll decrease your odds of catching and internalizing their bad ideas and behaviors.

Take awhile to look at yourself and your behaviors from different perspectives.

Think back to some of the things you've said and done over the last several days. It might be an argument you had on Twitter or Facebook, or how you reacted to hearing some news or other that gave you a strong emotional reaction (whether negative or positive). It might be how you behaved while shopping, or what you said to the bank clerk. It might be how you behaved around a friend or partner.

Now imagine what you would feel and think if you were a third party watching this interaction. What would your reactions be?

Imagine what you would think and feel if your positions were reversed.

Imagine what you would think and feel if you watched someone treat or speak to a loved one the way you treated or spoke to the other person.

Imagine what you would think or feel if you watched someone treat or speak to a loved one the way the other person treated or spoke to you.

Observe how your feeling shift. Do actions that seemed justified or excusable at the time seem a lot less so now? Do actions that seemed wrong or unfair at the time seem more forgivable? Should you perhaps be more lenient with others and a little stricter with yourself, or perhaps the reverse? Habitually doing this sort of thing will help you better gauge how to treat others fairly and where to draw lines and boundaries for yourself.

Regularly examine your assumptions and beliefs.

It's easy to pick up false or unsubstantiated beliefs without really meaning to, and some of these beliefs could have serious consequences if we act on them - for example, bad health information, incorrect information about a politician or Internet celebrity's stances, or false information about the dangers of some chemical compound or other. It's a good idea to make a general habit of examining our beliefs and determining whether any of them might not be as true as we thought they were. Here are some things to ask yourself and do:

Ask yourself why you believe this. Where or who did you get this information from, and why did you believe it? Just how credible was the person, organization, or outlet who shared it with you? What motivated them to share it with you?

If you gleaned this knowledge from experience, how much experience did you actually have? Was it long-term and in-depth (EG, months or years' worth of experience), or was it brief and shallow (EG, days or weeks)?

If you heard it from others, how many and how diverse were they? How many people have you heard about this from? Was it just one person or a from few people in a single group? Or have you heard it independently from different people in different groups?

Are you sure you remember this correctly? Is it possible your memory is muddled, perhaps because you read or saw it so long ago, or you were too tired to retain memories very well, or were under any other kind of influence?

Does it mesh with the way things really work? Does this information sound too good to be true or a little too convenient? Or does it describe an alleged menace that sounds like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon or a propaganda piece? Do its claims fit overall with how things have worked or behaved in the past?

Have you recently double-checked to see if this information is correct, up-to-date, or whether it applies to this specific environment? Information that may apply to some times and places might not apply to others. Just because something was generally true ten to fifteen years ago, doesn't mean it's generally true anymore. Something that might be generally true in an East Coast city may not be generally true in a Midwestern city. And some information was always wrong.

Can you think of anything you've seen or heard that could disprove or at least cast some doubt on it? Have you seen or heard of anything that runs contrary to this information? If so, how does this piece of information hold up under the above checks?

Make a habit of inspecting and evaluating your feelings.

When you find yourself having strong feelings, it can be useful to ask yourself some critical questions. Here they are:

What am I feeling, exactly? Are you angry? Sad? Somewhere between? Envious? Feeling inadequate? Are you overjoyed? Infatuated? Optimistic? Something else?

Why exactly am I feeling this way? What exactly happened to stir up these emotions inside of you? Why exactly did you react this way?

Does it make sense to hold onto this feeling, or should I let it go? If your feelings are negative, ask yourself: will the incident that sparked these emotions matter five years from now, or in the big picture of your life? If not, then the feeling probably isn't worth hanging onto and you should try to move on. If these feelings are positive, ask yourself if you might be at risk of behaving rashly when you should still be more wary and reserved. (For example, if being love bombed for three weeks has left you spinning with stars in your eyes, you shouldn't be too quick to accept that proposal because love bombing is a huge red flag for a predatory personality.)

If this feeling isn't good for me, how can I deal with it in a healthy way? If you're upset, what can you do to make yourself feel better without taking it out on someone else? If you're feeling so infatuated with someone that you're already fantasizing about your life together even though you've barely spoken to each other, how can you snap yourself back to reality? (If you can't think of any answers yourself, you can also search the Internet.)

Know that you can often change your emotional responses by changing your perceptions.

The emotional responses you have to things often correlate to whether you personally perceive them as good or bad. If you perceive something as good, you tend to have a good emotional response. If you perceive something as bad, you tend to have a bad emotional response.

Sometimes we perceive things as bad for no particularly good reason, and in doing so cause ourselves a lot of unnecessary stress. For example, let's say that you hate the color orange because you think of it as a tacky color that only belongs on road signs and construction equipment. You really wish that people would leave that icky color out by the road where it belongs. Every time you see orange clothing or decorations, you get annoyed. You think less of people who wear orange or decorate your home with it, as you assume they're stupid and have poor tastes. As a result, you're ruder to them and you treat them like they're beneath you.

This kind of attitude and behavior is of no use to anyone. It simply makes everyone's lives more unpleasant. So here's what you do: you reframe the whole thing. For this example, you'd acknowledge that the color orange doesn't actually harm anyone, and therefore is not intrinsically a bad thing. Second, visualize the color orange and think of it in positive terms: for example, it's a warm, vibrant color - the color of a sunset, or a glittering piece of carnelian, or a sweet summer peach. Now reframe people who wear or decorate with orange: they wear it because the color makes them happy, or because it's a perfectly good color to wear. Spend awhile thinking of the color orange in this light. If you see the color orange again and start feeling annoyed by it, remember your positive framing.

You can use this same basic technique on any art or fiction that you find flawed. Think of it as the creator engaging in a fun hobby or just trying to make ends meet. If the creator is young, remind yourself that you can't exactly expect masterpieces from someone at this age, and that this counts as practice. For creators of any age, you can remind yourself that every creator has weak points and that everyone, even the greats, make mistakes now and then.

The same goes for something that you simply just don't like. Instead of focusing on how irritating it is that something you don't like exists, focus on the fact that the creator is engaging in self-expression and/or earning a living, and that the sort of people who like this thing are being made happy. Then, focus on looking for something that you do like instead.

Anytime you see something that grates on your nerves, stop and do a reality check. Is it actually harming anyone in any demonstrable way? If not, then try to change your perception about it for the better. You'll be much happier and the world will be a better place for it.

In summary!

You might also like:

Ways To Deal With Negative Emotions
Social Tips For The Socially Awkward
How To Exercise & Strengthen Your Empathy
How To Be A Good Listener & Be Emotionally Supportive
Apologizing - How & Why To Do It
How To Cultivate A Strong Internal Identity
7 Ways To Make Yourself A Happier Person
5 More Ways To Make Yourself A Happier Person

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