"Where does self-awareness come from?"

This was a question I was asked in a boundary workshop.  Self-awareness is a big part of boundary awareness, so this question is a significant question.

When I was asked the self-awareness question, my first response was, “Where do you think it comes from?” Not in an obnoxious way, but I was genuinely curious. I wanted to understand more about his question.

He said, “I think it comes from those personality assessments like Myers Briggs, right? Should I take more assessments to be more self-aware?”

What an important question!

First, I’d like to distinguish between profile-personality assessments and self-awareness.

I have learned some useful things about myself from profile assessments. One valuable lesson I learned from these profiles is how, ‘a strength can become unbalanced’. On the Leadership 2.0 Assessment, I am a “maximizer”. A maximizer takes things from good to great, optimizes and pushes groups to excel. That all sounds like a strength, however if I am too driven in my maximizer mode, I can become a “workaholic” and over-work.

Profile assessments, may provide a window and some words for noticing your tendencies, but they will not build the scaffolding of self-awareness that you will need for personal and professional development over a lifetime.

Self-awareness is gained through an on-going process of reflection. As a therapist I have learned that self-awareness is not a place you ever reach, it is a journey you keep taking. 

I was so touched by this question in the boundary workshop because I realized that in my field as a therapist, self-reflection is a big part of working with others, but there are many professions that probably don’t teach it or discuss it, and if they do, it may not be to the depth that therapists are immersed in it.

And yet, every successful leader will find themselves on a journey of self-reflection and growing awareness. It is an important leadership skill. Leaders with greater self-awareness understand how they are impacting others. Leaders also learn what it takes for them to bring all their strengths and the strengths of others forward.

But let’s return to the original question, how do you do it?

Self-awareness is a journey of ongoing observation. You begin by noticing. You are not only observing yourself, but you are observing your interactions with people.

Some people have found that their noticing is sharpened by writing (journal style), meditation, running, or quiet walking while thinking about interactions you have had through the day.

As you reflect on an interaction, you ask yourself questions; Questions are the routes you take on this on-going journey.

Here are some sample questions for reflecting on an interaction:

What else did I notice? What does my gut tell me, my feelings, my intuition?

Was there something I think we should come back to?

Do I wish I handled something differently?

Did I seem emotional or reactive to something? What is that?

           What did I learn about the other person?

           Is there more I want to know about them?

           Is a boundary needed here?

My questions are just some questions to get you started. You can ask yourself your own questions when you reflect.

You can also reflect with other people by debriefing. You can do this with someone one on one or you can do it in a group.

In business, a group can reflect together on questions:

What did we do well?

How could we improve?

What did we learn from the experience?

What can we predict about the future based on the experience?

What can’t we predict?

What will make us stronger?

While these questions may sound familiar, I have often seen in business that people do not go to the reflection table often enough. These questions have more value if they are examined often.

The LEAN manufacturing process uses, “The 5 Whys” as a reflection and awareness tool. This form of questioning forces people to get underneath issues and look deeper.

When you reflect with someone one on one, pick someone who will ask good questions.

I have certain people in my life who ask me good questions. I have lunch or coffee meetings with them when I feel stuck or if I feel I could use some insight in handling a situation. I often will ask them, “What would you do in this situation?” I have gained some useful awareness with this question.

To me, the heart of self-awareness is found in a lifelong process. It is about staying in a conversation with yourself and others. It involves asking questions to probe below the surface of things. You carve who you want to be out of your interactions, your challenges, and then push yourself to grow.

Back to our original question in the boundary workshop: He asked an essential

You can’t really improve or know where your boundaries are without self-awareness. Boundaries come from the inside. Self- awareness comes from the inside. Asking yourself where you need a boundary is a self-awareness question.

If you want to become more self-aware, ask yourself specific questions as part of a daily process.

Decide what the important questions are for you.

Listen for your answers.

What you do with that awareness is the next step.