Are You Self-Aware?

Understanding who you are and how others perceive you can help make healthy changes in your life easier
Published February 13, 2016 | Updated November 3, 2022

How well do you know yourself? You might be surprised when you try to answer the question. When we think of who we are and what we want out of life, we tend to refer to an out-dated version of ourselves.

That’s when self-awareness comes in. Being self-aware and mindful of yourself and your actions are the starting points of every radical change.

“Self-awareness is key to personal growth and success,” says Kasandra Monid, Wellness Coach of ThinkLife Coaching in Toronto. “Having self-awareness is about having self-knowledge. It is about having an intimate understanding of ourselves – our thoughts, feelings, behaviour, strengths, limitations, self-worth and potential.”

When we are in a state of self-awareness, we are also being mindful. We are not just having experiences and feelings, but we are aware that we’re having those experiences and feelings.

“Self-awareness walks hand in hand with mindfulness,” says Monid. “To be mindful is to be completely aware of what is happening within ourselves – physically, mentally and emotionally – as well as outside ourselves, in our environment, without judgement, criticism or bias.”

Here’s why having self-awareness is so important, and how you can attain it.

Self-awareness brings clarity 
When we’re not mindful of who we are and what we are doing, we can easily fall into “victim mode.” We dwell and obsess on negative events in our lives, and tend to tell and re-tell sad stories about ourselves.

“The practice of mindfulness or awareness enhances calm, clarity and focus, which promote wellness in all areas of our life,” says Monid. “Mindful awareness helps us to recognize our body’s internal cues as a guide for hunger and satisfaction. It helps us to quiet our 'monkey mind' or mental chatter so that we are better able to listen to our body when it tell us it is stressed, tired or sick. It helps us to identify habitual patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are self-limiting.” Conversely, being mindful also helps us to recognize our creativity, strengths and resources.

Self-awareness creates compassion
When we are not self-aware, we believe that everything would be better if the world or other people would change. We often have a difficult time taking responsibility for some of the most painful events in our past, and how we come across in the world.

However, by cultivating mindful awareness, “it helps us to be more patient, kind and compassionate with ourselves,” says Monid. “Accepting ourselves in turn encourages us to be more tolerant and accepting of others. Being mindful and self-aware means we are less reactive and more responsive in our thinking, feeling and acting when interacting with others and when dealing with life’s challenges.”

Having mindful awareness will also help when those around you are having a hard time adapting to the “new you.”

“My suggestion for dealing with friends and family not adjusting well with new changes is to be patient and mindful of any discomfort or resistance on their part,” says Monid. “Adjustment to change takes time. For many of us, dealing with change and letting go of what is familiar in our lives is never easy. Change, whether it is good or bad, generally means the end of something in order for something to begin. By having an optimistic outlook and modelling positive behaviour, we can often convince others that the ‘something new’ is a good thing.”

Self-awareness tracks our emotions
Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. When you are self-aware you are able to recognize and understand your emotions so that you have the power to control them, and not vice versa.

“Paying attention to our emotions helps us to identify what triggers certain habits such as emotional eating,” says Monid. “A variety of emotional states that include depression, boredom, and anger can trigger our impulse to comfort ourselves with food. Practicing mindfulness and understanding what, when, where and why we eat can help us separate emotional hunger from physical hunger.”

How to cultivate self-awareness
Below, Monid provides some tips and techniques to improve your self-awareness.

  • Practice mindfulness. In the simplest terms, mindfulness is the practice of deliberately paying attention to each moment. We can practice mindfulness in our daily activities: listening, eating, walking, washing the dishes, folding the laundry and more.
  • Keep a journal. Writing down our thoughts and feelings can help us clear our head and process what we are experiencing as it happens. This means paying attention to our inner state and recording what we are feeling, what we are saying to ourselves as well as any physical reactions, such as a headache, nervous stomach or neck pain. 
  • Create personal space. Carving out personal quiet time for ourselves every day helps us to centre and connect with ourselves. We can schedule it for the morning or at the end of the day or whatever works for us. This space allows us to spend alone time with ourselves, creating art, writing, reading, listening to music or simply being.
  • Engage in mind-body activities. Activities that promote mind-body connection and enhance overall well-being include meditation, yoga, tai chi and qigong.

When we have a better understanding of ourselves, we are able to experience and accept ourselves as the unique individuals we are in this present moment. When we clearly see ourselves as these unique individuals, we are then empowered to make, and recognize, the necessary changes in the areas of our lives that we would like to improve.