A Beginners Guide To Self-Awareness

Have you ever been in a situation that caught you off-guard, emotionally?

A time when you couldn’t think quickly enough to respond? Or worse, a time you responded emotionally instead of thoughtfully?

We’ve all had times when, later on, we think, “Why didn’t I say X or Y?” All of us have had experiences like this when our emotional brain “hijacks” our thinking brain. The key to overcoming these times relates to self-awareness, a key aspect of Emotional Intelligence. So, how do I learn to be more self-aware?

Here are a few tips that some of my clients have found helpful.

1. Identify Your Emotional Triggers

First, understand which occasions, people, environments may trigger emotional reactions. It helps to understand that even though it is healthy to experience a full spectrum of emotions, emotional triggers usually stem from the need to be perfect. Sometimes, we feel shame when we get upset over others' accomplishments or we get angry when we are wrong in an argument. Though these emotions are normal, being aware of what triggers certain emotions can be quite helpful when trying to become more self-aware!

Helpful tip! Keep a journal of these times so you can prepare yourself. Expressing how you're feeling during times when you feel triggered can help find a behavioral pattern.

2. Practice an “Emotional Audit”

Now that we have committed to identifying when and where we feel triggered, let's now address exactly how we are feeling during an emotional episode. Practicing an "emotional audit" when you feel triggered can help identify how you are feeling exactly. One of my mentors, Dr. Relly Nadler, discusses this technique in his book, Leading with Emotional Intelligence. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

a. What am I thinking?

b. What am I feeling?

c. What do I want now?

d. How am I getting in my own way?

e. What do I need to do differently now?

It may seem like learning a “golf swing,” but after you’ve tried it a few times, it becomes second nature. Want to learn more about emotional intelligence? Check out one of my recent blogs!

3. Remove Yourself

When you find yourself in challenging situations and feel as though you may respond emotionally rather than thoughtfully, it helps to remove yourself from the situation. I don't mean physically, I mean emotionally.

Remove yourself by imagining you’re watching the people and actions from outside a fishbowl. This may be especially useful in meetings with difficult colleagues. This withdrawal slows the heart-rate and allows your thinking-brain to take over. One of the keys to self-awareness is seeing the scene without the cloud of emotions obscuring the view.

Tips to emotionally remove yourself:

-don't react immediately

-breathe purposefully

-intentionally keep your voice low

4. Be Kind to Yourself

Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Are you one of those perfectionists who second-guesses every interaction and situation?

If so, you probably also find yourself “overthinking” and berating yourself for your reaction. Another great resource I often use with my clients is a book by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Women Who Think Too Much. She offers wonderful tips to avoid overthinking or ruminating: take a walk, exercise, chat with a friend or colleague, or make an appointment with yourself to ruminate then let it go. Remember, in spite of the title – overthinking is an equal opportunity habit.

5. Take Time to Know Yourself

“Know thyself.” According to Daniel Goleman, self-awareness occurs when you are able to see and manage your emotions. This is the first step in learning to extend self-awareness to others’ feelings and emotions. When I was a high school teacher, I had a student who could tell immediately who was having a bad day. I would observe her immediately go to the classroom door and see if she could help. This is such a vivid example of self-awareness extending to the needs and emotions of others.

Some of my clients have internalized these tips and made amazing progress in learning to understand their own emotions and motivations and those of others. This is the first step in learning to manage your emotions and become a more emotionally intelligent human. Want to look more into your specific emotional triggers? Contact me!


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