Self-awareness: How to know yourself better?

In Civil Engineering, there’s something called Structural analysis, where we analyze a structure to know the moments (or forces) acting at various points of the structure. Analyzing and knowing the forces acting on the structure makes it easy to design it to withstand those forces and keep the structure safe.

Similarly, if you want to design the destiny of your life, you should analyze yourself first. Self-analysis starts with being aware of one’s self. That is, knowing the strengths and weaknesses, likes, and dislikes, predominant thoughts, beliefs, etc.

What is self-awareness?

Even though most of us give prime importance to our physical self-awareness, like how do I look? which color of the dress makes me look attractive, etc., we terribly fail in being aware of our mental self. Am I thinking the right thoughts, am I utilizing my time effectively, are my beliefs aligned with my goals, etc. are some of the mental self-awareness questions we fail to ask ourselves.

Awareness of your thoughts, feelings, emotions, beliefs, traits, behaviors, habits, and time is true mental self-awareness. It helps us to introspect ourselves objectively. The renowned Emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman mentions self-awareness as the first step to emotional intelligence.

Why is self-awareness important?

When you’re aware of yourself, the following things happen

  • You know a lot about yourself. That is, you know your likes and dislikes. You know what makes you happy and what upsets you. You’re well aware of what inspires you. You know how you’re spending your time and money, and the list goes on.
  • When you’re aware of these things about yourself, you can adjust your behavior accordingly to yield the results you desire. For example, let’s say that one day you became aware that you’re lavishly spending your money and not saving for the future. Until this point, there was no self-awareness about your spending habit. But once self-awareness kicks in, you adjust your spending habits and save yourself from going into debt.
  • One of the reasons why we continue with our bad behaviors is because we aren’t aware of them. It means our unconscious mind has control over them. If you want to regain your control over yourself and your life, then only self-awareness can help you.

Tracking and measuring yourself makes you more self-aware

If you’re someone who values your physical attractiveness a lot, you’ll consistently show up in front of a mirror to see how good you look. Even if there’s a small blemish on your face, you’ll spot it in its very first appearance.

Similarly, you can track other areas of your life as well. When you start tracking, you’ll notice patterns in your behavior and thinking.

Most of us are good at recognizing patterns in the external world. For example, we can easily relate two people with the same facial pattern, or we can recognize a person from their voice pattern, etc. In the same manner, if we’re able to deduce a pattern in our behavior, it will be an ultimate game-changer.

THE WORLD IS made of patterns. The rings of a tree. The raindrops on the dusty ground. The path the sun follows from morning to dusk.

Kathi Appelt, The Underneath

For example, when you start tracking your thoughts, you’ll notice that a particular thought occurs in a particular situation. When you track your expenses, you’ll find that your spending too much when you’re with your friends.

Without this data, of seeing patterns, you won’t be able to make changes in your behavior and thinking.

Having said that you need to track your life, what’re all the specific things that should be tracked?

1. Thoughts, Feelings, and Emotions

Thoughts are the ones that decide how we feel. Being aware of what kind of thoughts automatically shows up goes a long way in managing your emotions. Most of the time, thoughts are not in our control. They occur without our permission. The problem here is that the nature of these mindless thoughts is negative and recurring.

How to track them

There’s something called Cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which you’ll have to record the thought, emotions, and corresponding feelings you experience from time to time.

We might experience thousands of thoughts every day, but only the ones with which strong emotions are attached, are to be tracked. Here’s how you do it.

self-awareness of thoughts

To make it easy for you to track the thoughts and emotions, then and there as they appear, I highly suggest that you use your digital device to record them.

Some of the apps that make it easy to do this are Notion, Evernote, CBT companion (particularly build for this.) Links to these apps are given in the footnotes (not sponsored.) Whenever an emotional thought arises, you’ll have to record it.

It’s important to keep a log of the data that you enter here. While doing a weekly review or a monthly review, you can go through this data so that you think better thoughts the next time the same situation arises.

2. Time

All of us have the same 24 hours each day. But how effectively are we spending it? Are we aware that our usage of time is the primary factor that decides whether or not we reach our goals? If we choose to spend it on pursuing our dreams, then it means we’ve effectively used our time.

But how often have you lost yourself while endlessly scrolling through the social media feeds and wondered how the time passed?

To address this issue, we need to track how we’re spending our time. We need to know what activities we engage most of the time in. Unless we have a clear picture of how we’re already spending our time, we cannot control how we spend it in the future.

How to track time

Here comes the tricky part. Most of us are not habitual in tracking our time. Here again, applications that are built specifically for this purpose come to our rescue. These applications neatly present you with charts and data on how you spent your time.

All you need to do is just press the start button before starting any activity and press the pause or stop button once it’s completed. To start this habit, first, start with tracking only the activities of the highest priority.

Bonus tip
Want to track time and improve focus at the same time? Then use the Pomodoro timer. 

By doing so, you’ll get to know whether or not it’s your highest priority. Most of us are terrible at understanding our time. We think we’ve spent a lot of time working on something that matters. Only after tracking it exactly for a week or so, we’ll know that we’ve not spent much time on it.

For example, while preparing for my classes, I used to think that I’m spending a lot of time on preparation. When I switched on my Pomodoro timer every time I start preparing for my class, I realized that I spend much lesser time than I initially thought.

If you’re more interested in being productive with your time, read this.

3. Money

I think it’s needless to say how important it is to track your spending. When it comes to money, one quote always resonates with me. Whenever I feel a need to purchase a luxury item, I remind myself of this quote.

Rich people stay rich by living like they’re broke. Broke people stay broke by living like they’re rich

I don’t know who said this, but it does help you from lavishly spending your money on unwanted things.

One aspect of self-awareness is knowing where your money goes. Knowing where your money goes makes you more aware of your preferences in life. For example, you might be spending a lot on your entertainment, or you might be spending on self-development.

How to track your expenses

Here too, you have an option of going digital. But a small notepad makes it even more customizable. There’s an innumerable number of apps available to track your spending. One that I use is Daily expenses 3. It provides you with statistical graphs on how and where your money has gone, and most importantly, it’s very simple to use.

Track your expense for at least three months. At the end of each month, see how you’ve spent your money. Are you eating out with friends more often? or are you spending too much on luxurious items?

Take a serious look at this, and analyze whether you’re spending the right way or not. Ask yourself, “Are all these expenses necessary, or could I cut something from this?” This introspection will help you cut off any unwanted expenses.

Once again, it’s up to you to decide on which platform to use to record your expenses.

4. Habits

A habit is an activity done by our unconscious mind. Self-awareness, on the other hand, is a conscious activity. A simple way to put this is, you should be conscious of the unconscious. Only then, you can assess yourself, whether your unconscious activity is taking towards your goal, or away from it.

If you’re someone who desires to be productive, but if one of your habits is constantly checking the phone, then it won’t get you to your goal.

This makes it very important that you should be aware of your habits.

How to track your habits

A simple way to track your current habits and label them as good or bad is to use a Habit Scorecard. This method, as suggested by James Clear in his book “Atomic Habits,” makes you aware of your habits.

Sit down at a quiet place with a sheet of paper and a pen. Think of every habit of yours from morning till night and write them down. After that, besides each habit that you’ve written, mark anyone of these signs: +, or -, or =.

A ‘+’ sign means that a habit is a good one. A ‘-‘ sign means that a habit is a bad one. Neither good nor bad habits are labeled as ‘=.’ For example, immediately after waking up, if you check your phone, it is a bad habit. So write it down and label it as ‘-.’ Likewise, do it for all your habits.

How to know if a habit is good or bad? It’s very simple. If a habit moves you towards your desired goal, it’s a good one. If it doesn’t, it’s a bad one. If it’s a normal routine, then it’s a neutral one.

Now, you’re able to see yourself objectively. Everything is laid out on paper, which makes it very crystal clear.

The next thing that you’ve to do is to make small (not too big) changes in one or two of those habits. Your mind and body are not designed to handle monstrous changes in a single day. So changing one thing at a time is a good idea.

How to accommodate all these at a single place

The best way to do all of these (and much more) is your daily journal. Your journal is the gateway to success. It helps you know who you are. What makes you happy, what annoys you, etc.

At the end of each day, take at least 10 minutes to log in to your journal. Write down which incidents made you happy, what you accomplished that day, who helped you, or whom you helped, things that made you feel grateful, etc.

Anyone who writes a journal may not know about the world. But, they definitely know about themselves.

Know thyself

Socrates

If you know yourself today, the world will know about you tomorrow.

Journaling Prompts

For beginners, the following journal prompts will make things easy.

  1. What are the three important things that I accomplished today? (Self-awareness of time)
  2. How was my mood today? (Self-awareness of thoughts, emotions, and feelings)
  3. What (or Who) are the three things (or people) that I’m grateful for today?
  4. How much money did I spend today, and on what? (Awareness of money)
  5. What are the important things do I want to accomplish tomorrow?

There are many more things that you can write in your journal. But, to start, just make sure you answer these important questions. Of course, you’re free to write anything else that bothers you. Writing them down will enable you to clear your mind.

You can also incorporate the thought record (as shown above in a table) into your journal. This will help precisely track your mood throughout the day.

Summing Up

Most of you might argue that it’s nearly impossible to incorporate this tracking and measuring ritual in our day to day life. The thing here is that, if you truly want to take your life to the next stage, you should do this.

There’re more things that you can track depending upon your goal. For example, if you want to be a successful writer, you can track how many words you’ve written each day. If you want to be a good salesman, you could track how many sales calls you make each day. Tracking the number of repetitions of an exercise will enable you to become fit. You can personalize your journal according to your goal.

A very important thing to note here is, first of all, you need to have a goal. If you don’t, just fix a target that you want to reach, and start making progress towards it by tracking relevant areas.

FOOTNOTES

You can download these applications using these links. Notion (Android, iOS, Windows), Evernote (Android, iOS, Windows), CBT Companion (Android, iOS),

An app that could help you track your time while improving your focus by the Pomodoro method is ‘Boosted‘ Many other apps do the same. But I find this app’s UI simple. Currently, only the android version of the app is available.

The “Thought Record” worksheet mentioned here, is a work of therapistaid.com. More information on this here.

The concept of “Habit Scorecard” is inspired by this article written by James Clear.

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