Middle school was literally the worst.
There is nothing redeeming about an era in which everyone has pimples. You were inevitably too short or too tall. The boys smelled like socks and the girls stuffed their bras.
And perhaps most notably, everyone was the most self-conscious they will ever be.
When I think about self-consciousness, I always go back to my middle school self. Fortunately, life can only go up from there. Thank God.
Self-consciousness is an awareness of the self.
And most of the time, self-consciousness is a bad thing. It’s an unpleasant preoccupation with the self. A spotlight that’s blazing just on you.
It’s the deodorant you forgot this morning. The stutter during the presentation. The crickets after no one laughed at your joke.
Because yes, everyone is definitely looking at you and the kale between your teeth.
But there are actually two kinds of self-consciousness: private and public.
Public self-consciousness is the “bad” kind. The kind that makes you cringe and blush. The kind that makes you check the mirror ten times before your date arrives.
But private self-consciousness is something different. In fact, it’s something you want more of.
Private self-consciousness is the internal experience of self-awareness.
It’s self-reflection. It’s intelligence about your mood and emotions. It’s attending to the private parts of yourself that can’t trip and fall onstage.
Developing private self-consciousness helps you access self-knowledge, have more control over your behavior, be less likely to conform to other’s opinions, and act in alignment with your true desires.
Here are 6 ways to develop your private self-consciousness:
1. In Your Fantasies
Think of private self-awareness like a secret love affair with yourself. Only you can know your own secrets. It’s not for peeking eyes.
While public self-consciousness is focused on things that are on public display like behavior, expressions, style, and attractiveness, private self-consciousness is all about your inner world.
Private self-consciousness is attention to the secret sides of you. Your covert feelings, beliefs, goals, and values. Your fantasies. To learn these secrets, you have to tap in.
You can do this through journaling and meditation, walks by yourself and dream analysis. These are centuries-old practices of famous philosophers and psychologists that help uncover the covert self.
2. It’s Personal
It’s time to get personal. Motivate yourself with your own concerns. As the saying goes, “What other people think about you is none of your (damn) business.”
People high in public self-consciousness are motivated by social concerns over personal concerns. Their social identity takes precedent over their personal identity. These people might have “rich” social lives, but are bankrupt in their relationship with their own self.
But private self-consciousness leads with the self. It’s motivated by personal concerns and individual identity. Because who has time for everyone else’s opinions?
This can be practiced by asking yourself, “Am I doing/not doing this for me or because of what someone will think of me?”
3. Don’t Back Down
Private self-consciousness ain’t scared of nothing.
Psychologists have found that publicly self-conscious people will disengage from self-focusing at the first sign of negative feelings, emotions, or events. But not privately self-conscious individuals. No, they look negativity right in the eye.
Privately self-conscious people step up in the face of conflict, failure, or negativity. They take credit for both good and bad outcomes. They don’t disengage when tough stuff is stirred up.
Develop this by looking boldly at the light and dark sides of yourself. The sides that may fail or flop. Practice private self-consciousness by taking the good with the bad. Own your sh**.
4. Wait For Me
Where does your mind go when you’re waiting in line at Whole Foods?
Does it turn inward, focused on self-related thoughts like your mood and emotions? Or does it turn outward, wondering how you look standing alone and what guy behind you thinks about the two frozen pizzas in your basket?
One of the easiest ways to spot a publicly vs. privately self-conscious person is to watch where their mind goes in moments of self-reflection, like waiting in a line, driving in the car, or walking down the street. These magical self-reflective moments let us see where the mind truly wants to wander if left unattended.
See if you can catch yourself in these reflective stream-of-consciousness moments. If you’re directing your attention outward, try to focus on internal thoughts, feelings, desires, and sensations.
5. More Than Aroused
How do you explain events in your life?
Do you explain things superficially, focusing on the goodness or badness of an experience? Do you say things like, “it was fun” or “it sucked.”
Or do explain things in terms of your physiological and psychological reactions? Do you say things like, “it was invigorating” or “it was soothing.”
Publicly self-conscious people are more likely to explain the valence of an experience, which refers to positive or negative qualities (good/bad, easy/hard). Privately self-conscious people tend to focus more on arousal, which refers to how it made them react (calm/excited, bored/alert).
You can develop this by diving a layer deeper than valence and asking yourself: How does my body feel? What do I think about this experience? How am I reacting to this event?
6. That Don’t Impress Me
Are you an impression manager?
Psychologists have found that publicly self-conscious people are more concerned with fashion and appearance, likely to select recognizable brands, and susceptible to social anxiety. They seek social approval using self-presentation strategies, like self-enhancement and impression management.
Privately self-conscious people are not as interested in impressing others. They are less likely to be misled by others, conform with the herd, or put others opinions before their own.
Practice this by flying your own freak flag. Fill your wardrobe with the clothes you like. Reference no compass but your own. If you’re living authentically, your impression needs no management.
To wrap up…
If you find yourself falling mostly in public self-consciousness territory, fear not. Private self-consciousness is something that can and should be developed.
Tune into yourself, tune out others. Tap in to the feelings, sensations, and fantasies inside of you.
Because being conscious of your self is a hell of a lot more interesting that being conscious of anyone else.