Think of the least self-aware person you know.
Got someone in mind? Okay, good.
I don’t know about your person, but mine is always several drinks ahead of the curve. Leaking profanity, misdirected flirtation, and incoherent alternative facts. Self-regulating with the competency of a toddler.
Behaving every way, except intentionally.
And that damning picture they posted on social media. That one will hurt for a while.
Sometimes the simplest way to understand something is to know what it’s not. So now that we’re clear on that…
Self-awareness is our ability to engage in reflective awareness.
It pulls back the curtain on the self so you can see your thoughts, emotions, and motivations. Your strengths and weaknesses. It shows you how your own sausage is made.
We all have self-awareness… to some degree.
It’s an ability that came default with your operating machine. But there’s also a huge self-awareness spectrum, from your drunken-disaster ex to your overly self-controlled colleague.
If you’re self-aware, you probably already know it (because you’re self-aware, duh).
You’re more likely to be viewed as controlled, intentional, and good at self-regulation, which is your ability to stop after two glasses of wine or go to the gym when it’s raining. Not a skill we all have.
At face value, self-awareness sounds like it should be a superpower.
High self-awareness is linked with stronger relationships, better careers, and other markers of success that sell lots of self-help books. You’re in touch with your body and emotions! You lead with intelligence and empathy! You make generally appropriate life decisions!
But highly self-aware people also have a devil on their shoulder.
When self-aware individuals are in environments with situational cues that remind them of themselves, they turn their attention away from the environment and into the self.
The more you pay attention to the self, the more you realize all the junk happening inside of it: “Dear God, why is my heart is beating so fast? I’m feeling so off today. Am I blushing? My date thinks I’m annoying. My stomach hurts. Why am I always worrying? I forgot deodorant. I’m hungry.”
This starts a cycle of comparing the current self with the ideal-self.
Which is a crappy competition, because there’s a 99% chance you’re not currently your ideal-self. Cue a self-awareness induced crisis.
Here are four self-awareness stressors & how you can navigate them:
1. Down the Rabbit Hole
Being by yourself is enlightening or frightening.
Take a self-aware person, force them to spend time alone, and you will get one of two responses. They will either return from the mountain tops inspired and enlightened… or exhausted and frightened.
Time alone lets the self-aware person go further down the rabbit hole of self. And self-awareness anxiety usually pops up when you feel furthest from your ideal-self. When you temporarily lose touch with or stop doing things that align you with your inner thoughts, emotions, and motivations.
This reaction is particularly strong for self-aware individuals. They are hyper-aware of who they currently are and where they want to be. And this can stir up a good deal of cognitive dissonance.
Navigate the rabbit hole by filling alone time with structured self-study — intentional journaling, meditation, and pre-set questions to be answered. Don’t let your self-aware mind run too wild. Give it some boundaries to play in.
2. Embodied Funk
Spending time in your body is blissful or stressful.
The self-aware person comes out of the gym in a high or a funk. They leave yoga with a radiant glow or with bags under their eyes, like they’ve seen a ghost, passively threatening to assault you with their mat.
Exercise is an embodied practice. By necessity, the attention must align with all the stuff happening in the body. For the self-aware person, this can be a freaky experience. Because they feel everything as it comes up and out.
It can be stressful getting into the body: feeling aches, working out tiny traumas, releasing stored emotions. The body stores a lot of information, waiting to be found by the self-aware person.
Navigate the embodied funk by envisioning yourself as a tuning fork. Like a sensitive antenna, self-awareness brings a lot of information into your system (sometimes too much). But it also gives you the power to let the information move through you. Don’t get stuck on one note.
3. Future Freakout
Planning for the future is inspiring or depressing.
Self-awareness shines a blazing spotlight on your motivations, strengths, and future goals. Planning for the future is a natural strength of the self-aware individual.
This self-knowledge is empowering when you’re aligned with your strengths and future vision. But this same self-knowledge lets you see your potential with complete and jarring honesty. Which is not always fun.
What should I do? Who should I be with? How can I make the biggest impact? Trust me, I empathize with your existential meditations.
Navigate the future freakout by reframing this sensitivity to the future as a form of clairvoyance. It’s as if you have a crystal ball. The self-aware person can predict and plan for their future with greater sensitivity and precision, which should be viewed as a gift. Even when the future freaks you out.
Spending time with others is fulfilling or exhausting
The self-aware person has a deeply intimate relationship with their own self. By definition, self-awareness is the act of looking inwards. Which is not always conducive to social or romantic relationships.
Time with others can be a funky gray-area. When self-aware individuals are tuned in and aligned with their ideal self, spending time with others can be effortlessly fulfilling. Carrying all of your self-knowledge into a relationship can produce profound dynamics.
But trying to forge a relationship while the self is wrapped up in its own reflective awareness can be messy. And the self-aware person, it can be damn-near impossible.
Navigate your relationsh**s with a lot of self-empathy. Be patient with yourself during the days, weeks, months, or years of more difficult self-study. You can’t understand another person until you understand yourself. It’s okay to step back and give yourself time to do your own work.
To wrap up…
Self-awareness is ultimately a blessing. These are not stressors to be feared or avoided. They are a necessary part of being a conscious, awake, tuned-in person.
So spend time by yourself, time in your body, time planning for the future, and time with others. Reflect on the overwhelming positives of self-awareness. Process. Move on.
Be proud of your self-awareness. Embrace your superpower.