Self-awareness (as expressed by the old dictum: ‘Know thyself’) is crucial to any form of self-development.
• It motivates us to change – because unless we are aware of how our thought patterns and behavioral habits undermine our success, we have no need to change them.
• It enables us to assess our strengths and weaknesses – and to plan our success efforts accordingly.
• It enables us to exercise discipline and self-control. Recognising how events or circumstances ‘trigger’ unhelpful thinking and behavior enables us to be more intentional about finding and using alternative – more constructive – responses.
• It enables us to clarify our values and goals – so that we can be more motivated, intentional and congruent in pursuing our success strategies.
Our ‘selves’ are – for practical purposes – really only ‘self-image’: the picture we have of ourselves at any given time. This is influenced by how we see ourselves; the reactions we get from other people (and the conclusions we draw from those reactions); how we would like to see ourselves and others to see us (our ‘ideal’ self-image); and the culture of our family and other groups.
This picture is, of course, highly subjective. Not only don’t I see myself ‘as I really am’: I don’t see myself as you see me. There are aspects of myself that I simply don’t know about, or choose to see. Those aspects that I know about, I tend to load with value judgments (good and bad). I make important decisions on the basis of these judgments: they influence my expectations of success or failure, and my expectations of how other people will or should respond to me. Yet they may be very different from others’ appraisal of me.
Because self-image is so subjective, it is crucial to check our self-perceptions from time to time – and relate them to some kind of external reality!
‘Hansei kaizen’ is a Japanese management concept underlying the success of major corporations like Toyota.
• Hansei: learning through relentless self-reflection
• Kaizen: a commitment to continuous improvement
I love the story of Tiger Woods, who – after winning his first major tournament by several strokes – went home and analyzed the video, shot by shot. Reliving how he won? No. Identifying small mistakes he was making, hitting the ball. He went out and completely re-thought his grip and swing, and committed himself to 18 months of re-learning.
Or how about the advertising agency that once pitched an ad campaign for Rolls Royce, with the selling proposition: ‘At 60 mph, the loudest noise in the new Rolls is the electric clock’? The executive taking the pitch just smiled and said: ‘Well, then, we’d better do something about that clock!’ … Some might call it refusing to ‘rest on your laurels’. I call it Hansei kaizen.
It’s what successful people and corporations do. What are we doing? What did we just do? How could we do it a little better next time, every time?
The Johari Window
The Johari Window is a popular tool for looking at self-awareness, identifying our blind spots and checking our self-perceptions. It classifies behaviors on a simple matrix.
• Public behaviors are those which are obvious to you and to others.
• Hidden behaviors are things you are aware of in yourself, but don’t share with (or communicate effectively to) others. They can create a potential for misunderstanding.
• Blind behaviors are things which are obvious to others but not to you, like habitual mannerisms and tendencies. They can undermine or sabotage your conscious intentions.
• Unknown behaviors are not consciously noticed by you or others: a wasted resource.
Getting to know yourself better mainly involves:
• Reducing your unknown behaviors, by increasing your self-awareness: using self-observation and reflection, say, or some of the assessment instruments available to ‘test’ your personality type and behavioral preferences (including those published in this programme).
• Reducing your blind behaviors, by asking for feedback from other people on how you appear to them.
Observing, describing and reflecting
One extremely useful tool for developing self-awareness is a diary or ‘journal’. Use an exercise book (or similar: there’s no mystery as to format), to write about critical incidents: events or encounters that strike you as significant, meaningful, curious or instructive for your success journey. Write down:
Known to others
Known to self / Unknown to self
Unknown to others
• What happened leading up to the event, during the event and as a consequence of the event? Focus on observable facts: what did each party do and say?
• Your thoughts (what was going through your mind, what you were ‘telling yourself’ about what was happening), feelings (what emotions you were experiencing as events unfolded) and intentions (what you wanted to do, which is not necessarily the same as what you did do)
• Your reflections and insights on all this. What caused events to unfold as they did; what caused or influenced your thoughts and feelings; what patterns you noticed in your own behavior; what you did differently than usual this time, to get a good result; what you could do differently next time to get a better result.
Seeking feedback from others
You’d be surprised how much useful information people who know you well (and complete strangers) can give you about yourself. They can tell you how you relate to people – from the receiving end. They often notice patterns of behavior that you may be blind to. You may object: ‘But they don’t know me!’ They needn’t claim to know you: they are merely telling you how they perceive you and how you affect them. This is all feedback is a point of view from outside your skin. You don’t have to accept it as true or helpful – it may not be. Just add it to the mix...
Receiving feedback isn’t easy. Most of us find it every bit as awkward receiving compliments (positive feedback) as criticism (negative feedback) – perhaps because we don’t feel we ‘deserve’ them (having unreliable self-images) or because of values about modesty. The key skill is to receive feedback constructively – whether or not it is intended that way.
• Don't be too quick to reject, deny, defend or justify. You may feel threatened or angry: acknowledge those feelings, but try to put them aside for a moment. You get to choose whether you believe and act on the feedback or not: it’s worth hearing it first. There is a kernel of useful truth in even the most unfair criticism – and you can use that to support your success.
• Encourage the other person to be specific in identifying what the problem (your learning opportunity) is, and clarify what you think is being said. Feedback may be general, ambiguous or malicious: you need to separate out the bits you can use. You don’t have to argue (‘I do not “always” do that!!!’). Just ask questions like: ‘Could you give me a specific example of that?’, ‘What do you mean by...?’ Think of the other person as a resource for your development and success: help them to give you better information.
Self-assessment questionnaires are designed to give you a ‘snapshot’ of some themes in your thinking and behavior, which you might take into account in planning your self-development. They don’t claim to give you a complete, objective picture: just information to add to the mix... You may find that you are classified as a particular ‘type’, or as having a particular tendency – and your instincts say ‘No! That isn’t me!’. You need to take that seriously. The discrepancy between the assessment and your self-image may be due to the limitations of assessment: you don’t have to take this feedback on board, any more than any of the other helpful and unhelpful messages you may gather from other people.
On the other hand, the discrepancy may also be a signpost to a lesson you need to learn: one of your ‘blind’ or ‘unknown’ behaviors coming to the surface. Even if it’s something positive – a potential resource for your success journey – it can be uncomfortable seeing it for the first time: after all, we think we know ourselves well!
It’s even harder finding out something we don’t like about ourselves. Take heart. There’s always something we can do with this information, to add to our success resources.
If you get the chance, you might take some of the commercially available personality type assessments, such as the Myers Briggs Type Inventory®. Such assessments can often be taken on-line – and some companies use them in selecting and developing their employees. They are not essential – but they are interesting. More information to go into the mix...
Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven® Life) suggests that we all have a ‘custom combination of capabilities’ which he calls our ‘SHAPE’ – and that life makes sense and feels good, when we do what we were shaped to do: when we fulfil our purpose. Our ‘SHAPE’ is formed by:
• Spiritual gifts: special talents, insights and intuitions given to us to serve and benefit others. (Depending on your religious orientation, if any, this may have more specific meanings that will be valuable for you to explore.)
• Heart: our bundle of desires, hopes, interests, ambitions, dreams and affections: our passion.
• Abilities: the talents we were born with: artistic, athletic, mathematical, mechanical and so on.
• Personality: our temperament, psychological preferences and traits; whether we are ‘thinkers’ or ‘feelers’, ‘introverts’ or ‘extraverts’ and so on.
• Experience: the past events and messages that form our thinking and expectations. These may be family experiences, educational/school experiences, vocational/work experiences, spiritual experiences – and, particularly, painful experiences, which can be our greatest source of learning, growth, and compassion for others.
There’s no reason why success should be based on things you hate or can’t (yet) do, or aren’t really interested in. Yet many people feel that success has to be hard, or that it’s unnatural. If you feel this way, you need to ask why your expectations of what life has to offer (and what it has to offer you) are so limited. There are abundance and opportunity and flow out there. It’s there for you – and it’s not hidden. Everything you are and have been given and have experienced has shaped you to find it. For now, you just need to be looking... Reflect on each of the elements of the SHAPE inventory. What are your success resources in each area?