The 3 Stages of Self-Awareness

#selfawareness #emotionalstate #reflection

There are many times in our lives where we often find ourselves thinking about something that happened and wished that we had reacted with more grace, more assertiveness, or even more anger, depending on the situation. As we self-reflect and begin to ask ourselves “Why didn’t I just..?”, we open ourselves up to examining our emotions, actions and their outcomes. Self-reflection usually occurs when we keep finding ourselves in the same situation over and over again.  The recurring loop in our lives of relationship issues, financial problems, losing out on important deals at work, etc will provoke the question “Why does this keep happening?” This thought will lead us to do one of two things: 

  • using a distraction to avoid the emotions (binge-watching NETFLIX/YouTube, over-eating, sleeping, gaming, drinking, gambling, etc)
  • trying to find out why we keep falling into the same trap (therapy/counseling/coaching)

Realising that there is a recurring pattern is the first stage of self awareness. You are now aware that this is how you behave. Many people never come to this realisation; for example that manager who takes out his frustrations by undermining his employees or the student who gets into fights at school because of problems at home. At the same time there are many people who are aware that this is how they behave but they continue to live in this stage for their entire lives, not changing the status quo. This is due to the fact that they believe that whatever is happening to them is external and not in their control. And so they follow the same routines and use distractions to distance themselves from reality. 

Whether we choose to stay in the first stage of self-awareness or move on into the second stage, the choice we make is deeply rooted in how much we believe in the possibility of change. If we believe that we will be able to positively change this pattern, then we start examining and observing the situation that ends up with the same outcome every time. Wanting to be able to change the situation, reaction and outcome is the second stage of self-awareness. This is when we know that this pattern that we are stuck in is not healthy and something needs to be done about it(Silvia & Duval, 2001). 

The second stage of the self-awareness process is the one we can be stuck in for a long time because it is internal reflection. This is the stage where we begin to understand that how we are showing up to the people around us is not in alignment with our values. Some people will re-examine their responses, tweak them and they are no longer stuck in this loop. For others however, the loop is such that it feels embedded in their DNA and so tackling the move from knowing it is a problem to doing something about it can take longer than just analysing the problem and tweaking the response. 

The shift from living in internal reflection to creating positive change is known as the third stage of self-awareness. Here we know how we behave and are able to check ourselves in the moment before we react. For example, you have had a bad day at work/school. Your manager/teacher just had it out for you today. You’re just itching for a fight or an argument, it’s what you do when you are frustrated and aggravated. If you are unaware of yourself, you will come home and start arguing with the first person to cross you, a spouse, partner, parent, sibling, etc. However, if you are self-aware, and have been reflecting internally you will know that you will most likely erupt if you do not find a way to manage your emotions. 

For others the reaction can be more subtle. For example, if you did badly on a test, or the meeting you had been working hard for didn’t go as planned, you will be in a bad mood. The fact that you are upset will translate into whether what you are eating for lunch tastes good or bad. For example, the person you are having lunch with who did really well on the test, or had a great day at work will love what they are eating, whereas you might not enjoy it as much. 

Just as the internal reflection allows you to be aware of your state in any situation, it also allows you to be able to make changes. The thing about being self aware is that we learn to take cues from our bodies. For some people stress can be felt in their gut or gather in their shoulders, for others they might feel “antsy” and need a way to manage the extra energy by finding a release. You will not always know the outcome of any situation you are in until it happens, so you can not prepare yourself for every reaction that you could have in a day. But reading the cues in your body can go a long way into helping you manage yourself appropriately in different situations.  

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