You’ve decided you want to become more introspective and self-aware and finally see yourself the way the world sees you and use that newfound awareness to your advantage. Proper awareness will enable you to make more friends and make more money but the real value will be within.
What gets measured gets improved. We cannot wake up one day and immediately reach introspectiveness. It is a process that requires a daily routine, motivation, and tough decisions. There are certainly tools and tactics we can put in place to help move in the direction and they are easily trackable so you can stay on top of your habits as well. Some of the main things we recommend when trying to become more self-aware are meditating, journaling, eating and sleeping properly, and even seemingly unproductive tasks that turn out to benefit you in the end.
You may be saying to yourself that you disagree with mediation, that you are unable to take yourself seriously enough to sit in a zen position for 20 minutes while you enter a different world, or that you do not have the time to waste getting nothing done every morning and/or evening while you shut your eyes and hum to yourself. These are all common and valid arguments but also all untrue. Meditation is not something that works for some people and not for others; it is a practice that allows anyone to view themselves in a way that not many people are able to view themselves but that everyone else views every day.
Everyone should meditate for 10 minutes a day. If you don’t think you have the time, meditate for an hour.
Personally, I was eager to practice mediation mostly because I kept learning and hearing about other high-performing and high-value executives practicing it as well. I did not expect to gain their status by doing this but I did expect to get something out of the experiment and that I did. You will find many extremely successful people that mediate regularly and even attribute their success to mediation — you will also find those that have never even given it a shot and are seemingly perfectly successful in their own right. There is no right or wrong answer but there is always a benefit to slowing down and breathing from time to time.
Meditation allows you to take control, empty your mind, and refine your reactions. Emptying the mind may seem counterproductive since you should always be working and optimizing every second. However, those minds that are never slowing down even for a bit are ultimately burnt out constantly because there’s no reflection time. Even the most self-aware figures need to reflect and mediation helps with just that. While the mind empties and you concentrate on yourself instead of everything around you, you learn how you can manage yourself more effectively in a more spiritual than tactical way.
Meditation helps with mostly with the occurrences that take place between once something happens and how you respond — that occurrence is essentially life. When you are driving and get cut off you may not feel the urge to slam on the horn and throw your fist out the window. You will learn how the only things that are truly in control are your reactions. Even your feelings are out of your control — the only way to gain control of these things are by understanding yourself at such an introspective and inner level that you can manage your reactions properly and syndicate your feelings appropriately. Mediation will not cause you to never curse someone off or to never get so angry you punch a hole in the wall, but it will help you determine when a hole in the wall might be the only option.
When you meditate can have an impact on how effective it is as well. I have found that I am so energized and excited when I wake up that I cannot relax and concentrate on mediation early in the morning as all I find myself doing is fantasizing about emails I plan on sending only a few minutes after. Decide on a time that you can block out without any interruptions and when you know that you can dedicate the proper amount of energy.
Consider meditation as an unbreakable rule in your workflow. Just like you may shower every morning no matter how late you are running or how terrible the weather is, you must commit to meditation as something that must be done every day as well. At first, you may find it difficult depending on certain days. Holidays, personal hardships, and outside sources may make it very hard for you to sit down and practice this seemingly unnecessary task. In actuality, the harder it is for you to mediate is only going strengthen your mind and the practice that much better. Even if you find that after fifteen minutes of meditation one day has not benefited at all, it still has. The only poor meditation sessions are the ones you did not do. This should motivate you to continue mediating especially when it does not seem effective. Once the practice becomes so unbearable that you truly believe it has no impact is when you will break through that plane and come out the other end that much more self-aware.
If you are constantly in contact with clients, customers, employees, bosses, and family, meditation is the only time you truly have to yourself. Even when you are blogging, journaling, or watching a movie on your downtime you are not truly helping yourself and only yourself. Everything has an impact on something that is outside of yourself. You may be relying on other services or outside sources for the self-pleasuring things you practice. These are fine to refine as well but only meditation will force you to have an out-of-body experience and focus on yourself and how you wish to carry yourself in life. This is what makes meditation so effective and this is why no matter what is occurring in your life or outside of your life it is crucial to stick to a meditation practice.
A consistent and quality mediation practice will force you to think about yourself and your actions in ways that you haven’t before. It will have a larger impact on your self-awareness than most other tactics and the ritualized aspect alone will discipline you into becoming a more effective human being.
Breathing exercises are not as important as mediation is but they are so closely related I wanted to add them in here as a bonus add-on. All of the same principles of meditation apply when deciding when and how to breathe in a structured and calculated manner.
Breathing allows you to consider your body slightly more than mediation does as mediation is more about the mind. Your body, the things you intake, and the activities you do will all greatly impact you and breathing will assist in your understanding of what is working and what is not. Running a few miles every morning sounds like a great idea, but if you struggle to adhere to a breathing exercise for fifteen minutes before bed, that might say something about your routine and diet.
The diet is an entirely separate area of optimization that we will discuss in later posts.
Maintaining a daily, weekly, and even an annual journal is a great step toward improving your self-awareness. A journal should be your catch-all brain dump every day. It can house your thoughts, tasks, reflections, and even goals. Journaling should be done every day and it should get you in a slightly uncomfortable but important mindset.
What to journal about depends on the day, really. One day might have included a big deal you signed or a large unplanned event that made an impact. These are things that you must reflect on and create an articulation of your feelings for. You met with a prospective client and the meeting did not go well — you probably lost the sale. There are many things you will have to do after this meeting like improve your sales process and learn more about your industry or services, but one of the easiest things you can do is journal about the meeting, the day, and your feelings toward it.
Write out a narrative for the day. You started the day feeling one way, you did these tasks and planned in this fashion for this big meeting you were excited for, and then you failed to communicate effectively during the meeting. Drill into the actual event and articulate what went wrong and how you think you can improve. No one will be reviewing your journal expect yourself so you never have to worry about being too vulnerable. As you’re journaling about that one part of the meeting where you said where you think it started going downhill, comment on the nerves you felt as it was happening. Did you realize it was going downhill too late? How did you attempt to salvage the situation? Once you have these things down you not only practiced an important ritual of understanding yourself and your actions clearer, but you created a base to study up on after. You now have a play-by-play and a near-transcript of where you went wrong and what you now know needs to be improved. Journaling this way will not only help you become self-aware but also help you professionally and constantly force you to improve.
If you are uncomfortable while journaling, you are doing it correctly. Anyone can lie to themselves and write out how they had a great day and nothing went wrong. In fact, something likely went wrong and you are unwilling to bring it up to yourself. This is only harming yourself. It’s never a bad idea to have a prompt that forces you to answer the harder questions. What could have been improved today? What is one thing you should not have done today? These questions will not lead you to do something you should not be doing but they will get you in a more comfortable position to give up the dirty details of your day.
Being uncomfortable and vulnerable during the journaling process will ensure you are filling the journal up with quality content that will get you into a more self-aware mindset. People unwilling to look at themselves properly for the maximal and optimal results are the ones that are lying to themselves all day and never become self-aware. The ones that understand how tiny they are and constantly looking to improve will be the ones to become so introspective that everyone else looks completely out of control.
Avoid only journaling the good things. Having questions prompting you to answer some hard questions will help, but you still may only feel eager to journal at all about a good day. I can recall many days that went so well where I rushed to tell my journal about it and quickly realized I had not journaled at all that week. Now I have a ritual to journal every day but this was before that system was in place. I came to the realization that since I was not excited to journal the day before since nothing really happened, that this newest entry would not be very useful. If you only journal the good days, you are not reflecting on anything else for potential improvement. You are not reflecting properly since you are wearing blinders on the mundane and even unproductive days. Create a habit to ritualize every day and avoid selective self-awareness.
Different types of journaling is important as well. Certain software will allow you to partition your journals based on work-related matters, personal matters, and miscellaneous things you want to record for future reference. In addition to the context of your journals, you may also have different styles of journals constantly being maintained. A personal journal where you reflect on the day may not be the same place you journal about the things you hope to accomplish the next day. Similarly, a journal where you record your tasks for the day may not be the same the same journal you record your goals for the year. The important thing to understand when journaling is that you are recording things that matter to you, that you can reflect on and refer to, and that it is easy enough to maintain. A complex journaling system that requires you to write 2000 words every night will never be an effective system because it requires too much thought and energy.
This prompts the next issue to solve while journaling which is when to actually do it. People find success journaling at all times of the day when others need a block of time allocated every evening to reflect. Personally, I maintain a personal journal and an introspective journal that can be entered in at any point in the day. If something terrible or incredible occurs, I can easily add a few sentences recording the situation and quickly reflecting on what just happened — similarly, if I have a personal breakthrough and learn a new trait about myself that has to be worked on or cultivated, I can insert that at any point for future reference; these things may not require a scheduled time nor will they happen every day. The system is in place for when you need it and creates an easy environment to work in.
If you plan on using your journal to track your daily tasks, routines, and schedule, it may be a good idea to consider blocking twenty minutes at the start of each day to dump it all out so you can refer to it throughout the day. On the other side of this coin, it is important that you accept journaling takes time and properly plan some time to do your daily reflecting perhaps each evening before you head to bed. Understand the times that you are in a state best for journaling. Fortunately, journaling is a low-energy task and does not require many resources other than your time so it is the perfect task to accomplish while enjoying your morning coffee or even after lunch when you are not in the mindset to have any sessions of deep work.
Why are we putting so much energy into properly maintaining a journal at all? This is all about reflection. Once you write out your days and your feelings in an environment that is personal and confidential, you will immediately start seeing yourself in a new light. Just like mediation, it enables you to have an out of body experience and see yourself the way the world is seeing you. That opens the door to improvement, how you can manage yourself and your time better, and how you can be a more effective human being.
The final thing when building out your journalling system is to consider a commonplace. Some of the greatest minds in history maintained a commonplace book where they dump anything and everything that matters to them at all. This is not the same as reflecting on your day or aiming to improve a personal trait, but it allows you to reflect on all the other things that are happening. If you come across an interesting quote and want to keep it in the back of your mind, add it to the commonplace. If you think of an interesting idea for a movie but know you will never have the time or resources to create it, add it to the commonplace. If you learn something fascinating and merely want to save it so you do not forget it, add it to the commonplace. My commonplace consists of tiny blurbs reflecting on political news, quotes, and fun facts I pick up here and there. It’s my place for things that do not really belong anywhere else but have to be in my life somehow. Your commonplace will come in handy if or when you decide to do some writing and need extra content that you know you have a story for. It will come in handy when someone brings up that story about the moon landing that you read an interesting article about that you reflected on. A commonplace is not required but a great addition to any journaling platform.
Literally reflecting is a powerful tactic that many people may find daunting. This is when you approach someone you trust and who knows you and genuinely ask how they perceive you. People that spend time with you and work with you are the best sources of determining how you act, what you can improve, and how you look while doing it.
When asked correctly, a close family member or boss will provide the rawest insight of yourself that will enable you to improve. Most people will not tell you, unprompted, that your beard is too scruffy and unappealing. Asking those around you how they feel about your facial hair or style allows them to break that wall and honestly tell you how they feel about it. If the answer is that they think your style is too unprofessional and that they would not feel comfortable doing business with you, that is the first thing you should work to improve.
Similarly, someone may tell you that your demeanor while discussing things you are familiar with is condescending — something that you may never have even realized until you asked. These are other traits you can easily improve on once you have the insight of your ways.
Visiting a therapist is a great way to get this validation (or invalidation) as well. A therapist can get to a level of awareness of yourself even before you do and it is their job to assist you in your journey of introspectiveness. No one is going to be as harsh as a therapist will and should be because they are getting paid to push you into levels of discomfort for your benefit. If you are embarrassed or afraid to even consider seeing a therapist, you are wildly unaware and need to work on yourself even slightly to get to that level of comfort with yourself and feel the benefit of having to improve. If you do not feel you need improvement at all, then I amazed you made it this far already.
Similarly, past or present lovers can provide more insight than a therapist might ever be able to. Just like your friends, family, and colleagues, someone that was close to you out of sexual desire should know you at a level that you may not even see yourself in. They can be a great resource for you.
For example — a partner that you regularly contacted and dated knows what makes you happy, sad, and angry. The emotional tie they had to you made them just as emotionally impacted by your feelings as you were. Because of this, they are/were similarly invested in your feelings as they directly correlated to theirs.
Most of these things that can easily be improved are difficult for you to determine without the help of outsiders. Understanding yourself is not always enough since you have to understand the ones that have to look at you and speak to you as well. Getting to that level of awareness first is the first step and then using that comfort to improve is how you will see exponential growth.
Putting it All Together
Now that you have some tools and tactics to assist in your journey to introspectiveness you have to understand how to utilize everything in a proper and orderly fashion. You will fail if you decide to start meditating, exercising, and journaling every day all on day one. Even though I, personally, am a fan of the abrupt start and halt of habits, there are simply too many things to keep in line when considering life changes like this.
This is where you will have to learn to be more productive and efficient. Your levels of productivity will dictate exactly how well you’re able to manage yourself and your introspectiveness. This, however, is a topic for another post.