Ideas
June 11, 2017
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

You probably know more than a few people who are just clueless about themselves.

They make the same errors over and over but never seem to notice. They think they’re great at stuff that, frankly, they’re terrible at. But that’s not the real problem…

The real problem is you’re one of them too. Hey, so am I. Humans just aren’t terribly self-aware creatures.

From Insight:

Some people are probably shaking their head at me right now. They think they’re the exception. They think they know themselves pretty well…

If you don’t think you need to learn to be more self-aware, then you definitely need to learn to be more self-aware.

From Insight:

And self-awareness is a really good quality to have, almost across the board. What’s the research show?

From Insight:

In my book, I point out that “know thyself” is the first step toward success in life. (I’m by no means the first person to say that, just the most recent.)

So what does Dr. Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist who has spent oodles of time studying the problem, have to say about how to really get to know yourself — and reap all those delicious benefits?

Let’s get to it…

Read more: New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy

1) Reflect Less, Notice More

Maybe you spend a lot of time thinking about what you’re really like and you think that’s given you some self-awareness. Wrong.

From Insight:

If you really want to get to know yourself better, do it like a good researcher would: spend less time theorizing and more time collecting data points to see patterns and trends.

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  • “After I exercise, I feel better about myself.”
  • “When I wake up early I get more done during the day.”
  • “When I put blogging off to the last minute, it’s hard for me to generate three examples of anything.”

Stop weaving elaborate theories and look to your behavior and the results.

(To learn more about the science of a successful life, check out my new book here.)

So you’re starting to see clear trends in what you do and how it makes you feel. Awesome. The next thing you usually do is ask yourself why that happens.

Umm, that’s a huge mistake, by the way…

2) Ask “What” Not “Why”

A lot of research shows that asking “why” we do things is a really bad idea. It makes study subjects more depressed, they tend to fixate on their problems, and focus on blaming rather than fixing the issues.

But asking “what” questions helps us learn and grow.

From Insight:

One of the most self-aware study subjects had this to say about the “why” vs “what” issue.

From Insight:

(To learn how to stop checking your phone, click here.)

So you’re asking the correct W questions now. But we don’t get to know ourselves all that well in the abstract.

There are things you want to accomplish in life, and thinking clearly about those is actually another path to self-awareness…

Read more: New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

3) Set Goals

Not only does setting goals help you get what you want, it also helps you get to know who you are.

From Insight:

You’re defining what’s important to you. And that’s a big part of what makes you, well, you.

(To learn the 4 rituals neuroscience says will make you happy, click here.)

All the methods we’ve covered so far are great, but it’s time to bring out the big guns. What’s the single most powerful way to learn more about yourself?

4) Do A Survey

Who knows you better than you do? Pretty much everyone around you.

From Insight:

So that idiot who makes the same mistakes over and over, never realizing it? You could easily tell him what he’s doing wrong. But he’ll never ask you.

However, if you’re smart, you’ll ask the people around you for some feedback. This is where knowing blunt people really pays off. You don’t want to ask friends who are gonna sugarcoat anything.

Your dentist may like the euphemism, “You may feel a little pressure” but I don’t, so I’ll be straight with you: this is gonna hurt. You’re asking blunt people to say negative things about you.

This is painful, but powerful. So ask — unless you’d rather keep being their idiot who makes the same mistakes over and over.

(To learn how to make friends as an adult, click here.)

Surveying those around you is harsh medicine but it’s the method that delivers the best results. So what’s a way to get to know yourself better that can actually be fun?

Read more: How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

5) Keep Learning

You might think that reading all this stuff and writing these blog posts makes me feel like a smarty-smart know-it-all. Nothing could be further from the truth…

I am constantly being smacked in the face with how wrong wrong wrong many of my ideas are and how the way I’ve always handled X, Y or Z is actually the worst method imaginable. It’s utterly humbling.

By continuing to learn, especially in the areas where you think you’re an expert, you discover the mistakes you’ve been making. And being aware of your mistakes takes you a long way in terms of self-awareness.

From Insight:

(To learn the 4 scientific secrets that will make you lucky, click here.)

Okay, you’ve learned a lot — about self-awareness and maybe about yourself. Let’s round it up and find out the single most important thing about getting to know what you’re really like…

Sum Up

This is how to be more self-aware:

  • Reflect less, notice more: Your calendar and your credit card bill will tell you more about who you really are than that story you’re spinning in your head.
  • Ask “what” not “why”: “Why” is for philosophers and whiners. “What” gives you answers you can use.
  • Set goals: What you want says a lot about who you are. (Yes, it’s okay to be an adult and still want a pony.)
  • Do a survey: Did you skip right down to the “Sum Up” section? Yeah, I know you pretty well. Should have surveyed me.
  • Keep learning: Prove yourself wrong and you’ll know where you’re wrong. And you’ll make it right.

The single most important thing to realize is that self-awareness doesn’t come naturally. It takes a little effort.

The biggest mistake you can make is assuming you already know everything there is to know about yourself and you don’t have anything else to learn.

Everyone thinks they’re the exception, and therein lies the danger. Anyone who goes around saying they know everything about themselves is an idiot.

Luckily, I’m not an idiot because I know everything about myself. But, you know, I’m the exception…

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This article originally appeared on Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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