One of the famous Delphic maxims inscribed at the Apollo Temple in Delphi is: Know Thyself. This is precisely what this book is about. But throughout the chapters that follow, we’ll see that knowing oneself and knowing others are two skills that cannot be developed in isolation. We start by gaining insight into our own thoughts, emotions, and beliefs, and how they inform our behavior. Only when we can understand ourselves in this way, can we understand others. And if we have empathy and compassion towards ourselves, can we practice it for others.
Thus this book is about two skills that act in tandem – self-awareness and social awareness. These two pillars form the foundation of emotional intelligence, and from them, we can construct a way of being that is proven to be more balanced, more robust, more creative, more cooperative and more innovative.
Let’s begin with a question: are you self-aware? It’s a tricky one, since the quality you are asking about is the same quality you need to answer the question.
Just as most people believe themselves to be above-average drivers (a statistical impossibility) many of us believe we’re self-aware, but with little evidence. The ability to correctly assess this quality is itself a component of self-awareness. Just like driving, however, self-awareness is a skill that can be developed… just as much as it can be interfered with and compromised.
The ability to clearly see and be aware of yourself has many proven benefits: more confidence and creativity, better decision-making, improved communication skills and more effective leadership strategies, to name a few. And yet there is a major gap between what psychologists and researchers know about the topic, and what is known about deliberately improving this skill out in the real world.
Psychologist Tasha Eurich and colleagues conducted a massive study on self-awareness and gained interesting insights into what it is, what it isn’t, and how we can become better at it. Their biggest finding? True self-awareness is rare, with only around 15% of people making the grade. Another big contribution of the study is the discovery there are actually two kinds of self-awareness.
Let’s pause and consider that a fixed definition of self-awareness is scarce. The term might refer to the ability to monitor one’s own inner experience, or what’s broadly called self-consciousness. Or it could be about self-knowledge. But what’s going on when someone has a pronounced sense of who they are as a person – that everyone around them disagrees with? Eurich et. al. found there is a difference between internal and external self-awareness.
Internal: The clarity with which we perceive our innermost desires, emotions, thoughts, values, strengths and weaknesses (i.e. how well you see yourself).
External: The understanding of how other people view us, and the effect we have on them (i.e. how well you see how others see you).