Increasing your self-awareness all comes down to having a proper image of yourself. Being able to assess your strengths and weaknesses from an objective standpoint. Leaving the ego out of it. The idea we have of ourselves can often be distorted. In some areas of our lives, we can be spot on, while in others we over- or underestimate our capabilities. It is key to continue our self-examination and learn to see the signs that tell us more about ourselves.
To get a better background idea and some more practice on this topic, read my articles on How to Know Yourself and How our Mirror Fails to Reflect. They cover some important aspects that provide foundational points of where self-awareness starts. We will discuss why it is important to know your worth and where you can thrive. But most important, how you can be the best version of yourself and put that to use for society’s benefit. Since this post is focused on the self, we must keep in mind that our duty lies to the community. But we can only do that if we have the proper self-image.
What role to take?
“If you take on a role that is beyond your powers, you not only disgrace yourself in that role, but you neglect the role that you were capable of fulfilling.”Epictetus, Handbook, 37
In his handbook, Epictetus shows us the importance of self-awareness in one simple sentence. There are two sides to this. First, if we don’t do what we are supposed to do, we put ourselves to shame. We are doing something that is not showcasing our full potential. Thus we are not being the best version of ourselves. Second, we are ignoring the role that we should be fulfilling. This means that we are not living in accordance with our nature. A key Stoic concept to live a peaceful life.
Seneca writes an entire essay on how to achieve a tranquil mind. In it, he addresses the importance of self-awareness and the correct judgment of oneself.
“Before anything it is imperative that a man reaches an estimate of himself, because generally we suppose ourselves to be capable of more than we are.”Seneca, Dialogues and Essays, On the Tranquillity of the Mind, 6
The right estimate
Seneca here suggests that we overestimate ourselves more often. Although this is something rather personal. Some tend to think that they are far better at something than they truly are. Then there are those, like myself, who find themselves less skilled in many situations. This is something we looked into when we examined the imposter syndrome. One deals with self-limiting beliefs while the other has little to no limits to these ideas of the self. Creating an awareness that is more in balance is what we should aim at. That’s why this is where we should start. It’s also the reason why I mentioned the post on How to Know Yourself. Being able to know yourself with the ego involved will help you create a better image of who you are.
We can use the world around us to give us clues on what we should aim for. There are all these signs around us. You can go back to my post on How Our Mirror Fails to Reflect to read more about it. Our perceptions are how we judge what happens to us. We all have different ideas about them, and that’s why they can tell us a lot about our personality. The Stoics teach us to look at external events not as good or bad, but as things that happen to us.
Then apply reason
We then apply our reason and find the best course of action to take. By best action, we talk about virtuous action that is in accordance with Nature. If we can apply this same method to our self-awareness, then we can come to a rational image. This way we can absorb all the input we get and figure out our path.
We are often told to strive for the highest possible goal and we should. But to do so, we need to determine what that means to us. Some think of careers, others of being the best parents, and then there are those who think it’s about the things they gather. In Stoicism, the highest possible goal is to achieve a peaceful and content life in accordance with Nature. When we live in accordance with Nature we are performing the actions we are supposed to be doing. Bringing us back to the Epictetus quote we saw at the beginning. It’s there that we minimize the emotions that limit us but where we still need to push ourselves for personal growth. And that personal growth is important to have a sense of purpose and struggle.
Self-awareness to overcome the Ego
The ego is a big obstacle when we discuss self-awareness. The ego is not objective when it needs to process external events. The more sensitive it is, the more erratic it can react to the smallest of events. When it lacks the rational mind to keep it grounded in reality, the ego can’t perform its function and project the true personality onto the external world. Reason is the buffer that protects the ego from overreacting. While we have natural emotional reflexives, such as anger and fear, to signal something might be happening. The ego is our personality reacting to the outside world. This is why some comments can be seen as an attack or as unjustified positive feedback. We need our ego to be balanced, which we can do if we have a just sense of our self-awareness.
In Stoicism, we learn that our rational mind sets us apart from the rest of the animals. It holds the essence of the Logos, the rational nature of the universe. This is the tool that we need to apply to increase our self-awareness and allow the ego to perform its duty. Once we get our ego in line with our nature and make sure we fortify it with our reason, we can forge ahead to live up to our full potential.
Seneca gives us the follow-up step as well.
“We must next evaluate what we propose to undertake, and compare our strength with the tasks we intend to attempt.”Seneca, Dialogues and Essays, On the Tranquillity of the Mind, 6
Once we have a better image of ourselves and are aware of who we are, we need to examine the tasks that we undertake. Seneca mentions that we must be stronger than the task, otherwise it might break us. This doesn’t mean that we need to know how to perform it, but it means that we can learn it and that it doesn’t take us from being virtuous.
How to increase your self-awareness?
What are ways to increase our self-awareness? There are certain tools that we can use. Journaling is one that we can use daily. There’s no need to write long entries, but if you wish to start you can do so with one or two sentences. Answer specific questions to help you. You could write from the vantage point of your ego. See what your ego has to tell you. Whether it was bigger than reality or whether it thought of itself as less. Another good way is meditation. Here you sit with yourself and examine your thoughts and come to peace. That being said, I’ve not been able to do either of them. Neither have been able to stick with me for a longer period. These techniques are rather personal.
It’s important that you find the mechanisms that work for you. Those that you’ll be able to keep doing all the time. This way you can train your mind to keep your self-awareness under constant supervision. You’ll be far more capable of recognizing when your self-image moves towards an extreme of the spectrum. By keeping it in constant check you can improve your confidence levels because you will be able to feel more in control of yourself. That’s what knowing yourself does. You’ll be able to recognize all aspects of yourself, including your ego, and will be able to read all the signs from the external world.
Why be more self-aware?
One of the core principles of Stoicism is knowing what is under your control. Your opinions, thoughts, desires, and actions fall under this umbrella. This includes your self-awareness. Which is an opinion you hold about yourself. It is then your duty to make sure that this view matches reality. As a part of knowing ourselves, we need to make sure that the image we have of ourselves matches who we are. And also who we wish to be.
Our goal is to be the best version of who we can be and live in accordance with nature. We then need to align our wants and desires with what is happening and who we are. Not above nor below. It’s important to learn to accept who we are and embrace it. Approach this topic with a great deal of kindness to yourself. The ego can be fragile, so make sure to treat it with respect