Helen Monument’s guide to self-awareness and becoming your best authentic self
Socrates said, “To know yourself is the beginning of wisdom”. The ancient Greeks saw self-awareness as being the most important way of being in control of your own life. Understanding ourselves as individuals is vital to becoming the best that we can be.
Self-awareness means understanding who we are and what we need, but it also means that we understand our limitations, how we control our emotions and how we relate to others. We all want to get the best out of ourselves, right?
Self-awareness means that we are able to emphasize our strengths, work on improving our weaknesses and take care of our mental and physical wellbeing. It does not mean comparing ourselves to others, but rather showing on the outside what we are feeling on the inside – being brave enough to express our feelings and opinions. Adversity often reveals who we really are, as emotions get hard to control and come pouring out for all to see. We are then at our most vulnerable. It’s said that we are who we are when nobody is looking.
“Be yourself – everyone else is already taken” ~ Oscar Wilde
I like to use AVID as an acronym when talking about self-discovery and self-knowledge. It stands for Authenticity, Values, Interests, Decisions.
The word avid means having or showing a keen interest in or enthusiasm for something, such as: I am an avid reader. So, here’s how to start taking an AVID interest in discovering who you are.
This is the key to self-awareness. Authenticity means being who you are. You clearly communicate your personal purpose and the meaning that you bring to your work and your life. If you are confident about your personal motivation and others can see it in what you say and do, this will increase the trust that they have in you. When you are authentic, you show yourself to the world without a mask. Being authentic means that you are not afraid to show your vulnerabilities because they are what makes you human. You are humble and can laugh openly about your flaws. You care about people and you show to others that you care. You keep your promises. You tell the truth, so that others know they can trust you.
If you are not being your real self, hiding who you are, you can become lonely, isolated, disconnected and develop low self-esteem. This can stem from childhood: if parents dominate their children with their own decisions or behaviour, with messages like “big boys don’t cry” or “you are so clumsy”, the child adapts its behaviour to fit in with the family, suppressing their authentic self.
Finding Your Authentic Self
The first step to finding the authentic you is to write down what you think it means to be authentic, who you would like to become and who you don’t want to become. Being authentic also means that you are open to feedback from others. Let people you trust be the mirror you need to see yourself as you are, without any blind spots.
Coaching can help you to discover what behaviours or actions you may have acquired that are no longer helping you, and you can learn techniques and new actions that will help you to become your own authentic self.
You might also consider taking a personality assessment. There are plenty available, but the most common is the Myers-Briggs Assessment.
“You are who you are. The reason your friends love you is the same reason your colleagues, clients and customers love you. If you’re acting differently in one of those two places, then you’re lying.” ~ Simon Sinek
These are your personal compass. These are the attributes that you could not possibly live without. Your values shine through in everything you do. They determine how you live and work as well as how you interact with other people and the world around you. They are what drives you and are reflected in everything that you are passionate about. With many of my coaching clients, I use this very simple exercise to help them on their discovery of who they are.
An Exercise in Self-Awareness
Below are some of the most common values that people claim to live by. The list is not complete of course, there could be many others that you could think of.
Step 1: Circle your top 10 values
Step 2: From those 10, cross out four.
Don’t overthink it. Some of these words will speak to you more than others. This leaves you with six.
Step 3: Cross out three.
That will leave you with your own top three values. This is harder to do and you may have to make some tough choices, but you must be completely honest with yourself. It doesn’t mean that you’re throwing the other values overboard, because they are obviously important to you, but it does allow you to focus on those that are absolutely non-negotiable. The ones that belong in your elevator pitch when you meet people for the first time and tell them about yourself.
Finally, take your top three values and talk about them with people in your inner circle. Do they see these in you? Are you living up to these values? If not, why not? What do you need to do to show your true self to the world in an authentic way?
Knowing yourself means that you understand what you are passionate about. What holds your attention at work and in your private life? These are the things that engage and absorb you. Discover what fascinates and captivates you. When you’re doing something you enjoy, you are motivated by it and you don’t mind spending time on it. When you spend time doing things that you love, it shines through so that others can see your enthusiasm and your passion and the real, authentic you is revealed.
Your interests are also reflected in your career. They can be a spark to ignite a new direction. During the current COVID-19 crisis, many people are finding new interests like cooking, learning a new language, painting, singing or gardening. Some have decided to learn more skills that will help them with their current job, or prepare them for the next move they want to make. Whatever it is, finding your passion will help you to discover the real you.
Working from home has given people more time to reflect on their lives and some have realized that they want to make changes; perhaps they don’t want to work full-time any more, or want to permanently work from home. Some may even have decided to go in a totally different direction as they have discovered that the way they lived their lives before the lockdown was not serving them.
My sister Tracy was an avid (there’s that word again) cake baker and spent much of her free time developing those creative skills to a very high level. When redundancy threatened, she decided to take the plunge and change from an office job to starting her own business and so Monumental Cakes was born.
It’s difficult to make good decisions if you don’t know who you are. When you come to understand yourself, you start to make better decisions. You know what’s good for you, and what you should avoid. If, like me, you don’t like creepy-crawlies, a trek in the jungles of Borneo might not be the sensible holiday choice for you. If you thrive in a noisy, energetic and bustling work environment, you will never be happy in a small two-person office. You realize what you want and what you don’t want.
Decision-making is then based on experience, taking the steps that support and serve you.
Ask yourself these simple questions next time you need to make a decision, to find out one that will serve you best:
- What is the issue?
- What are the alternatives?
- What do I have to gain or lose?
- Are there any other possibilities?
We all learn from our mistakes. If we made bad decisions in the past, experience tells us that we do not need to repeat them. The world is unpredictable so take it one step at a time, stay in touch with your authentic self and you will be able make the best decisions to lead the life that you want.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” ~ Albert Einstein
The journey of self-discovery can take a lifetime as we live and learn about ourselves. Being honest with yourself and developing self-love is a challenge that takes time and effort. Are you showing the authentic you to the world? It’s never too late to start.