Marisa Morby logo

Pay Attention to Yourself

Self-Awareness Gone Wrong

You have to know what you're feeling in order to change it

Most of us have probably experienced road rage. We know the feeling well. You’re driving to work and the guy in front of you slams on his breaks. You miss hitting him by what seems like mere inches. You swear at the driver, hissing insults that only you can hear. “What does he think he’s doing?! Doesn’t he know how to drive?”

You might even honk, loudly, just so you’re sure he knows how thoroughly angry you are. You switch lanes, and give him a hard glare as you pass. A few of us might also choose some choice hand gestures to really get the point across.

We’ve all felt this anger. It’s like a hot rage that starts at the back of your neck and slowly spreads like fire. We’ve all blamed the driver. And yes, maybe he did slam on the brakes, but that’s not really the point. The point is we’ve become a victim of our own emotions. We’re angry for at least another ten minutes, maybe a couple hours. You know you’re guilty of this if, after you make it to the office, the first thing you do when someone says, “How are you,” is to say, “Oh fine now, but some idiot tried to kill me on my way to work.”

This is a total lack of self-awareness where you’ve just become the victim of a situation. You’ve learned nothing. And that’s your own fault.

Self-Awareness Done Right

Taking the time to reflect can completely change difficult situations

If we look at this same situation another way, it makes a lot more sense, and allows for improvement.

The driver in front of us slams on his brakes. Cue the swearing and anger. You can feel yourself getting upset. But instead of hurling insults, you stop. You think about it for a second.

Why am I so angry? Well, obviously because this guy almost made me get in a wreck. That was really scary! I was afraid for a second that I wouldn’t be able to stop in time. Why did he slam on his breaks like that; it was stupid. That was close. I guess I was following too closely. If I’d slowed down a bit, it wouldn’t have mattered that he stopped so fast.

You make it to work, but this time you’re not the victim of a crazy incompetent driver. You don’t tailgate the other drivers, and now you’re more conscious of how your driving on your way home from work.

What Self-Awareness Means

Being mindful, conscious, and reflective

If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, you know there’s a lot of talk about mindfulness, and being aware of your own emotions. Self-awareness really encompasses mindfulness. It’s being conscious of and reflecting on your own character, feelings, motivations, and desires.

Why You Need It

You can't improve if you aren't self-aware

Self-awareness allows you to understand your own emotions and why you react to situations in certain ways. We all know that feeling when we get angry because something went wrong. We deflect that anger and blame it on other people. They did something _to us_that was wrong.

Working on your self-awareness will help you become a better leader, a better manager, and a better friend because you will know your own strengths and weaknesses, why you react the way you do, and allow you to improve upon your past actions for better results. Anthony K. Tjian shares some great tips in his article How Leaders Become Self-Aware. Paul Jun also shares some great examples of how you can use self-awareness to change bad habits.

Tips for Self-Awareness

Reflection and consciousness are the keys to becoming more self-aware

1. Ask yourself questions in stressful conversations or situations in which you got upset

What emotion am I feeling? What about the specific situation makes me feel that way? What could I have done differently or better? How can I express how I’m feeling logically?

2. Ask yourself questions in good conversations when you didn't get upset

What emotion am I feeling? What did I do that helped make this conversation go well? How can I do this in future conversations?

3. Express these emotions to the people you interact with

It shouldn’t be a personal attack (you’re always late), but a comment on the situation (it hurts my feelings when you are late). Try something more like this: I am angry because you were late. I understand that you’re busy and it’s hard to always be on time. But when you’re late it hurts my feeling because I feel like my time isn’t important to you.

What to Read Next

Join the Design & Nature Reimagined Newsletter