In a PhD focused on this very topic I sought to answer this ubiquitous question. I explored the plethora of literature on the subject, and pulled together, collated and reviewed all the models and definitions that existed on self-awareness. This knowledge was used to devise a model, definition and measure of self-awareness. I found some very interesting things about self-awareness. Despite the word ‘self-awareness’ implying that it is about the “self”, self-awareness is just as much about others as it is about the self. Without other, there is no way to know who we are. Other is a very important feature in coming to know ourselves.
My model highlights six processes involved in self-awareness and each of these are very important for becoming increasingly more self-aware.
• internal awareness and understanding;
• being able to stay in the present moment;
• not being too critical of oneself;
• being able to see what is happening for other people;
• being aware of how other people see you;
• the ability to connect with yourself.
I developed a definition in an attempt to encapsulate all these different features of self-awareness. “Self-awareness is a process that involves becoming sensitive to, and responsive to, the many forms of feedback produced by both the self-system and the externally oriented systems within which one is embedded.” Although a very academic definition, this definition highlights some very important features of self-awareness. Firstly, that self-awareness is a process – that is, it is ongoing, we are never completely self-aware, it is something we need to want to improve, we need to be open to it and we need to work on it. Secondly, it highlights that a balance is required between oneself and the environment and this includes other people – not too self focused, not too other focused. This balance also includes being balanced with oneself – not too hard, not too soft. It is these very balances that people often struggle with.
Based on this model and definition of self-awareness, I went on to develop a way to measure self-awareness as part of my PhD. After many studies involving thousands of people, I developed, refined and validated this new measure. It consists of 60 questions that can be answered on a seven-point scale from ‘almost always’ to ‘almost never’. It is the first globally valid measure of self-awareness. This is the first step in the process of becoming more aware and identifying strengths and gaps or blind spots.