How Self-Awareness Pays Off

Shannon worked at a tech startup, where her team was faced with constant tough deadlines and complicated demands. Over time, the stress from her workload made her increasingly anxious, and her worrying made it difficult to complete her work and get along with her team. Eventually, she asked to be transferred to another division, even though it meant taking a pay cut and losing eligibility for a promotion.

Take a moment to imagine how Shannon's story might have played out differently.

Had Shannon seen her stress was a problem she could manage better, and found ways to find more emotional balance, she may have a different outcome. Perhaps she could have streamlined her workload and delegated tasks or addressed some procedural hold-ups with other teams to alleviate pressure. In this scenario, Shannon may have stayed on the team and even gotten that promotion.

The simple act of recognizing her emotional reactions would have created the space she needed to do some creative problem-solving – and that would have led to improved performance for herself and her team.

Self-Awareness is the First Step

Self-Awareness is the ability to recognize and understand our emotional reactions. I see this as the foundation of my model of Emotional and Social Intelligence because it underlies many of the other competencies. Being aware of your emotional state is a necessary first step to developing skills related to self-control, for instance. Self-Awareness is also necessary for exercising empathy, because we can only understand the emotional tendencies and triggers of others if we understand our own.

Self-Awareness is indispensable in leadership, allowing leaders to harness their own competencies for the greatest positive impact on others.

Practical Applications of Self-Awareness

Self-Awareness leads to practical payoffs when operating in combination with other Emotional Intelligence competencies. In day-to-day interactions, this can be as simple as recognizing that you're feeling distraught about a personal relationship, and reminding yourself not to project these feelings onto colleagues at work. Those who have developed Self-Awareness also tend to be better at communication because it helps them attune to their own feelings and articulate them in a way that resonates with, and motivates, other people.

Understanding our emotional drivers and limitations allows us to choose fulfilling career paths that fit our capabilities and values. Similarly, when we're at home and with our families, being in tune with how we feel helps us strengthen our bonds with the people we love.

How to Develop Self-Awareness

Like other Emotional Intelligence competencies, Self-Awareness can be improved with regular practice. One of the most effective methods is mindfulness meditation, which actually reshapes the brain circuitry involved in emotion recognition and regulation. In research explored more thoroughly in my book, Altered Traits, I review strong evidence to show that mindfulness:


·      Lessens amygdala reactivity (the brain’s trigger for fight/flight/freeze) to emotional triggers

·      Increases calmness under stress

·      Improves concentration and lessens mind wandering

·      Cultivates greater awareness of mind wandering

Other techniques that can help develop Self-Awareness include interoception, monitoring our bodies for physical sensations related to different emotional states, and then journaling, which can help us understand ourselves better through emotional record-keeping. For example, let’s say you have a particularly heated interaction with a coworker; interoception allows noticing that your throat feels tight, your stomach uneasy, or your head and ears hot. These are the physiological results of your emotional state, and pausing to notice them is a way of being self-aware.

Finally, since each of us will respond in our own unique way to the various methods for personal and professional growth, I recommend that you explore one or more of the following:


·      Attend a personal wellness retreat that includes meditation.

·      Create a daily or weekly habit of a “personal check-in” where you assess how you are feeling and why those feelings might be coming up.

·      Assess your overall level of stress, and create a list of potential ways to reduce that in order to feel more emotional balance. Then, follow through on some of the items on your list.

(This blog was originally published on LinkedIn. It has been re-posted here with prior permission from Daniel Goleman.)

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Categories: Leadership

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Daniel Goleman

Daniel Goleman is the Co-Director of Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations....

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