As a therapist, I often ask myself a fundamental question: Is there some essential trait or circumstance that my happiest, most well-adjusted clients have in common? It’s certainly not financial success or professional accomplishments. It’s not religious affiliation, or lack thereof. It’s not physical beauty or even health. It’s not having a big supportive family or being married to the same person for decades. Each of these things can be helpful, but none are essential. So what is it?
Every time I revisit this question over the years, I come back with the same answer: The most peaceful and deeply satisfied people I know, including the clients I treat, have one core characteristic in common: an abundance of self-awareness. This self-awareness plays out in three primary ways:
Knowing what you’re good at, but also recognizing what you’re not so good at.
Most people substantially overestimate or underestimate their talents and abilities. It’s less about being the most talented person in the room, and more about genuinely owning your strengths and vulnerabilities. Learning to work with challenging feedback is absolutely essential to developing self-awareness.
Being honest with yourself about your true motivations.
People tend to view their own behaviors as being for the “greater good,” whereas they view others as “selfish.” But at some level, your every action, thought and feeling is motivated by self-interest. Once you honestly recognize your own self-serving agenda, you become much more effective at achieving your goals. You also let go your judgment and resentment toward others.
Remaining in close contact with your nervous system.
Throughout the day you stay in tune with your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. You remain centered. You remain open to your moment-to-moment experience. If someone asks you what you are thinking or feeling, you simply share that information without needing to defend or impress.
Self-aware people were not born this way. Self-awareness is something you intentionally and strategically cultivate. You don’t need anything other than the desire to cultivate it. With increased awareness, other aspects of your life begin to self-regulate. Your career, your relationships, your goals and aspirations–these things gradually untangle themselves, unfolding in keeping with your authentic core identity. When there is no longer a carefully guarded distinction between your genuine self and the self you show to others, then all of life becomes a mirror. How do you feel about what this mirror is reflecting?