How to Actually Be Self-Aware

By Amy Kim, Psy.D.

 My work with people is all about helping people become aware so that they can figure out what’s not working for them and choose what does work for them. But to really become authentic and real and know yourself, first you have to find out what you’re not. Everyone has been influenced by the beliefs and behaviors of their parents, families, cultures, society, and social media. The truth is, you’re not any of those things. You are whatever remains when you get rid of all of the beliefs that you’ve adopted from everyone around you. 

To undo this and become aware of who you really are and what you’re actually about, first you have to start by watching your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. You have to pay attention to the trillions of thoughts that stream through your mind every single day, and watch how those thoughts affect how you feel and what you do. Then, you have to decide whether those default automated patterns are working for you. Do you like the results? Does it feel good? Does it cause problems? Does it feel bad? If so, then you have to (and with great effort) choose to replace those same thought-feeling-behavior loops with something else. 


To become self-aware means to first notice your default ways of thinking-feeling-doing, and then choose to think-feel-do in a way that produces the results that you want. Through this process of really paying attention to your default operating system, making adjustments, and upgrading your operating your system, you will learn even more about what works and what doesn’t work FOR YOU. But you must actually do different if you want anything to change. Self-awareness does not come just from thinking and talking about it. You must act in order to gain more information about yourself, and get closer to who you actually are and what you’re all about. 


In addition to paying attention to your inner operating system, you also need to pay attention to your environment, including the people around you. As you pay attention to what’s around you, decide what’s working for you and what’s not working for you, and change what’s not working for you. Also pay attention to the information you get from your environment about yourself – are you having positive or negative effects on those around you? Really consider the feedback and then decide what you think about it. Is it valid? Not valid? Should you do more of it? Less of it? Choose what you want to do with that information and then actually implement.


Self-awareness is the result of the hard work of really paying attention inside you and outside you and constantly synthesizing these two sources of information, until you’re able to match what’s going on for you inside seamlessly with what’s going on for you outside (people, places, work, activities, etc.). One last point – self-awareness is not a self-help project. Since everyone has so many blind spots, it’s essential that you enlist people to help you to see what your blind spots are so you’re able to see more about yourself than you could on your own. Real self-awareness can only happen when other people are helping you.