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Become self-aware

Read why knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and being able to objectively self-evaluate your performance, are critical for career success.
Man and woman at desk discussing plans
© Deakin University
Being able to observe yourself, know your strengths and weaknesses, and objectively self-evaluate your performance, is critical for career success and life satisfaction.
Most of us have to do annual performance reviews at work. However, research shows the effect of these reviews on actual performance is varied and often doesn’t lead to improvement.
This makes sense: reviewing what we do once or twice a year is often too little, too late. Effective self-leadership involves using different types of self-evaluation over time. We can do this by:
  • taking stock at key points to look for patterns in our lives and in our work
  • seeking feedback as we engage with tasks
  • cultivating awareness moment-by-moment as we go about our work and life.
Each of these types of self-evaluation requires a specific set of skills.

Looking for patterns

Taking stock at key points to look at patterns in our lives and in our work is an analytic skill. It involves analysing our strengths and weaknesses and looking at these as objectively as possible.
As management consultant Peter Drucker reminds us, this involves looking at how we perform, not just whether we perform.
We need to identify not just what we did and didn’t do, but also our characteristic ways of working. For example:
  • What have we accomplished? How did we do that?
  • What did we plan to do but not get done? What got in our way?
  • What is the emerging story about our strengths and weaknesses?
  • What is the emerging story about how we best get things done?
  • What are some small steps we can take to do better?
Philosopher John Dewey is often quoted as saying that we don’t learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience. While this is actually an apocryphal quote, it still rings true because it neatly sums up his approach to self-reflection as the heart of learning.

Seeking feedback

Seeking feedback as we engage with tasks and then again after we’ve completed them, is another important way of turning experience into useful learning. While looking back over time requires a rational analytic skill set, learning from immediate feedback requires emotional openness.
We often think of self-evaluation and self-awareness as something we accomplish alone, but a large part of this process is about learning how to ask for feedback from others and then how to receive and work with this feedback without resistance.
We often need to refrain from the tendency to defensively explain or justify our actions, and become comfortable hearing how others saw what we did and how we did it.
Researcher Tasha Eurich defines self-awareness as both self-directed and other-informed:
Self-awareness means seeing ourselves clearly. And specifically, it means understanding who we are, how other people see us, and how we fit into the world around us. (2018)
Working with formal and informal feedback from colleagues is crucial for completing this awareness circle. It helps us to both understand ourselves and the way we work, as well as how others see us.

Cultivating awareness

Cultivating awareness moment-by-moment as we go about our work and life is the trickiest, but perhaps most useful form, of self-monitoring. It requires self-awareness that can move between the intellect, emotions and physical signals generated by our bodies.
Mindfulness practices can help us become more familiar with this kind of non-reactive awareness.
It opens up new possibilities for what Pamela Weiss, an executive coach and mindfulness teacher, calls ‘an appropriate response’ based on a technique called the three centre check-in that cultivates this connection between the head, heart and body.

Your task

Most of us understand that self-awareness involves both intellectual and emotional understanding, but paying attention to our bodily cues – as Pamela Weiss teaches in her three centre check-in – is not as commonly understood.
For this task, try Weiss’ method and pay particular attention to how bodily feelings can aid your self-awareness.
When you’re done, use the comments to discuss your experience and how you think bodily cues can help us become more self-aware.
© Deakin University
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