Self-Awareness: An Underestimated Tool for Change

Take a moment and list three things you wish to change about yourself: these can be physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental changes. Perhaps you wish to be more organized? More true to your word? To exercise daily? To curb negative thoughts? Or perhaps to get a better hold of your finances? Whatever the desire to change, it simply cannot occur without being authentic about your present self. Self-awareness of your current physical and emotional well-being – the ability to identify emotions, moods, values, habits, health concerns, or what inspires you or fills your soul – creates the foundations upon which new, healthier habits and behaviors are laid. You cannot pour concrete without knowing the lay of the land first, right?

For example, perhaps you want to stress less and think more positively: the first step, then, is to become your own personal researcher and react rather than respond to your environment. Rather than allowing a heated situation (a high water bill, or a traffic accident on the way to an important meeting, or a fight with a friend) to cause a sudden increase in heart rate, negative, self-deprecating thoughts, and a sharp increase in cortisol pumping through the system, take quick pause, a deep breath, and practice self-awareness. Although it sounds silly, say aloud “This is a stressful situation” and become the researcher observing the situation; observe your current emotional state – what emotions do you feel? Anger? Sadness? Frustration? Guilt?

Then, assess the cause: is it the traffic jam? Or, perhaps, is there a deeper undercurrent? Have you always felt pressure to be in charge and stay in control? Were you taught that busy-ness was productive and relaxation was lazy? Are these thoughts valid or simply products of your upbringing, family life, or environment?

And finally, ask yourself how you might better respond to the situation. Deep breathing? Debunking those negative thoughts? What’s your self-awareness of your physical self? When is the last time you ate a balanced snack? Drank some water? Moved around or exercised? Got some quality sleep?

By becoming more aware of your own thoughts, feelings, actions, and triggers, you are more equipped to respond to the stressors of the world and make positive changes toward your own physical and emotional well-being with resilience and grace. We operate at our best when we know who we are, what we want, and how we feel.

Try This: Take some time in the next week and keep a journal of some stressful moments throughout the day, or periods of high emotion. At the end of the day, choose a couple of those moments in which you could have reacted rather than responded to a situation and try to identify the specific emotions, thoughts, and reactions that occurred. Ask yourself how you might have better responded to those situations.

Try This: Or, twice a day set a phone alarm to stop and take some time to breathe and focus on your desired changes (a quick recovery break twice a day). Ask yourself if your current actions and behaviors are moving you closer or further away to those changes. Then, list a few ways in which you could handle the situation better, whether that be walking the stairs a few times at work, or finding time to eat a healthy snack, or even calling home to a loved one.

By Dr. Lauren Hodges, CSCS, CNC