How to Develop Self-Awareness: The Basics

A few years ago when I first moved back from Madrid, I was checking out a new brewery in my town when I bumped into Heather, an old friend from my performing group days. As it turns out, she knew the guy I was with. When he asked us how we knew each other, we explained how we had been in the same performing group and had toured together years ago.

Then she said, “Miriam was so good with the kids! She was the one that could get a kid, who hadn’t spoken in months, to get up and sing a solo that had everyone in tears. She had a gift for bringing out the best in people.”

That is NOT how I remembered it.

In fact, if there was something I was always telling people, it's that I wished I knew what I was good at. I don’t know about you, but when I was in my 20s I felt like I wasn’t good at anything. Top that off with being surrounded by incredibly talented and intelligent people, I couldn’t help but feel inadequate. I was constantly wishing I was good at something… ANYTHING.

It just goes to show you that time and perspective are our greatest teachers.

Running into Heather and countless others over the last three years has made me realize that our own skewed view can keep us from seeing that which we so desperately seek.

One of the things I love to research is self-awareness. Last year, every book and article I read was about being more mindful, having more self-compassion, positive psychology, etc. Part of it came from just sheer curiosity. I think it’s super cool to know that a personality quiz or book can tell you more about yourself than you can. It’s kind of creepy, to be honest, but still cool! When it comes to revamping your life or career, the best place to start looking is inward.

Benefits of Developing Self-Awareness

What is Self-Awareness?

As defined by Daniel Goleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence, self-awareness is “recognizing a feeling as it happens”. It’s pretty straightforward. You get angry, you realize you’re angry. I’d go on to add knowing why you’re feeling what you’re feeling is that deeper level of self-awareness.

Why is it Important?

Being aware of our emotions can bring moments of clarity during decision making in the workplace, at home, or in our relationships. Knowing what triggers us and how we react to those triggers can allow us to break the patterns that have held us back in the past. It empowers us to make changes where we don’t like what we see.

Feeling stuck SUCKS and so does not knowing how to begin to get out of it. Knowing what you want is a great place to start, but getting there can look different for every person, even if the goals are the same. Our strengths aren’t always that obvious to us, which is why I look to other sources to help me see some of my blind spots.


10 Ways to Start Developing Self-Awareness

While there are tons of books and resources out there that dive into the topic of self-awareness, there are a few I used to get started that I would love to share with you.

Photo by  Steven Spassov

Personality Tests

1. Myers-Briggs Personality Test

“What’s your sign?” has now been replaced with “What’s your Myers-Briggs type?” in most of my initial conversations with people (though I will say, I like to know both). There are a total of 16 personality types, each made of four letters which represent different ways in which you interact with the world and others. You can read about it here. Like all quizzes, give yourself the time and space to take the test for the most accurate results. You can take the free test here.

When I found out I was an ENFJ, there were a ton of things that started to make sense, from what profession I had chosen, to how I interacted with people in the workplace. It’s surprisingly accurate.

2. Introvert-Extrovert-Ambivert test

The first thing to clarify here is that you can be an introvert, extrovert, or an ambivert, which falls somewhere in between. There are a lot of misconceptions around these terms. Luckily, there are some informative resources out there that help clarify. First, I suggest taking the test.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out I was an ambivert. Why? Well for one, it’s a great conversation topic. Most people don’t know there’s a third type. The other reason is that people automatically assume things about you when you tell them you’re an introvert or an extrovert.

3. Strengths Finder

The book by Tom Rath was the most enlightening for me because it shows you how your strengths can be beneficial in many situations, including work. You can buy the book and it includes a code for the test. If you borrow the book from the library, you can purchase the test here.

I realized that when it came to the workplace, I had a hard time specifying what I did well. After reading the book and taking the quiz, my results for my top five skills were as follows:

Empathy, Connectedness, Intellection, Learner, and Harmony

After reading the descriptions, I realized I actually had the best combination strengths I could hope for.

Recently, I read Jon Acuff’s Do Over: Make Today the First Day of Your New Career and as I was nearing the end of the book, I came across a chapter on my first strength, empathy, and how it can be crucial in your “career do over”.  When it came to my second strength, connectedness, I realized that I had unintentionally become the point person for organizing events that cultivated a sense of community in every single one of my jobs and experiences.

This information is helpful in life and crucial when making big life changes, such as a career move.


4. The 5 Love Languages - Gary Chapman

This book by Gary Chapman identifies the five ways in which people give and receive love:

  • Words of Affirmation

  • Acts of Service

  • Receiving Gifts

  • Quality Time

  • Physical Touch

By understanding which Love Languages we use, we can gain a clear understanding of how we interact with others and how we can improve our relationships.

5. What To Say When You Talk To Your Self - Dr. Shad Helmstetter

The way we talk to ourselves has a huge impact on the way we interact with the world around us and the lens from which we see the world from. This book by Dr. Shad Helmstetter shows us how to rethink the way we talk and think to ways that are more positive and productive.

Tips & Rituals

6. Ask Friends About Yourself

No one knows you better than your friends, family, and close work colleagues. That is why asking them to describe what you’re good at or list the top five words that come to mind when they think of you can be informative in many ways. For one, you can see if any words come up multiple times and see if there are any common themes. You also get a sense of whether or not the way people see you aligns with the way you think you’re presenting yourself.  If this idea scares you, I feel you! I had to do this as part of my business course and it TERRIFIED me, but in the end, it turned out fine.

7. Write In Your Journal Every Day

Journaling has many benefits, especially when it comes to developing self-awareness. For one, journaling allows you to release the thoughts that are just constantly swirling around in your brain. It allows you to look back in time to notice recurring themes and patterns. You can also scan for what triggers your sadness, anger, or frustration. It’s a great mindfulness practice; a great destresser.

Photo by  Daria Shevtsova

I’ve been journaling since the end of 8th grade! It was interesting looking back on my diaries from my teenage years. Embarrassing, but interesting! There are things I'd completely forgotten about that when I reread them, it’s like seeing those flashback scenes in a movie. It’s the trippiest thing! The craziest thing is finding that I can trace some patterns back all the way to my teenage years, which helps me a bit more in understanding and addressing them. My favorite thing of all is going back to read entries from some of the most difficult times in my life because it reminds me that things do get better.

8. Meditation

For those of you who have never meditated before, keep reading! Let’s get something out of the way. Many people refuse to meditate because they think “I can’t clear my mind. It’s impossible”. The goal of meditation is not to clear the mind, but rather to notice the thoughts and then let them go. That’s all it is! With apps like Headspace making it easier and more accessible, there’s no better time to try it out. If you’re looking for some science to back-up the hype, check out this page here.

For me, meditation has done wonders. As someone who has suffered from anxiety since 7th-grade, it has significantly reduced my panic attacks. It has also reduced how often I feel anxiety because I’m not just letting things simmer in my mind like food in a crockpot. It’s nice because it allows you to restart your day if you want to. If things just aren’t going right, you can set your intention for a better day, meditate for 10 minutes, and then there you go!

9. Opt Outside

Spent my 30th birthday hiking in Palm Springs

Spent my 30th birthday hiking in Palm Springs

If sitting alone with your thoughts isn’t something you feel up to trying just yet, how about a hike? Spending time in nature has been shown to decrease depression and anxiety (I can attest to that). It makes you put your phone away for big chunks of time and just focus on the present moment, which is where happiness resides. Often our worries stem from digging into old wounds or anticipating something that has yet to come. Be present, be curious, and most of all, be observant. You never know what you’ll see if you just stop and look around!

10. Self-Care

Let me start by saying this: At a minimum, feeding yourself, drinking enough water, and getting enough sleep is the foundation for developing self-awareness. Though it’s been revamped, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs understood that if you are constantly hungry, you aren’t going to be able to focus on anything else but that hunger. I’m sure we’ve all been hangry a time or two. I know for me, it isn't pretty. Ask anyone who was with me about my infamous hanger outburst in Morocco during the summer of 2010. Yikes.

Self-care is more about just taking care of your body. It's about mind, body, and soul. Nourish yourself with things that make you come alive. 

Photo by  Carolyn V

Photo by Carolyn V

Final Tips

Developing self-awareness is truly a lifelong process. You certainly don’t need to do all of the things on this list to start getting a sense of who you are, but they can help if you haven’t got a clue on where to start. The key is to remain consistent, patient, and compassionate with yourself. It isn’t easy. Sometimes we find out things about ourselves that we don’t want to know, but that’s part of the process. The greatest thing is knowing that if you are looking to bring about change in your life, it really does start and end with you.


What has been your journey in developing self-awareness? Is there anything not on this list that you can suggest? Leave a comment below!