Boredom sometimes yields very interesting results.

About six years ago, Tasha Eurich was in a work lull. Her coaching clients were on vacation for the winter holidays, and feeling the bug to accomplish something anyway she began to dig into one of her favorite topics—psychology. Tasha had noticed that many of her clients expressed a desire to see themselves clearly, to clarify who they were, and understand how others perceived them. A correlation was emerging between this self-awareness and her clients’ overall confidence and success, so she delved into the available literature. It quickly became clear that very little research had gone into the topic of self-awareness from a scientific standpoint. So Tasha did what any self-respecting Organizational Psychologist would do.

She decided to study self-awareness.

“[I]t’s funny, because I think self-awareness is such a management buzzword now, but ultimately we actually didn’t know very much from a scientific standpoint. So sort of naively, I kind of had this moment of like, Well, I’ll figure it out.”

It took her team almost a year to truly define what they meant by “self-awareness,” eventually coalescing around the idea that we have two types of knowledge about ourselves: internal (knowing who we are) and external (knowing how other people see us). People who demonstrate knowledge of both these insights enjoy more successful careers, build better relationships and are generally regarded as living “better” lives. Although 95% of people believe that they are self-aware when asked, the study discovered a fascinating truth: only 10-15% of individuals are actually self-aware (individuals that Tasha and her team came to call Self-Awareness Unicorns).

“I always say that on a good day, 80% of us are lying to ourselves about whether we’re lying to ourselves…[a]nd that discovery actually ended up being one of the most powerful precursors of increasing my own self-awareness. And that’s what the journey is…there’s some discoveries that were a little disheartening, but I actually see that as a really important step for all of us in our self-awareness.”

The good news is that it is possible to become more self-aware. The bad news? We have to be willing to admit that we aren’t already.

Join us as Tasha and I dissect the nuances of self-awareness; how incremental improvement can change the way we see ourselves; and how musical theatre may have contributed to Tasha’s fascination with the human mind.

Takeaways from this episode:

  • Internal self-awareness and external self-awareness are completely independent of each other; it is possible to have one without the other, or to have both.
  • Internal and external self-awareness require completely different skill sets and actions
  • Individuals who are prone to self-reflection have been shown to be less self-aware than other individuals. After digging in, Tasha’s team noticed a correlation between individuals asking “why” questions (“Why did this happen? Why would they think this? Why should it matter?”) and negative emotions, including anxiety and depression.
  • Quote from Tasha’s NYT bestselling book Insight: “So the bottom line, why questions draw us to our limitations; what questions help us see our potential. Why questions stir up negative emotions; what questions keep us curious. Why questions trap us in our past; what questions help us create a better future. And making the transition from why to what can be the difference between victimhood and growth.”
  • Sometimes when we need to help others become more self-aware we need to be kind and compassionate but very specific and candid about how they are seen. It is best to avoid evaluative language (for example, saying someone was aggressive) and instead focus on what specifically occurred (“you banged your fist on the table three times and raised your voice”). It is harder for someone to argue against facts than evaluations.
  • Journaling is helpful, when done properly—if you spend too much time on “why” questions and emotions, you will wallow in the past. Tasha suggests asking yourself three questions:
    • What went well today?
    • What didn’t go quite as well today?
    • How can I be smarter tomorrow?

Links Mentioned in this Episode:

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