How to Increase Your Self-Awareness

Melissa McMillan looking off into the distance, thinking.

I used to think I was self-aware, but more recently I’ve started to question if that is actually true. And, whether I like it or not, the data supports my questioning. 

The reality is, most of us are not self-aware. Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist, and her team of researchers conducted a 5,000 participant scientific study on self-awareness. They found that while most people believe they are self-aware, only about 10%-15% of people actually see themselves clearly.

Shocking, I know. 

But think about it, most of us want to believe we are truly self-aware because it feels good. It makes us feel simultaneously in control and proud of ourselves. Saying, “I’m completely unaware of who I am,” doesn’t invoke our favorite feelings, does it? So, instead of facing that reality, we lie to ourselves and live comfortably on the edges of our outer worlds without ever going inwards.

Or, as Richard Rohr wrote in the opening paragraph of his book, Everything Belongs:

“We are a circumference people, with little access to the center. We live on the boundaries of our own lives ‘in the widening gyre,’ confusing edges with essence, too quickly claiming the superficial as substance.”

All of this, of course, begs the question: how do we become more self-aware? How do we access our true centers? The common thought is to simply be more introspective. After all, isn’t that what we mean by “going inwards”? Not exactly. 

Photo Credit: Debra Snell Photography

According to the research, introspection doesn’t actually work. Or, at least, the way in which we tend to introspect doesn’t work. In fact, in her TED Talk, Eurich explained that introspective people are more stressed and depressed, and have less satisfaction in their jobs and relationships.

Again, shocking, I know. 

So, what is the solution to self-awareness? Eurich says the key is to ask what, not why. Asking why only leads to hamster wheel thinking and biased insights about ourselves that might feel true, but could be completely wrong in reality. As Richard Rohr also wrote in Everything Belongs, “we prefer fabricated realities to the strong and sensitizing face of what is.”

Asking what produces growth.

When you introspect, DON’T ask yourself:

Why do I feel this way?

Why am I like this?

Why did I do that?

Instead, DO ask yourself:

What is making me feel this way?

What do I want be like?

What could I do differently in the future?

This obviously takes practice because I suspect, for most of us, our knee jerk reaction is to ask why. But practicing “what” questions is worth it, if it leads to real self-awareness and the benefits that come with self-awareness, like confidence, creativity, better relationships and a stronger moral compass. 


If you’re ready to become more self-aware, my Get Growing course is for you! In this self-paced online course, I’ll guide you through a series of videos and worksheets full of the “what” questions that get you unstuck and keep you moving forward on your personal growth journey.

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