How Not to Know Thyself with Yashi Srivastava
How well do we know ourselves? Where might we have blind spots? How can we get past them? To explore these topics, we invited Yashi Srivastava, a coach who is passionate about helping people cultivate inner peace.
This is part of the “I Believe” series, so the first question is, “Yashi, what do you believe that others in the coaching field might not believe?”
To watch the complete interview, click here or play the embedded video below.
Myths and Beliefs about Self-Awareness
Let me begin with something that most people would accept, that self-awareness is important. The expression “Know thyself” has been around for thousands of years. We often hear that self-awareness is the foundation for making changes in your life.
But I believe there are myths around self-awareness . Others in my field might find it surprising that I believe these are myths.
Myth 1: I’ve come to believe that self-awareness is much more complex than just looking inward and paying attention to thoughts and feelings.
We both studied applied positive psychology. We learned about psychological science, including some of the strengths and limitations that people have as a species. Learning these things about humans in general enhanced my self-awareness. In my master research paper, I categorized self-awareness as having two different levels. One is the individual level of self-awareness, which is often what we think about when we look inward. The other is the universal level of self-awareness, which comes from learning how people in general work. Both are important aspects of self-awareness.
Myth 2: People often say that the best way to become more self-aware is introspection, looking inward, analyzing thoughts and feelings, and asking questions such as, “Why am I feeling this way?” or “Why did I respond that way?” It turns out that introspection has limitations. People need to go beyond it.
With introspection, we only have access to the conscious part of our minds, which have significantly less real estate than the subconscious parts. No matter how much we look inward, we just can’t see what happens at the automatic levels of our minds.
Remember the metaphor of the rider on the elephant. The elephant is the subconscious mind. The rider is the conscious mind. With introspection, we only have access to the rider. But the elephant is driving most of our behavior. We don’t consciously know what’s going on with the elephant.
Sources of Self-Awareness
In her book, Insight: The Power of Self-Awareness in a Deluded World, Tasha Eurich separates internal self-awareness from external self-awareness. Internal self-awareness involves looking inward and learning more about our own thoughts and feelings. External self-awareness involves becoming more aware of the ways that other people see us.
One of the biggest ways that we can learn more about ourselves is through feedback. We see this all the time in our work as coaches. The 360 assessments can be a source of useful insights. But honest feedback is difficult to get and difficult to receive. That is especially true when the way we see ourselves is significantly different from the way others see us, particularly when they see us in poorer lights than we see ourselves. Then it becomes really difficult to accept and incorporate feedback.
But to become more self-aware, we need to be open to receiving feedback. Maybe we make conscious choices about whose feedback we take in and whose feedback we let go of. We don’t have to take all feedback and internalize everything, but it is important to look at feedback from a neutral objective perspective and reflect whether what we hear about ourselves actually happens. Other people often have insights into us that we don’t have ourselves.
Whom Should We Get Feedback From?
It works best to get feedback that we can trust. For each individual, it may vary. I know there are people in my life who might be able to give me helpful feedback, but they would be too critical. I’m hesitant to ask them for feedback. I tend to choose people whom I trust, who will be kind in delivering even critical feedback, and who have my best interests at heart. My husband and some close friends are good examples.
But it doesn’t have to be just family or friends. It might be a coach. When I hire a coach to help me, the coach might make an observation about me that I hadn’t seen myself. I can trust that feedback because it’s neutral. If the person giving feedback doesn’t have vested interest, I tend to trust the feedback more.
Feedback can be in a variety of domains. Before I came to know about the self-awareness research, I was really hesitant to share my writing with anybody. I would be crushed if I received any critical feedback on my writing products. Because I learned that I need feedback in order to grow as a writer, I’ve joined a writers’ workshop. Now I actively seek feedback on my writing, and I can see that it helps me grow. Looking at feedback as an opportunity to learn and grow involves a bit of a mindset shift. If you value self-awareness, then that is one of the best things that you can do for yourself.
How Do We Check the Accuracy of Feedback?
With time, when we receive feedback, we start to see patterns. When more than one people gives us the same feedback and it’s not something that we usually think about ourselves, then there might be some substance to it. By no means am I saying to take in any feedback that we get. We can get some distance so that we aren’t viewing it in an emotional state before evaluating whether the feedback is applicable or not. We can look for patterns. How many people have said it? Is that true? Does it show up in our behaviors? We can ask for examples. We can definitely investigate feedback that comes in as a surprise.
Whenever Angela Duckworth gives a talk, she always asks the organizers, “What is one thing I can do better next time?” In a sense, she’s always gathering feedback. That is such an excellent demonstration of how people who are good at it do it. I used to work with a leader who was also good at it. He said, “I already get enough feedback about the things that I’m good at. I want to know what I can do better.” He was passionate about growing as a leader.
What Does Your Self-Awareness Journey Look Like?
Eight or nine years ago, I was going through a really challenging period in my life. I kept coming across the idea that our thoughts have an impact on the outcomes of our lives. I started asking myself, “So, what are the thoughts that I’m having that are leading to all these challenges in my life?” That was when I became conscious that I needed to be more aware of what I’m thinking. That was the start of the journey.
Initially, it was trial and error. But when I studied positive psychology and learned about happiness, I realized that self-awareness seemed really foundational to my happiness. But we were not really focusing explicitly on self-awareness. I decided to write my capstone about it. I started my capstone thinking that I knew what self-awareness was and how it connected to happiness. I was quite surprised by some of these findings that I’m sharing with you. Since then, I’ve definitely gotten humbler when it comes to self-awareness. I know that it’s going to be a lifelong journey.
First, self-awareness is complex. To really value it, start by expanding your definition of self-awareness. That’s what I did in my capstone, Take Charge of Your Happiness by Taking Charge of Your Self: Enhancing Well-being Through Greater Self-awareness.
If I could snap my fingers to make something happen it would be to have people really internalize the idea that feedback is a gift. It’s an opportunity to learn and grow. That means not shying away from the initial discomfort that may come with it.
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Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.