Self-awareness is the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively through reflection and introspection.
While it may not be possible to attain total objectivity about oneself (that’s a debate that continues to rage throughout the history of philosophy), there are certainly degrees of self-awareness. It exists on a spectrum.
This is not the place to debate what is the ‘self’ or even whether it exists at all, a much bigger metaphysical or religious discussion. In this attitude of being self-aware what we are seeking is an increased awareness of what is here, to be an observer of ourselves, maybe observing what is observing, however you choose to define yourself at this moment.
This is an observing exercise, not an exercise in judging or changing anything that we observe. We also need to be careful not to go off into an imagined version of what we observe in this respect or think back to how we recall it used to be or how it might be in the future. We are aiming to observe what is here, now.
In observing, it can be useful to consider three aspects.
Firstly, there is the internal world of the mind. This might include noticing thoughts, feelings, and emotions. We might find there are reflections, memories, stories or maybe we observe our rules or values arising. These elements that arise in the mind can often be seen as things that define who we are. It has been suggested that everything we experience only exists in the mind; this is where it is all processed as it were.
The second consideration that is often related to the self is the body. The embodiment of who we are, the physical representation, our form in the world. Other people cannot see into our minds, but they can see our physical presence. Being aware of the self as the body could include the shape of our body, its position in space, its movements, and interactions. It may be being aware of specific aspects of the body, like hands, feet, or the back. Maybe smaller areas like fingertips or the nostrils. You may be aware of the senses and the messages they bring to the mind through sight, smell, sound, tastes and touch. It can be easy to be consciously aware of these elements, but there are also things about the body we are not always aware of, such as autonomous reactions of the body, changes in the breath, a tensing ready to move, settling and relaxing, physical impacts of emotions. When we pause and become more mindful these things can come into our awareness.
Thirdly who we are can be represented through our external environment, and visa-versa, our external environment can affect our sense of self, for instance through our body, emotions, experiences, and sense of place in the world. People can be seen as totally different in the office to when at home playing with their children, sometime to the degree that others might think they are different people. An event in the world, such as experiencing a strangers kindness may change the way we think about others, a place may make us feel very good or feel sad or going on holiday may result in us physically being more relaxed. You may need to change how ‘you are’ due to the context or the rules around a workplace, changes that we often make unconsciously.
This is being aware of our life experience as it happens moment by moment, accepting what is happening, and letting go of what went before or our expectation of how it should be. It is a form of acceptance, of not making judgements about what we are aware of, but merely about being open to all that is happening for us, in the elements we view as making up ’me’ in the current moment. It is also accepting that things change and that different elements may come to play a part of us, a thought, an emotion a pain in our leg, but that they may go again. Self-awareness is noticing these arriving, maybe being around a while, but generally going away again.
All too often we are judging ourselves, comparing ourselves to others, trying to be what we think we should be, or what we think others think we should be, creating an image which we try to become. This is about noticing that and going past it to what is underneath, what is actually there, at this moment that is part of you being you.
You could practice this in the body awareness or body scan meditations. As you practice these are you aware of the body as it is or your mental image of how you think it is? Alternatively, if you are labelling thoughts, are they just thoughts or did you feel that the thought was you, did you feel happy or is there a feeling of happiness?
PositivePsychology.com (2010) What is self-awareness and why is it important available online https://positivepsychology.com/self-awareness-matters-how-you-can-be-more-self-aware/