Two Exercises to Build Self-Awareness

  • 5 mins read

Our inner monologue runs nonstop, whether we pay attention to it or not. It is a valuable source of self-awareness and a key to knowing our blind spots. Some call it self-talk, mind chatter, or inner voice. It often tends to be negative and judgmental.
Even though our inner monologue filters, interprets, and gives meaning to our perceived experiences, we rarely acknowledge it?perhaps we donít like to catch ourselves being critical.
Yet, becoming consciously aware of these inner thoughts liberates us from being controlled by them. It is a first step toward greater self-awareness because it enables us to use our thoughts and beliefs to improve our lives.
Since self-awareness is so important to becoming emotionally intelligent?as well as being a foundational asset for leadership?it is worth our time and energy to learn how to listen to our inner monologue.
An Easy Exercise
To reveal your inner monologue, try this exercise suggested by Joshua Spodek in his book Leadership Step by Step: Becoming the Person Others Follow (Amazon Digital Services, 2017).

  1. Carry a notebook, smart phone, tablet, or recording device.
  2. A few times a day, write or record the words of your inner monologue as best you can, a few lines each time.

Each time you record a monologue will take about a minute. Do this exercise until youíve got a few dozen passages. Itís important to do it for several days, under different situations. For example, write down some self-talk at work, at home, alone, with people, and when feeling different emotions.
Simply record your dialogue without making any judgments. Judgment clouds the ability to be observant. The goal is to raise awareness of the words we use. If you find yourself being critical of someone, write down the words, not how you feel about the words. Later on, in a follow-up exercise, we can examine meaning, beliefs, and what to do about them.
This isnít as easy to do as you might think. We canít write as fast as we think. The very act of writing changes what we say and feel because we canít help but interpret at the same time. Persist and practice, focusing on getting the actual words used in self-talk onto the paper or screen, one line at a time.
Reflection and Learning
Next, reflect on your inner monologue.

  • What did you notice most?
  • Did you notice any trends?
  • How hard was it to be non-judgmental?

If youíre like most people, you might be surprised at the amount of negativity and critical content of your words. But hereís whatís important to know: you arenít necessarily a negative or critical person. Everyone is negative and judgmental, thatís the way the human brain works.
Knowing how your mind-chatter is always working enables you to influence it. It explains much about how you perceive and react to the world. It also influences how others perceive and react to you. This self-awareness helps you manage yourself emotionally Imagine how much easier it is to acknowledge how we can misperceive and misjudge situations and people when armed with enhanced self-awareness.
The more we understand that othersí minds work similarly, the more easily we can understand them. We can feel more empathy and compassion for others.
Write Your Beliefs
We generally donít notice how our minds work with assumptions and beliefs. For one thing, they are embedded, we take them for granted, and we assume they are universal truths. But beliefs are a way the mind filters out information. So as not to be overwhelmed with incoming perceptions, the mind forms a mental model or a representation of reality for a purpose.
Most people confuse their perception of the environment with the actual environment, concluding they canít change things because thatís the way things are. If we remember that our perceptions are the map and not the territory, then we realize we can be flexible in changing our beliefs and considering alternatives.
Unfortunately, most of us pride ourselves on our quick thinking and ability to size up people and situations, and thus we forget that our interpretation of reality is not reality.
What to Do

  1. Carry a notebook, smart phone, tablet, or recording device.
  2. When you notice a belief or interpretation of reality, write it down as best you can, a few lines at a time.

During a week or more, record a dozen beliefs or interpretations. Some beliefs that you notice will annoy you and others you will defend vigorously. The idea is to raise your awareness levels, not to make judgments.
Reflection and Learning
Next, reflect on your beliefs.

  • What did you notice most?
  • Did you notice any trends
  • How hard was it to be non-judgmental?

Many people are resistant to changing life-long beliefs, but remember, a belief is merely an interpretation weíve chosen at one time because it helped us understand reality. We are always at liberty to choose alternative beliefs if they are better suited to a new reality.

ďPeopleís greatest resistance to grow and develop often stems from inflexibility in changing beliefs or considering alternatives.Ē Joshua Spodek, Leadership Step by Step: Becoming the Person Others Follow

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