Inside: Self-awareness helps us show up to work, relationships, to all of life — with integrity and confidence. These 10 ideas will help you get to know yourself better and deepen your roots of self-awareness and self-compassion. This post may include affiliate links.
I heard a quote recently on one of my favourite podcasts, Being Well with Dr. Rick Hanson and Forrest Hanson, that caught my attention. Bad farmers grow weeds. Good farmers grow crops. Great farmers grow soil.
I want to grow healthy, fertile soil. I help my clients and community members grow healthy, rich soil in which to flourish and become and put down deep, hardy roots of self-awareness and self-compassion.
which comes first: self love, self care, or self awareness?
We hear a lot about self-care and self-love, but self-awareness doesn’t really have the same buzz factor. If to be known is to be loved, though, then the first step to loving yourself well is to get to know yourself. And in order to offer yourself meaningful and targeted care, you first need to own and understand the truth of who and how you are and what you want and need.
Furthermore, if we want to show up fully to life, with purpose, health, and joy in every season, and become our healthiest and truest selves, we must do the work to get to know our current patterns of thought and behaviour, our root fears and motivations, what lights us up or stresses us out.
An important aspect of self-awareness is identifying our strengths and our struggles and learning to do so shame and judgment-free. Parker Palmer teaches that “wholeness includes embracing brokenness or our shadow side as part of our true self. It is not weakness but courage to name and claim our shadow.” Without this level of honest awareness, we tend to stay stuck in our old patterns, chase meaningless goals, tip into comparison and trying to measure up or keep up, or repeat what was modeled to us, what feels safest, or most comfortable, instead of choosing a joyful and hopeful possibility that reflects our core values and deepest desires, honours our wiring, and helps us build a life that feels like home.
An important note: Coming home to ourselves is a process or journey more than a one-time end-goal. Rushing the process increases anxiety but not freedom or joy. We can breathe and take it slow and steady.
We are all in progress!
It wasn’t until I accepted myself just as I was in this moment, that I was free to change.Carl Rogers
unraveling identity as an exercise in self-awareness
As you work to unpeel the layers of who and how you are and you get to know yourself better, there will surely be moments of delight and feeling, perhaps for the first time ever, seen and affirmed. There will also likely be moments when you do not like what you see. This is uncomfortable but normal and good.
Neuroscience tells us that 95-97% of our identity is formed on a subconscious level. Behavior is not easy to change because it’s driven by our (subconscious) identities, core beliefs, and sense of potential. Therefore, working to identify and uproot, deconstruct, or heal as the case may be, these deeply rooted stories/beliefs/layers of identity is essential to moving into a new story.
There are many potentially helpful ways to do this work – in therapy, antiracism education, mindset work, grief support, and forging healthy, safe, and BRAVE COMMUNITY with other compassionate and growth-minded people, for instance. But I offer you a dip your toes in way to get started with my Exploring the Roots of Your Identity handout. Use it as a starting point for examining in your journal and/or in conversation in safe and brave spaces (including with your therapist) how each of these threads are woven through your unique story to this point in time. The worksheet is available when you sign up for The HOPE Map below (upon sign up you’ll receive a welcome email with a link to the ALIP resource library).
Owning the full, messy truth of who we are feels uncomfortable at first, but it is also freeing.
Often people I meet with feel unloved, unheard, unknown. And this is true in many cases but perhaps another truth is that they do not know or love themselves. It’s hard to be filled up by another if we don’t believe we are worthy of love.
No one else can truly meet our needs when we are unable to first identify what it is that we want and need.
10 ways to get to know yourself more deeply and honestly
Self-awareness helps us show up to work, relationships, to all of life – with integrity and a quiet confidence that is not easily shaken. It helps us move through the world less on auto-pilot and more on purpose, awake, conscious. These 10 ideas will help you get to know yourself better and I’ve offered an example from my personal life to help explain the benefit of each. If you’re ready to go deeper into the work, learn how to work with me 1:1 or in a group mentoring relationship.
1. Learn about Your Personality Traits
We are not our personality but it’s helpful and accessible to start here, gathering information via diverse personality models. All of them offer up “partial truth” or layers of information about how we think, see the world, typically behave, our strengths, etc. One of my top two favourite tools for self-awareness and self-compassion is The Enneagram; I think it can be life changing. Inside the Brave + Beautiful Community you can work through my Exploring the Enneagram Course as a special bonus. The Enneagram has been one of the most powerful tools in my life for helping me come home to myself and operate in my gifting, in helping me handcraft a sustainable and values-based business that I love, and it has positively impacted all of my significant relationships.
My second top tool or recommendation is to learn about the trait of Sensory Processing Sensitivity or if you are a Highly Sensitive Person. Discovering years ago that I am a Highly Sensitive Soul (and not just broken or ill equipped for this world) changed my life for the better and helped me begin to love myself. It also healed shame, opened the door for me to forgive myself for struggling so hard, and helped me understand my past. Beyond these two tools, you might use Myers Briggs, Love Languages, The Four Tendencies, The Disc Model, The Kolbe Index, The Big 5, learn about introversion/extroversion, a perfectionism inventory, and/or this stress quiz to gather information about yourself.
2. Identify your core values
Identify your 3-5 core values for this season of life. Consider if they are reflected on your calendar, in your spending, in your health habits, your current project goals, etc. My core values are freedom, brave and compassionate relationship/community, integrity, curiosity, and contribution. These serve as filters in all my decision making; my work, health habits, spending, and the small daily choices I make each ordinary day are firmly rooted in these values. At my birthday each year I choose a new mantra and review my values. Out of these flow any intentions or goals I set for the year ahead.
3. Notice your inner dialogue
The thoughts that circle in our minds and the way we speak to ourselves offer clues about our core beliefs, the stories we believe about our worth or capacity or about the world. Observe your inner dialogue and the voice of your inner critic if this applies to you – are you mean to yourself, would you talk to anyone else the way you speak to yourself? Ideally, you’ll learn not only to observe or notice but to examine and then shift your thoughts or consciously choose your response to them. But for now, simply notice.
Noticing requires a pause, an interruption to your habitual patterns, and this alone – learning to pause between impulse and response – is a powerful skill that will serve you well (it serves ALL of us well). As you practice this, be patient! I’ve been doing this work for years and still I notice that my first instinct is most often judgement. But when I pause, whether for two minutes, two hours, or two days depending on the need, what I notice next is that my second instinct is almost always curiosity and compassion. I now believe that the goal is not to avoid all thoughts or feelings of negativity, judgment, or fear, but to realize I am not controlled by them.
4. Ask yourself what You REALly Want
What do you truly want in life? Differentiate this from what your friends want or what society tells you that you should want or even what you used to want. Let go of judgement or embarrassment and tell the truth about what you want – in detail. Complete a Life Visioning Exercise: You may do this via a Pinterest board, traditional vision board, through drawing, writing, or mind mapping. Engage your senses to create a detailed, vivid picture of the life you desire. Consider the various categories that help form your full life: Contribution, Relationships, Health, Home environment, Play/Pleasure, and so on. How do you show up to life? What does your life feel, sound, look like? How do you expend your time/energy/resources and move through your days? What type of connection, creativity, and work do you engage in?
I have a clear and compelling Life Vision and I’m grateful for this. When my son died, my world was rocked and I felt battered, broken open, and in horrendous emotional and spiritual pain. A culmination of a year of trauma before his death, trying to keep him alive, a serious car accident, his suicide, and then Covid on top of it all resulted in me living for 17 months with PTSD and severe panic disorder. It was hard and I am astounded that I made it through. Yet I was not blown off course. I shared with friends that it felt like I was crawling at first, barely, hands and knees bloodied, and only with lots of help. Then I began limping along with a cane, next walking slowly but with increasing steadiness. Through all of it, I was walking out my Life Vision, eyes and heart focused on my path. The clarity of vision for my life – for who I choose to be today and where I’m heading – has anchored me in the middle of this storm.
5. consider the story you tell yourself
We all have a story – does yours serve you or are you ready to write a new one? What led you to where you are today, what are your most impactful memories, what are your strengths (natural and acquired), where do you tend to struggle, do you have any labels/diagnoses and if you trust yourself, do these “fit” or not, do you like/love yourself, how do you describe yourself? Just because life has been one way for decades does not mean it has to stay that way. You CAN write a new story for your life.
For much of my life I did not find living easy. I struggled with suicidality and depression, feelings of low self-worth and lived with a vicious inner critic. There were times I despaired and wondered if change was possible. It didn’t FEEL possible. But change did come. Slow and steady, because I took one small step and then another and picked myself up when I fell, learned to ask for help and treat myself with compassion, my experience of life changed profoundly. I began writing a new story for my life.
6. DIG IN TO FIGURE OUT what LIES below the surface of your emotions
Go deeper than surface emotions. Whenever you notice anxiety, anger, jealousy, delight, peace, resentment, etc, try to first of all pause and notice. Then if you’re able (and resourced to do so) go one layer deeper. What lies beneath the surface emotion? Why are you happy, what is triggering you, what is the story you’re believing in the moment, what’s happening in your body? There are no good or bad emotions – only human emotions. They’re all important messengers.
Here’s an example from my life: when I notice resentment I’ve learned it is a red flag or clue that I have a leaky boundary in my life. Instead of taking resentment at face value, I go deeper. I look underneath the resentment to figure out where I need to shift, tighten up a boundary or create/enforce a new one, where I need to ask for help, use my voice, care for myself better, etc. There is always something I can take action on to remind myself of my agency and respond with kindness to the emotion of resentment.
7. ask yourself what you really need
What do you need to live mind-body-heart healthy? I don’t mean broad health information but your unique and specific boundaries, limitations, mental or physical health realities, etc.? What helps you feel safe and at home in your own skin? What are the 20% of habits that lead to 80% of positive results in your life? What makes you happy and can you make space for more of this? What type of rest do you crave in this season? Are your relationships positive and do they support you in walking in freedom and health? This isn’t static; I recommend checking in at least quarterly to ensure that you are living mind-body-heart healthy. When working with a client I might suggest several brief check-ins throughout the day to ask what do I need in this moment?
On a personal note, Seasonal Living offers me a way of being and moving through the world that feels gentle, compassionate, and honest. It allows space for both rest and productivity, for ebb and flow, turning inward and engaging outward. It encourages regular mindful check-ins, permission to feel the full gamut of human emotion, and it awakens me to the beauty and wisdom in every season. If you’re curious, you can use my Seasonal Mindfulness Journals or join me inside the Brave Beautiful Membership Community this fall to learn how to adopt and apply a Seasonal Living framework to your life.
8. make space for stillness and rest
To deepen self-awareness it is helpful to make space for stillness or silence in our day and week. As a micro-goal or accessible starting point, try to commit to even 10-20 mins/day to simply BE so that you can practice listening in. Over time, increase the breathing room in your day and week. Depending on your wiring you may need to get a little radical and release a whole lot of busyness and clutter so that you have at least a couple of hours every single day to rest and rejuvenate in order to feel whole. Depending on your current season of life, rest or stillness can look very different.
There is no one right way to do life and whether you’re at home with little people, or recuperating from surgery or trauma, or mostly ok but finally admitting your patterns of sacrificing self to people-please or earn your worth, you need rest and exhale and permission to quiet all the noise, even for a few minutes, to pay attention to your body and inner world. In this season some of my favourite ways of making space for stillness or rest include lunar tracking/journaling, walks in the woods, listening to fiction on Scribd, a “rest hour” from 4-5 pm each day, etc. I have always needed ample rest but as I heal from trauma I need far more permission to rest and just BE than ever before. Telling the truth about this helps me show up with joy in every season (this doesn’t mean I feel joy in every moment but that I allow joy to live side by side with grief, pain, or anger, etc.).
9. Ask for honesty from others
Reach out to a few people who know you well and who you trust to be honest (and also kind). Ask them to share the strengths and struggles they witness in you. Only ask if you feel strong and steady enough to make space for them to be honest. Otherwise, what do you notice people often affirm you for and what behaviors often lead to conflict or frustration in your life/relationships? We all have blind spots and benefit from outside perspectives at times (though choose wisely whose voice you listen to). A therapist, grief circle, best friend, or sister might fit the bill nicely.
The past couple years in particular, when I notice lots of affirmation coming in through email/social media or however else, I pause and take notice. It’s often exactly the moment that I need to let those kind, affirming words sink in deep and fill me up so that I am strengthened to continue. Some people I know keep a file of kind words to pull out when life feels heavy or dark. Sometimes, my inner circle of friends and I will reach out to each other and ask for affirmation or encouragement in our low spots – there is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about though it feels vulnerable – we NEED each other and asking for what we need is a strength and reflection of wisdom.
10. prune your inner circle if needed
Not everyone deserves space in our “inner circle.” Who have you allowed access to your time and emotional/physical energy and do they merit that place and influence in your life? How do you feel after spending time with them? Do you like them and if not always then do you respect them (sometimes we love someone and still do not desire a relationship with them)? Do they model the character or values you aspire to? Do you hide parts of yourself with them or merge/conform or do you feel permission to be real and seen in the fully messy and beautiful truth of who you are? The people we allow into our circle of impact absolutely influence our wellbeing.
An example (I don’t remember the source): When you become happy, a friend living close by has a 25% higher chance of also becoming happy, your spouse experiences an 8% increase and your next-door neighbors get a 34% happiness boost! The social network effect can spread happiness up to 3 degrees — reaching friends of friends. This is not to say that we should ditch our loved ones if they don’t live in perpetual happiness (none of us do and real life can be hard at times!) but it’s an example to illustrate that we are impacted by the people we surround ourselves with.
I choose to spend time with growth-minded people taking responsibility for their wellbeing and contribution to the world, who live aligned with similar values, who are not afraid to question, grapple, and examine their beliefs, and who love and accept me as I am and cheer me onward (and of course I offer them the same gift).
IMAGINE BEING PART OF A PRIVATE COMMUNITY TO TALK ABOUT THE THINGS THAT TRULY MATTER TO YOU
The Brave + Beautiful Membership Community is a place for brave and weary, growth-minded women to come aside and rest awhile, be nourished and strengthened, mind, body, and soul, so that you are able to show up fully to life and continue your journey to freedom.
Sustainable and meaningful growth begins with self-awareness
We must wake up to the truth of how we’ve learned to operate in this world, the ways we learned to feel safe or loved or get our needs met – to create space or a pause to witness and observe, with curiosity not judgment.
“Becoming” requires a realistic assessment of who and how we are, of both our strengths and limitations. We must get honest about who we are, where we are, our stories and struggles, and our gifting too. First, we need to see and tell the truth about who we are, then we can take positive action to move closer to who and how we choose to be (and the truth that we always get to choose our response in life).
While this may seem obvious to some, what I’ve experienced is that most people do not truly know themselves.
They do not feel they are living with intention or living true to themselves yet are afraid to slow down long enough to go inward and do the soul-stretching (and sometimes intimidating, always vulnerable) work that leads to becoming their happiest, healthiest, truest selves.
I also see in my work that this is not usually a conscious choice but a matter of not knowing there is another option. If we haven’t seen something modelled or heard about it, our minds don’t offer it up as an option to us. Trauma, abuse, or system oppression add another layer of difficulty to this.
An example of this is how on May 6, 1954, Sir Roger Bannister did the impossible by breaking the four-minute mile. No one had done it before and Bannister was told that it was impossible and even dangerous to his health. He did not give up, and when he made history running a 3:59:04 mile, “it left the world stunned, and helped shatter a collective mental barrier” (source). He changed what other runners believed was possible and they too began breaking the previous world record. It was a paradigm shift that led to this new possibility.
The paradigm shift I’m interested in is helping us own the truth that we are not bad, wrong, or broken, but interesting, beautiful, and diverse humans in progress. That struggle or pain is part of being human in a messy world and not an indication of worthiness, strength, or value. Joy and pain can and do coexist in a full, beautiful, meaningful life, if we allow it. We’ll never have life all perfectly figured out but we can learn to stay rooted and whole in the midst of uncertainty. We are allowed to be messy and weird and hurting and hopeful and in progress, and love and like every bit of ourselves as we go.
“In nature,” Alice Walker writes, “nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.” Our weirdness isn’t a problem. Shame and judgement are the problem. The messiness of life is not the real problem (or at least it is not something we can control entirely); shame and judgment, resistance to the reality of what it means to be fully alive and awake in a messy world is what causes the problem.
This is fertilizer for a beautiful life. Water for a parched soul. The stuff that grows healthy soil.
NOW WHAT? If you don’t remember who you are, need a big paradigm shift, or want to build a friendship with yourself, I invite you to join me inside the Brave + Beautiful Community. This is a private online membership, capped at 60 women, where we learn, question, practice, and share life together. Give yourself the gift of coming home to yourself.
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