Isaac Newton is regarded as one of the most logical thinkers ever. But, in 1720, he made a very irrational decision that caused him to lose a good portion of his fortune. Newton got caught up in the South Sea Bubble—one of the world’s largest financial crashes. 1
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The bubble began when the South Sea Company underwrote the British National Debt of £30 million on a guarantee of 5% interest from the Government. 2 Behind the scenes, a toxic combination of insider trading, Government bribes, and fraud caused company shares to swell far beyond their actual value.
From January to August of that year, shares skyrocketed from £128.5 to over £1,000. As stock prices rose to unrealistic levels, Newton made the wise decision to sell his shares for a 100% profit.
However, as prices continued to rise, the logical genius uncharacteristically decided to reinvest his earnings. By September, the market crashed, taking Newton’s fortune with it. 3
Even Newton himself was surprised by his decision. After the crash, he reportedly said, ‘[he could] calculate the motions of the heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.’ 4
Why would one of the world’s most logical thinkers make such a foolish decision? The answer is simple. Newton’s fateful decision is the result of a lack of self-awareness.
Self-awareness is the ability to manage your emotions, recognize your tendencies, and align your behavior with your values. As stock prices rose, Newton’s emotions took over and persuaded him to reinvest his earnings.
Self-awareness is a fundamental skill that impacts nearly everything you say and do. High self-awareness improves your ability to communicate, build relationships, and make decisions. In fact, studies show that 83% of top performers rate high in self-awareness.
Unfortunately, self-awareness isn’t easy to master. According to author Tasha Eurich, 95% of people believe they are self-aware when only 10-15% are. 5 Therefore, it’s likely that you’d benefit from becoming more self-aware.
This article can help. I’ll teach you what self-awareness is, dispel some self-awareness myths, and show you how to become more self-aware.
Before you learn how to improve self-awareness, it’s helpful to understand the three types of self-awareness. Those are biological, internal, and external self-awareness.
Biological self-awareness is the ability to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the human brain. Through evolution, the brain has developed a list of tendencies.
These tendencies influence our behavior in both helpful and harmful ways. For example, we tend to become irrational when we are experiencing strong emotions. This tendency explains why you might say something you don’t mean when you are angry.
Additionally, cognitive biases can influence us to make irrational decisions. Examples include the bandwagon effect, anchoring bias, and availability bias.
At this level, we are all the same. These tendencies influence anyone with a brain.
Those who are biologically self-aware understand these tendencies and how they can affect their behavior. As a result, they can avoid being influenced by the weaknesses of the brain.
Internal self-awareness is the ability to understand yourself. Internally self-aware people understand their values and goals, emotions and behaviors, and strengths and weaknesses.
Those who are internally self-aware have a strong sense of who they are and what they want, play to their strengths, and effectively manage their emotions.
At this level, we are all different. Who you are, what you want, and how you feel are unique to you.
External self-awareness is the ability to understand how others see you. Externally self-aware people also realize how their behavior affects others.
Because externally self-aware people can recognize emotions in other people, they are better negotiators, more effective at building and maintaining relationships, and generally more influential.
Below are some ideas that can help you increase your biological, internal, and external self-awareness.
As you’ve learned, your brain has helpful and harmful tendencies. What’s important to understand is that many of these tendencies occur subconsciously. We build habits, are influenced by cognitive biases, and are motivated by many things on a subconscious level.
Because these tendencies occur subconsciously, it can be hard to recognize them. However, learning about these tendencies can help you realize when you are under their influence.
Here’s an example. The anchoring bias is a cognitive bias that can cause you to pay too much when buying a car. But until you know what the anchoring bias is, you won’t be able to recognize it.
Therefore, educating yourself is the best way to improve your biological self-awareness.
I can’t cover everything you need to know in this article. But thankfully, I have written about biological self-awareness at length. So, if you want to improve your biological self-awareness, check out the following articles.
The following three ideas can help you become more internally self-aware.
1. Get clear about who you are and what you want. One way to become more internally self-aware is by defining clear goals and values. That’s because the process of outlining what is important to you establishes a list of guidelines that direct your decisions. Let me explain this point using an example.
Assume you want to get married and have a drug-free life. If your date uses drugs or does not want to get married, your goals and values make it clear that there is no reason to go on a second date.
To set clear values and goals, think about what you want to achieve in the next 5, 10, or 20 years. Then, once you answer that question, start living your life in a way that gets you there.
2. Learn to identify your emotions. As I’ve mentioned, we tend to become irrational when experiencing strong emotions. But, by learning to identify your emotions, you reduce the effects of this tendency.
Meditation is one of the best ways to increase your awareness of your emotions. Practicing 10 minutes per day offers a list of benefits, including improved self-awareness, reduced stress, and improved focus.
3. Identify your strengths and weaknesses. When you identify your strengths, you can benefit from that information. For example, assume you excel at analyzing data but struggle with social interactions. In that case, it would be a good idea to choose a career in data analytics over a career in customer service.
To identify your strengths, ask yourself the following three questions.
Identifying your weaknesses is also beneficial. Doing so allows you to determine the following.
To identify your weaknesses, ask yourself the following three questions.
Ultimately, identifying your strengths and weaknesses lets you set your life up in a way that takes advantage of them.
How you see yourself is not always how others see you. For example, you might think you are open to others’ opinions, but co-workers might feel otherwise.
One of the best ways to become more externally self-aware is by better understanding how people perceive you. Here are three ideas that can help.
1. Listen: If someone you trust and respect comments on your actions, there’s likely value in assessing your behavior. There’s even more value in evaluating your behavior if more than one person points out the same thing.
2. Ask: Many people won’t openly give you their opinion, but most will provide feedback if you ask. So ask people how they feel, what they’re thinking, and how you’re doing.
For example, if you assume you’re a clear communicator, ask your colleagues if they believe that to be true. If not, ask what you can do to improve.
3. Watch: People might not feel comfortable using words to tell you that your behavior is inappropriate. But their body language almost always tells the truth.
Body language is a complicated topic. And, if you’ve read a book on the topic, you might have come away more confused than when you started. Most books give you an endless list of facial expressions and body positions to analyze.
After reading many books on the topic, I’ve discovered a trick that makes body language easier to understand.
Ask yourself if the person is trying to connect or protect.
When people feel comfortable, they often try to increase the relationship bond by connecting with you. Examples of connecting behaviors are smiling, turning towards you, and making eye contact.
However, when people feel uncomfortable, they often try to weaken the relationship bond by protecting themselves from you. Examples of protecting behaviors are eye-rolling, turning away from you, and avoiding eye contact.
This trick works because most of us are naturally familiar with these signals. For example, we instinctively know a genuine smile is good, and eye-rolling is bad.
Moving forward, use the connection-protection filter to assess how people feel. If you notice connecting behaviors, take that as a sign to continue doing what you’re doing. But if you recognize protecting behaviors, take that as a sign to evaluate your behavior.
Here are two common problems you might encounter when trying to become more self-aware.
1. Because you are good at one type of self-awareness doesn’t mean you are good at the others. Each type of self-awareness relies on a different skill set. Being good at perceiving your emotions doesn’t automatically make you good at reading body language.
To become truly self-aware, develop all three types of self-awareness.
2. Focus on what, not why. When learning to become self-aware, people often spend too much time thinking about why they act the way they do. For example, you might believe that you haven’t succeeded in business because your father said you’d be a failure. Or, maybe you believe you’re failing out of college because you’re a procrastinator.
When you think like this, you let external forces rule your life. Your father might be a jerk, but focusing on what he said won’t make you successful. And you might procrastinate, but labeling yourself a procrastinator and giving up won’t improve your grades.
The only way to move your life forward is to take positive action toward your goals.
Therefore, in situations like these, there’s more value in focusing on what you’re doing, not why you’re doing it. In doing so, you might become aware of what’s actually holding you back.
For example, you might realize your business hasn’t been successful because you don’t know how to market. In that case, you can take a marketing course. Or you might recognize that you never study because you’re always playing video games. If so, you can get rid of your game console or study at the library.
Ultimately, you can take control of your future by focusing on what, not why.
Some believe that we can control our subconscious minds by becoming fully self-aware. This level of ‘enlightenment’ reportedly gives people access to supernatural powers. However, this theory is a myth at best.
The truth is, nobody is fully self-aware. There are parts of the subconscious mind and psyche that we will likely never understand.
So think of self-awareness as a helpful tool and not a superpower.
Here are the key takeaways from his article.
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