10 Simple Ways to Improve Your Self-Awareness [With Examples]

Improving your self-awareness can seem daunting, partly because feels like such an abstract concept.

But here’s the thing:

Self-awareness is a skill anyone can improve with the right tools and a little practice.

In this guide, I’ll briefly explain what self-awareness is, why it’s important, and then walk you step-by-step through a handful of my favorite exercises and techniques for becoming more self-aware.

In fact, these are the same techniques I use with my clients as a psychologist.

Let’s get to it!

Table of Contents

Feel free to jump straight to any section using the following links:


What is self-awareness?

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Self-awareness is the habit of paying attention to the way you think, feel, and behave.

More specifically, self-awareness is about observing:

  • Patterns of thought. How do you  tend to think about and explain what happens to you? What’s your self-talk like? What expectations do you hold in certain settings or with certain people? What are your core beliefs that influence your thinking?
  • Patterns of emotion. How well do you understand your own moods and emotions? Do you observe and try to understand your emotions or do your react to them impulsively? Do you view difficult emotions as enemies to be avoided or gotten rid of or messengers trying to tell you something?
  • Patterns of behavior. Do you understand why you tend to act in the same way in certain situations? Do you have a sense for what types of events are triggering for you? To you understand what motivates your beahviors or leads to self-sabotage?

Put another way, self-awareness means learning to be curious about your own mind.


What are the benefits of self-awareness?

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It’s hard to overstate the benefits of self-awareness, so I’ll just list a few of the most common positive effects that come from increasing your self-awareness:

  • Better relationships. It’s difficult to ask for what you want and need in a relationship—or set healthy boundaries—when you’re not very clear about it yourself. For example, how well do you know your personal values? Often the best way to improve any relationship is by trying to become more self-aware.
  • Calmer moods. How you consistently feel emotionally depends on how you think. If you have a habit of chronic worry, for example, you’re very likely to feel anxious all the time. But when you imporve your self-awareness, you learn to understand the relationship between your thinking and your moods. This makes it much easier to regulate your emotions effectively and balance your moods.
  • Clearer thinking and better decision-making. Poor decision-making often comes from muddled thinking and uncheked emotional reactions. When you become more aware of your habits of thought and feeling, we can more easily distinguish between short-term impulses or desires and long-term values and goals.
  • Increased productivity. The most common cause of procrastination and poor productivity isn’t a lack of effort or commitment… It’s interference from ourselves. When we struggle to get to work, it’s usually because on some level our own thoughts, emotions, or habits are getting in the way. Improving self-awareness can help eliminate many of these hidden obstacles to productivity.

10 examples of how to improve your self-awareness

As a psychologist, I work with clients all the time to increase self-awareness in many areas of life. Here are 10 of my favorite techniques and strategies for becoming more self-aware.

1. Pay attention to what bothers you about other people

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Often the things that irritate us the most in other people are a reflection of some quality we dislike in ourselves.

We all have aspects of ourselves that we’re not proud of:

  • A tendency to lie or bend the truth a little too often, for example.
  • Or maybe you avoid conflict like the plague, and struggle to set boundaries.

But if you don’t know how to change these things (or don’t believe it’s possible), its easy to end up ignoring them or living in denial. And while ignorance can feel like bliss, it isn’t really. Not in the long-term.

So, whenever someone does something that seems to particularly annoy or irritate you, ask yourself:

Could this be a reflection of something in me that I dislike? Do I do some version of that?

2. Meditate on your mind

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You’ve probably heard of mindfulness meditation. It’s the simple practice of keeping your attention focused on your breath or some other physics sensation. Then, if you notice your mind wandering to other thoughts, gently returning your attention to your point of focus.

While mindfulness meditation has been shown to be beneficial for everything from weight loss to depression relief, it can actually be a powerful way to increase your level of self-awareness.

Specifically, mindfulness meditation is one of the best ways to learn more about how your thoughts and emotions work. When you practice watching and observing our thoughts without attaching to them or thinking about them, you begin to internalize a powerful idea:

You are not your thoughts.

All too often we lack self-awareness because we’re actually thinking too much—overthinking. We easily become lost in our thoughts, assuming they’re true or worth engaging with simply because our minds decided to throw them at us.

A regular mindfulness practice will open your eyes to how the thinking mind works and how much more there is to you than the mere content of your thoughts.

Learn More: How to Start a Mindfulness Practice: A Quick Guide for Complete Beginners

3. Read high-quality fiction

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It’s often said that great writers are great observers of the world around them. And it’s this capacity to notice subtle details and features of life that allow them to recreate it so movingly in their work.

But the very best writers are expert observers of human nature in particular. It’s their job to notice the tiny details of thought, emotion, desire, and action that most of us miss amid the frantic business of daily life.

And even though most of us probably aren’t called to be authors and astute observers of human nature professionally, we can all learn a thing or two about ourselves by learning to pay attention like an author.

By describing people carefully, good fiction teaches us how to think about people carefully and with compassion. And the better we get at observing others, the more likely we are to look at ourselves the same way.

So spend 30 minutes sometime and come up with a list of good fiction you’ve been meaning to read or ask a friend to recommend a few of their favorites.

Learn More: How to Become a Prolific Reader

4. Identify your emotional kryptonite

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Nobody likes to feel sad, anxious, ashamed, or any other kind of difficult emotion. This is understandable since they feel bad—sometimes painfully so!

And while we all recoil from painful emotions, each of us tends to have one particular emotion that we especially dislike and try to avoid.

A common pattern I see in my clinical practice is for people to do anything to avoid feeling sad. They’ll go to extraordinary—sometimes harmful—lengths to distract themselves or numb out that specific feeling of sadness, even if it means intensifying other painful emotions like anxiety, shame, and guilt.

For example:

  • I had a client just recently who discovered that part of the reason she struggled with social anxiety was that she worried constantly that people were judging her. Specifically, she worried that they could tell she drank too much and were judging her for that.
  • When I asked her about her drinking, we eventually discovered that even though drinking was causing her a lot of shame and anxiety, to her it was worth it because it was the only way she knew how to distract from the sadness in her life.
  • So even though anxiety was the obvious emotion she was struggling with, she eventually became self-aware enough to realize that sadness was the emotion at the root of her struggle.

We all have certain emotions that we especially dislike—our emotional kryptonite. And more often than not, that means we try very hard to avoid that emotion.

The problem is, being so afraid of an emotion that we’re willing to do just about anything to avoid it can lead to some pretty negative consequences in the long-term (substance abuse, for instance).

But more importantly, by avoiding the emotion, we’re avoiding listening to what the emotion has to say to us. Painful emotions are painful because our mind is trying to get our attention—often for a very good reason.

Learning to tolerate the discomfort of our emotional kryptonite—the feeling your most afraid to feel—can unlock a wealth of insight about ourselves and our world if we’re willing to listen.

Learn More: Emotional Kryptonite: The Feeling You’re Most Afraid to Feel

5. Draw a timeline of your life

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One of the most eye-opening “tricks” I perform as a psychologist often happens in the second session with my clients.

At the end of our first meeting, I sometimes ask them to spend 20 minutes drawing a timeline of their life as a homework assignment.

The isntructions are simple enough:

  • Sit down with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil.
  • Starting with your birth, mark the major events in your life along the timeline.
  • Be sure to think about events that were espcially impactful whether they appear big or small, positive or negative.

Inevitably, people come back and say some version of the same thing:

That sounded like the dumbest exercise ever but I was shocked at how much I realized about myself.

In particular, many people are able to make sense of or get a new perspective on an especially distressing or difficult time by seeing that specific period in context.

Being able to think developmentally and in context is key to self-awareness.

6. Discover your blind spots by asking for feedback (and taking it well)

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Here’s a question:

How often do you deliberately seek out feedback about yourself?

If you’re anything like me—or most people, I bet—probably not often. Which is a shame because good feedback is one of the fastest and most effective ways to grow and improve ourselves.

In particular, while there are many aspects of ourselves that probably need improvement, it’s the parts of ourselves we can’t see—our blind spots—that are the real problem.

And other people are uniquely positioned to notice these and help us see them. If we ask…

So, how exactly should we go about asking for feedback about ourselves?

Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Choose a solid relationship in your life: parent, spouse, best friend, etc. Someone with whom you have enough relationship credit that they would be willing to point out something negative.
  • Start small. At fiorst, ask about something that’s not too big or threatening. This is about building up the other person’s confidence that you can take criticism well. They’ll be more likely to tell you about a major personality issue if you’ve shown them that you can take criticism about household chores well.
  • Take the criticism well. Avoid defensiveness at all costs. Anticipate that you’re not going to feel wonderful at the moment someone points out a flaw. And that’s okay. It’s normal to feel that way. Try your best to simply acknowledge their feedback and thank them for giving it.

7. Do some micro-travel

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New places and strange environments get us out of our routines and force us to be more self-aware.

When I lived in Italy, I remember being appalled initially by how much time people “wasted” on long, extravagant meals—dinner for 3 hours, are you kidding!

But after spending time in Italian culture and being forced into the experience of these long, relaxed meals, I began to appreciate this alternative attitude toward meals that was more than simply a refueling process.

And while I don’t regularly eat 3-hour dinners, my perspective on meals and their function has changed as a result of my travel and time spent in a new environment.

Of course, even though regularly jet-setting to exotic countries probably isn’t a viable strategy for most of us, we can get the self-awareness benefits of travel without having to go very far.

Micro-travel is the simple idea that we can still engage in travel but on a local scale.

For example, if you live in a large city or urban area, you’re likely familiar with your own neighborhood, downtown, and maybe a couple other spots. But there are probably whole neighborhoods you haven’t spent much if any time in. This is an opportunity for micro-travel.

Similarly, while two weeks in Thailand might not be feasible for you at the moment, two days at a local state park that you’ve never been to might be.

If you can expand your idea of what travel means to include local or nearby locations that are still unfamiliar, you can get many of the benefits of travel—including a boost to our self-awareness—at a fraction of the cost in time or money.

8. Learn a new skill

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Just like traveling forces us to become more self-aware by throwing us into novel situations, learning something new increases self-awareness by forcing us to think and act in novel ways.

As adults, we all get pretty set in our ways, in large part,  because we end up doing the same things over and over again.

And while this leads to a certain kind of comfort, it also fosters a narrowness of mind…

When the only things you’re doing are things you’re already good at, it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security that you know how things work.

The antidote is what’s sometimes called Beginner’s Mind. The idea behind beginners mind is that in order to learn new things, the mind has to be flexible and see things fresh—like a child.

This means that if you want to cultivate flexibility and freshness within yourself and the way you see things (i.e. self-awareness), you should go out of your way to be a beginner. And one of the best ways to do this is to learn a new skill.

Whether it’s speaking Mandarin or learning how to juggle, committing to learning a new skill is a powerful exercise in mental flexibility and self-awareness.

9. Identify cognitive distortions

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Cognitive distortions are inaccurate thoughts and beliefs that warp how we see things—including ourselves—and usually lead to overly painful emotions and moods.

Think about it like this: Just like we all can get into unhelpful physical habits (e.g.: nail-biting, snacking late at night, etc.), we all have certain mental habits that aren’t doing us any favors.

For example: Whenever something upsetting happens while I’m driving—getting cut off, someone taking a parking spot I wanted—a default script that runs through my mind is, What a jerk! For whatever reason, I’ve developed a mental habit of name-calling other drivers anytime I get upset on the road.

This is a problem because even though other drivers do make mistakes sometimes I do too. But if my default reaction is to always externalize and blame other people, I miss the opportunity to see my own behavior and self-correct.

If every time I get cut off, I tell myself that the person cutting me off is a jerk and should be a more considerate driver, I may miss the fact that I chronically drive too slow in the passing lane because I’m talking to my wife and not very aware of how I’m driving.

The point is, a major source of a lack of self-awareness is inaccurate mental habits and self-talk. If you can learn to identify these patterns of inaccurate thinking, you can become more self-aware—and probably end up feeling better too.

Learn More: Cognitive Restructuring: The Complete Guide to Changing Negative Thinking

10. Make time to clarify your values

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Here’s a somewhat intimidating question:

How often do you make time to deliberately consider your values and ideals?

If you’re like most of us, the busyness of daily life tends to sweep you up in a constant stream of activity without much time for reflection, especially reflection on your personal values.

So is it any surprise then that you have a difficult time reaching your goals and finding satisfaction when you don’t spend any time contemplating what that would even look like?

What’s more, it’s probably not surprising that we end up chasing artificial goals that culture and society tell us are important (nice car, big house, trim waistline, Ivy League schools for our kids, etc.) but that we don’t necessarily find genuinely meaningful and important.

A special form of self-awareness involves becoming aware of and clear about the things that really matter to us:

  • Why am I here?
  • What am I called to do?
  • What makes for a fulfilling life that I can be truly proud of?

These are big questions. And while they sound intimidating, that’s probably because we just don’t spend much quality time actually considering them.

Here’s a simple way to get started:

  • Pull out your calendar and find a 30-minute time slot once a month (I like 4:30 pm on the last Friday of every month).
  • Set up a recurring monthly calendar appointment for this time and call it Values Clarification.
  • Each month at this time, take out a sheet of paper and simply brainstorm ideas and thoughts related to this question of personal values and what you really want.

There’s no right or wrong way to do it. What’s important is that you give yourself the opportunity to think about it.

You’ll be amazed at what comes up!

Learn More: 7 Ways to Discover and Clarify Your Personal Values


🧠💡 3 Advanced Techniques for Better Self-Awareness

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Summary

The term self-awareness can come across as a bit magical and esoteric—complicated psychological jargon for a mysterious process deep within human nature.

But it’s not.

Self-awareness is simply the habit of paying attention to our own minds—our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. And like any habit, it can be improved with time and a little practice.

To review, here are 10 ways to practice being more self-aware:

  1. Pay attention to what bothers you about other people
  2. Meditate on your mind
  3. Read high-quality fiction
  4. Identify your emotional kryptonite
  5. Draw a timeline of your life
  6. Uncover your blindspots by asking for feedback (and taking it well)
  7. Do some micro-travel
  8. Learn a new skill
  9. Identify cognitive distortions
  10. Make time to clarify your values

Learn More

More articles on self-awareness and how to become more self-aware:

58 Comments

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I have recently discovered your articles and love them. I read a lot about similar topics, but your articles are just perfect! Thank you!

This is an amazing article! I’m 32, and I recently came to the revelation how powerful self awareness is. I googled “how to become self aware” and this was the first result. Thank you!

I read the complete blog about self-awareness. It really helped me to understand something and will surely look forward to applying these tips to myself. Thank you for sharing your valuable experience. Keep up the good work.

Very thought provoking articles. The links to many other themes help to clarify and further develop the concept. I am eager to start working on the exercises recommended. Thank you for sharing! Have a great week.

A very big thanks. Love this article very much and has started improving myself. May Allah bless you with more knowledge and love of people.

Thanks for your great article. I rarely find an article with practical ways to reach a point where we touch our knowledge about ourselves.

Whao! What an amazing article! I have learnt a lot from it and I have really been inspired & motivated. By the grace of God I will go through it over and over again and hopefully put what I learn into practice. Thank you very much Nick. God bless you.

Hi, my name is Mike, and for more than five years I have been writing articles and essays on order. Sometimes I don’t have enough time for this and in this case the website comes to my aid

Thank you for this article. It’s an eye opener for me as regards some habits I need to pay attention to and change as well.
It’s indeed an insight into reality. Will like to know and have related articles. Thanks alot

This article was very nice. I am learning about self awareness so that I can work on Autosuggestion later. And this article helped me to understand what is self-awareness and how to be self-aware

its great to read this article. Its too good and very practical. We can use it with teenage students too.. Thanks

I read the complete blog about self-awareness. It really helped me to understand something and will surely look forward to applying these tips to myself. Thank you for sharing your valuable experience. Keep up the good work.

Just read ‘Breaking Thru Limitations’ By John Canary n found a mention about ‘self-awareness’ But found the answers here! Great article. Cheers!

I wrote down a list of what bothered me about another person I disliked, and I did realize that I behaved the same way !

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