Does becoming more self-aware make us more self-conscious or self-centred? It’s a valid concern, especially in today’s individualistic society where insecurity and self-absorption can easily take root. Without the proper approach, self-awareness can inadvertently feed into these negative mindsets.

Surprisingly, a recent study revealed that our perceived self-awareness may be skewed. The data suggests that only a small percentage – 10-15% – of individuals are genuinely self-aware. This is cause for concern as we know that self-awareness is crucial in developing sound mental wellbeing, relationships communication skills, decision making and leadership abilities.

Self-awareness forms the bedrock of emotional intelligence – without a practice in understanding ourself, it is very hard to understand others and successfully navigate your internal and external environments. To prevent the potential pitfalls of introspection – namely self-consciousness and self-centredness – mastering an adaptive process of self management is key. By honing these emotional intelligence skills, we can show up in the world as grounded individuals ready to lead ourselves and serve others effectively.

Adaptive & Maladaptive Cycles of Self-Management

An adaptive cycle of self-management (see below) involves the ability to understand, process and regulate the thoughts, feelings and behaviours you have in reaction to an event, then considering how others are responding in order to make a conscious choice on the best course of action. This cycle is happening continuously throughout your day, it’s only when the event is significant enough that you have to bring conscious attention towards how you work through it.

A maladaptive cycle of self management (see below) starts when we are not fully aware of ourselves and/or don’t yet have effective self-regulation skills. This can lead to rumination and excessive self-focus, hindering awareness and effective responses to the external environment and others. Excessive self-focus can manifest as self-consciousness or self-centredness.

Self-consciousness is heightened self-focus accompanied by feelings of scrutiny, evaluation or concern with how you are perceived by others. Self-consciousness can lead to anxiety, self-doubt and self-criticism which can interfere with the ability to build new relationships, interact with people and show up in social or professional settings effectively.

Self-centredness, on the other hand, refers to an excessive focus on yourself and your own needs, wants and interests, often at the expense of others. Individuals who are self-centred tend to prioritise their own concerns above those of others and can lack empathy or consideration for the feelings and perspectives of others. This can lead to interpersonal issues like conflict, resentment and difficulty forming meaningful relationships.

Preventing self-consciousness & self-centredness

As illustrated above, learning adaptive self-management is key in preventing self-consciousness and self-centredness. Developing these emotional intelligence skills entails understanding each practice – self-awareness, self-regulation and social-awareness – and experimenting with various tools and techniques to determine what works best in different situations.

Let’s begin with self awareness. Self awareness is our ability to introspect and be conscious of ourself. It involves:

  • Momentary self-awareness: Being conscious of your thoughts, emotions, and actions in any given moment.
  • Internal self-awareness (self-knowledge): Understanding your values, beliefs, personality traits, motivators, learned thought patterns and behaviours, needs, goals, strengths, weaknesses and the impact you have on others and your environment.
  • External self-awareness: Understanding how others perceive you in relation to the aforementioned aspects.

To nurture momentary self-awareness, regularly check in with yourself and observe your reactions to situations or thoughts that evoke strong emotions or impulsive behaviours. Recognising your triggers helps identify patterns and develop strategies to manage them proactively. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can also help you become more attuned to your internal experiences. To make sure there is alignment between how you perceive yourself (internal self-awareness) and how others perceive you (external self-awareness), it is helpful to regularly pick up on, or seek out, feedback from the people around you and incorporate it into your self-concept.

Next, having a repertoire of self-regulation tools is vital. Self-regulation involves managing thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to achieve goals, meet social expectations, and adapt to changes. Techniques such as cognitive inquiry or restructuring, breathwork, perspective-taking, mindfulness, exercise, journaling, and seeking support from friends or professionals can aid in managing your internal processes effectively.

Lastly, fostering social awareness (empathy) is essential. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings, thoughts, and perspectives of others. Empathy enables individuals to recognise each other’s different needs and experiences and respond to them appropriately.

To improve your ability to empathise, consider:

  • Active listening: Pay close attention to others during conversations and strive to understand their perspective without interrupting or judging. Techniques like paraphrasing and reflecting back what you’ve heard are useful in building and demonstrating empathy.
  • Cultivating curiosity: Take an interest in other people’s lives, experiences, and viewpoints. Ask open-ended questions, seek to learn more about their interests and passions, and be genuinely curious about their thoughts and feelings.
  • Perspective-taking: Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to see the world from their viewpoint. Consider their background, experiences and emotions, and imagine how you would feel if you were in their situation.