The Steps I’m Following to Become More Self-Aware

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In this series, professionals describe the skills they’re building this year. Read the stories here, then write your own (use #SkillsGap in the body of your post).

My life’s journey is to become the best person I can be. I know that sounds like something straight out of a Hallmark card, but I really mean it. I want to be the best person I can possibly be, but like most things in life, saying it is one thing. Actually following through with it is the hard part.

First, what does “best” really mean? This is a very personal question, and naturally, everyone will have their own definition of how they can be their best possible self. I’m constantly asking myself this question, and I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, being my best possible self means putting the skills, talents, and other resources that I uniquely possess to work in service of creating meaningful positive outcomes and long lasting impact. Great. Now how exactly do I do that? Words like “best”, “good”, “meaningful,” and “impact” are all tricky words that are thrown around a lot these days, so how do I really know if I am achieving any of these things? How do I hold myself accountable to both myself and the people around me? The answer is through self-awareness.

That is the skill that I am naming and claiming as the one I want to be better at in 2016. Self-awareness is defined as having a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivations, and emotions. But how do you get to the “clear” part? Isn’t most of this very subjective? I think getting to “clear” involves a deep commitment to a process, so here is what I plan on doing.

First, there are a lot of tools available to help you identify your personality, both your strengths and your weaknesses, with many of these tools focusing on specific aspects of our personalities and abilities. For example, assessments like the Myers Briggs personality types looks at the way we perceive and judge the world around us, while the Clifton StrengthsFinder helps us to identify and develop our natural talents. Others, such as the DiSC assessment, look specifically at our behavioral habits, while the John Maxwell Leadership Assessment looks at your leadership qualities and abilities. When combined together, these tools create a very comprehensive personality assessment, and I plan on pursuing and completing many of these in the coming year.

One assessment that I do not have to undertake is the Kolbe Index, as I took this assessment a couple of years ago along with my fellow board members and staff team of Women Moving Millions, and the results were extremely illuminating. Instead of looking at how we feel about things or approach different situations, the Kolbe Index looks at our inner instincts and conation, and aims to measure the innate abilities within us that will remain unchanged over time. Our conative strengths dictate so much of our personalities, and by gaining a deeper understanding of the underlying desires and reasons for my behaviors and actions, I was able to use this knowledge in my favour, and become more productive, not just in my work, but in life in general.

For example, I learned (see picture above) that I am very high on “quick start.” This means that “I am terrific with future oriented challenges and dealing with essential facts. I’ll say YES before I even know the end of the question – then turn it in to a productive adventure.”

However, when you combine being high on this measure with being lower on “implementor” and “follow-through,” it can mean that you are a person who has lots of ideas, but then tend to hand them off to others for execution. This made my team laugh, because this is exactly what I do, and now we have a name for it! Equally amazing was that some of our key staff members were complete opposite to me on these two measures, meaning together we make a great partnership. Collectively, we discovered that our board scored very high overall in the “quick start” area, which is something we need to be mindful of. Because of this, we risk moving from idea to idea, leaving our staff to execute an ever growing list of to-dos, and therefore doing this assessment as both a board and a staff team was extremely powerful. If you serve on boards or committees, I highly recommend this tool.

OK, so I’m on the road to understanding my personality better. What about my thoughts? How do our thoughts and our way of thinking affect our life and work? Last year, my Big Idea for 2015 was calling an end to the idea of the smartest guy in the room, and instead advocated for having a greater understanding of your own thinking processes, and recognizing that everyone has their own unique thinking talents. This idea was borne out of having recently met Dawna Markova and Angie McArthur, and learning about Collaborative Intelligence, a system of learning about how you think, and more importantly, how to work with people who think differently. Shortly after meeting Dawna and Angie, I undertook this assessment, and it was transformational for me.

For example, I always knew that I loved ideas, but the thinking talents assessment helped me to understand how this love could be put to productive use. Loving ideas was defined as, “searches for concepts to explain things; loves theories; derives jolt of energy from a new idea”, and it quickly became clear that this is one of my core talents. This is what I naturally love to do, and in general, I am very good at it. Today, I am more inclined to offer up this talent to some of the many non-profit organizations that seek my involvement, and in 2016, this talent will be the key to my main project of the coming year; to conceptualize and create a robust philanthropic leadership curriculum for women.

Understanding my thoughts and way of thinking? Check! Onto my beliefs, motivations, and emotions. It’s a lot harder to fully understand these within yourself, because it’s so easy to hide them, not just from others, but from yourself as well. That’s why my goal for the coming year is to really get honest with myself on all three, especially when I am showing up with less than my best self.

First beliefs. I recently did a speech for a group of professionals at a large financial services firm about my life’s purpose, which is to mobilize resources toward creating a more gender balanced world. I explained how I came to go all in around this purpose, because of a deep and informed belief that gender inequities are truly the root cause of so many problems we have in the world.  This is a core belief of mine, and it’s an informed core belief that lies at the center of many of the choices I make on how to use my time, my talents, and my treasure. Once again, naming it helped me to really claim it, and this year I am taking it a step further by writing a book around this journey and this purpose. I invite you to think about what you truly believe in, and how you are making those beliefs a central part of your life. (the above quote is from the Katy Perry song “Roar.”)

Finally, motivations and emotions are the trickiest of them all, because achieving greater self-awareness in these two important areas requires a lot of attention and intention. Attention is being willing to truly challenge yourself about why you are really doing something or feeling something. As much as I try not to allow what I get in return to motivate my actions, inevitably it will be a factor at some point, and my goal for this year is to pay attention to this, to acknowledge it, and to not pretend that it isn’t present. The same goes for emotions, especially those two nasty ones: resentment and anger. Wishing one’s feelings away rarely works, and so intention, for me, is about being much more purposeful in my actions, especially when making choices about what to do or not do, and basing these decisions on healthy motives.

In the end, self-awareness is a skill that’s easy to describe, but very hard to practice. And it won’t be easy, because sometimes when you hold a mirror up to yourself, the truth hurts. But I truly want to be the best person I can possibly be, and I can only do that if I’m being honest with myself. To do that, I need self-awareness, so there’s no time like the present to get started.

If this topics resonates with you, please share what you do to increase YOUR self-awareness! And Happy New Year!


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