Tag Archives | self-learning

Self-Awareness 101: Introduction to Yourself

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Dude

The other day an acquaintance of mine exclaimed, “You know me! I don’t even know how to be mean!”

I shook my head, eyes wide with wonder at her profound misjudgement of her own personality. I believe that she probably doesn’t want to be mean, but I can also tell you that everyone is more than slightly afraid of her.

Afterward, I began to ponder the complexities of self-awareness, and how some people are really out of touch with their own inner-selves.

Most people will insist that they are self-aware without having any idea what it really means to be truly aware of one’s thoughts, emotions, behavior and personality. According to Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, “a lack of self-awareness will actually hold you back from developing self-management, social awareness, and relationship management skills,” which are quite necessary in building the life you really want.  So, how do you know if you really are self-aware or if you’re in the dark?

- Frequent interactions with honest friends and family members.  Most people find it very difficult to tell others the truth about their short-comings, but if you specifically ask for feedback, you might be surprised at what you can learn about how you’re perceived.

- Watch and keep track of your actions and their results.  Just like the person above who insisted she has a hard time being ‘mean’, it’s quite possible for anyone to be totally unaware of how their behaviors are affecting their lives and those around them. “Watch” yourself by keeping a journal of your important actions and your prediction for the effect they will have on a certain situation.  Check back regularly to see how things really play out, and make changes to your behaviors accordingly.

- Take a self-awareness inventory.  How well do you really know what your strengths and weaknesses are?  Can you identify your habits, likes and dislikes? What motivates you? Do you have a set of internal values that you life your life by? Self-awareness begins by knowing all of the details that make up who you are as a person.

- Raise your EQ.  Your Emotional Intelligence, or your EQ, is your ability to identify and effectively manage all of the emotions that you experience every day.  A high EQ means that you recognize and understand the cause and effect nature of your emotions, as well as the emotions of others. People who are struggling with self-awareness are often unable to accurately understand the social cues that are given to them through other people’s emotions.

- Watch your words. In today’s society, strong opinions are encouraged, but if you lack self-awareness it may appear to others that you feel your opinion is the only one that matters.  Even with strong opinions, being self-aware means being mindful of every word that you think or speak in order to foster good relationships that are built on respect.

- Step outside yourself. In a twist of irony, one of the best ways to get in touch with your inner self is to step outside of it. Viewing yourself as you would a character in a movie, without judgement or harsh criticism, will allow you to get some perspective on your personality.

By taking a close look at your inner-self, you will be able to make the necessary changes to stop having emotional reactions, improve your understanding of others (and their perceptions of you), develop effective communication strategies in your relationships, and live a happier and more successful life.

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Do You Take Responsibility for Your Own Happiness?


Photo courtesy of Zanatox
“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”
-Oscar Wilde

As I continue to forge ahead through my 30s, edging closer and closer to the big 4-0, I have become increasingly aware of the significance of my sense of self-awareness and self appreciation. Truly accepting myself as I am, both physically and intellectually, has been a slow process that began 17 years ago when I first realized that I could make a big impact on my own happiness. Over the past decade and a half, I have slowly familiarized myself with the concept of unconditional self-love. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been enlightening.

So many times in life, we willingly criticize ourselves and publicly announce our faults and flaws in front of others. “Look how fat I’ve gotten!” or “I am such an idiot!” are exclamations heard all too often among our family, friends and coworkers. Why are we so hard on ourselves? One theory is that our feelings of self-worth are a reflection of our relationships with our parents during our formative years. Another possibility is a need for forgiveness or feelings of guilt that have yet to be addressed properly. When I began my self-reflection journey, I noted that my relationship with my parents was pretty decent when I was a child. I began earnestly digging to find the source of my feelings of unworthiness, ultimately improving my overall feelings of self-appreciation and allowing me to finally be truly happy.

Many of us spend a lot of time expecting someone else to take the blame for everything that is wrong in our lives. We tend to shift the responsibility of our satisfaction onto others, unconsciously always looking for the perfect scapegoat. However, the realization of true happiness has nothing to do with anyone but ourselves. The process begins with forgiving ourselves and acknowledging that we are doing the best that we can. Letting go of unrealistic, self-imposed ideals is the first step on the road to increased self-confidence and the ability to love deeply. Expending some of our misdirected energy toward nurturing our own self-image means we don’t have to wait around for validation from others! By relying on ourselves for a sense of happiness and love, we can create an inner security that is far more fulfilling than anything external.

Start taking steps to make yourself a priority today. Don’t put off any longer the small changes that could bring about a significantly positive improvement in your sense of well-being and your ability to love unconditionally. Your own happiness depends on it.

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How Full Catastrophe Living Can Change Your Life

Photo courtesy of Hape_Gera

A few months ago, I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type III, a painful connective tissue disorder that makes many everyday activities impossible, including working outside of the home. I had to resign from my well-paying office job and I began to feel that my life as I knew it was over. I didn’t know what I was going to do, if I could pay my bills, or if I could still manage to be a good enough parent. I was also in quite a great deal of physical pain which just kept getting worse. I spiraled downward into a pit of self loathing and despair until I hit a hard rock bottom and realized there was nowhere left to go but up.

I clawed my way out of my depression long enough to crawl into the lap of my new therapist, who recommended that I read the book Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I began reading it as soon as it arrived at my front door in that familiar brown packaging I have come to love. In the book, Zinn describes the experiences of his patients during his ten years of teaching an eight-week course called the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Over 4,000 people ultimately took the course, which teaches mindfulness as an effective way to develop control over our own lives, despite all of the catastrophes we may be presented with on a regular basis.

During my reading of the book, I began to put some of his suggestions into practice in my own life and I started to see a change in the way I faced difficulties. Mindfulness involves using our inner capacities for relaxation, paying attention, awareness and insight, and becomes a form of ‘walking meditation’ as you move throughout your daily activities. Your focus moves from “doing” to “being” as you learn how to concentrate on the foundations of mindfulness: non-judging, patience, trust, non-striving, acceptance and letting go. This transformation is reached through a combination of breathing, various forms of meditation, body scans and yoga.

Throughout my experience with practicing full catastrophe living, I have learned how to watch my thoughts rather than getting caught up in them. By allowing my body and mind to rest in the moment I have become more adept at tuning into life’s basic experiences. I am now able to be in the moment with everything exactly as it is, without wanting to change a thing. Daily, I have been practicing mindfulness by concentrating on what is happening now rather than things in the past or future, and I have gained a deep appreciation for the present. I have realized that I have a limited time on this earth and in this body, so I’m taking it all in. Every. Single. Moment.

If you’re anything like me, and have been dealing with an increased amount of stressors in your life, give the concept of mindfulness a try.  You’ll be surprised at how much of life you’ve been missing.

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Why Learning Goes Far Beyond the Classroom

learning
Photo courtesy of Brian Hathcock

When I was in my final year of high school, I was far more laid-back about studying for exams than most of the other kids. One day I was pulled aside by one of my teachers who told me: “these are the most important lessons you’ll ever learn in life.” I understood that what they were trying to say was how important it was to study, since the outcome of my exams would hold a lot of weight in terms of what I’d be able to achieve in my future career. Nevertheless, this statement always struck me as slightly misguided.

I was constantly reminded throughout high school and college of how important the educational years were in preparing me for the big bad world beyond, but when the time actually came to leave college, I was not so surprised to learn that I hadn’t been given all the answers, and the real world was still a great unknown.

Personally, I don’t think all lessons are limited to the classroom. On the contrary, I believe learning should never stop, not when we’re 21 or when we’re 81. It shouldn’t matter if you’re an apprentice electrician or a Nobel prizewinning physics professor – there is still more that you can learn about your craft and life in general.

If you have a particular job, hobby, or skill you want to get better at, look at ways of doing this that will reinforce the knowledge you already have. Just because you’re not in the classroom anymore doesn’t mean you can’t set yourself new lessons that will help you to make improvements. The world is ripe with free sources of information, and as long as you know where to look (I usually start with a Google search) there’s no reason you can’t follow your own personal plan to get better at anything.

Do you have a skill you’d like to improve upon? Why not set yourself a list of short-term and long-term goals, and then seek out information from your local library or an online source to help you get started.

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Are You Using the Best Tools to Develop Your Ideas?

Brain cloud
Photo courtesy of Thomas Lieser

A powerful tool that is often neglected when it comes to developing new ideas is mind maps.

For those not in know, mind maps are diagrams of interconnected words, symbols, tasks and ideas, that flow from a central idea in a series of paths. That may sound a little confusing, but mind maps are actually incredibly intuitive when you get down to them. There are no set rules regarding how you’re supposed to lay out your ideas (like, say, with a pie chart); you simply make connections between different elements much in the same way that the human brain does when it makes associations between similar items.

Whenever I need to lay out ideas for a new project I’m working on, I’ll begin by writing the central idea on a blank sheet of paper. Then I’ll gradually fill the page with headings, subheadings and concepts, all stemming out from the central idea. I find that the act of simply writing these elements down in this way helps me recall them a lot better later, and it can also be a great time saver when you need to organize your thoughts quickly.

Mind maps can be used to develop pretty much any concept you can think of, from planning a birthday party to planning the next forty years of your life. Although there are several good mind mapping software packages available online, I would recommend using the less costly pencil and paper method instead, for better retention of the facts.

How do you organize your ideas? Do you use mind maps, make lists, or find that brainstorming with other people helps make better sense of your ideas?

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How Living By the Numbers Has Paved the Way for Self-Improvement

Numbers
Photo courtesy of Koen Vereeken

How far would you go to monitor different aspects of your life? We all have certain faults we’d like to improve upon, but a relatively new group of people (an eclectic mix of hackers, patients, geeks and fitness freaks) is taking self-tracking to the extreme, as they use technology to monitor practically every aspect of their daily lives in geeky detail.

The Quantified Self is a community of “lifeloggers” – people who use their computers, mobile phones, and various other biometric sensors to keep track of the numbers that break down their daily lives. Things like heart rate, blood pressure, food and drink intake, exercise and sleep patterns are all monitored throughout a typical day of one of these devotees. The stats are then often shared with a community of likeminded people through social networking sites. As I mentioned in my earlier article about measuring mood, I think it’s a neat idea, and I’m very tempted to give it a try, if only to see how healthy I really am.

Thanks to improvements in data storage, processing power, and the advent of smartphones, we can now do so much more to track our daily stats while we go about our lives. Smartphones are provided with all kinds of built-in sensors, from cameras and GPS to accelerometers and gyroscopes, and taking quantitative measurements has never been easier. Perhaps more importantly, this practice has only become affordable in recent years. It is now possible to calculate the number of steps you take or your sleep cycles for very little cost, and app developers for devices like the iPhone are having a field day.

We’re only really scratching the surface of the possibilities with self-tracking technology, but the question then becomes “why should we keep track?” On top of advancing research for public health, I believe that following the Quantified Self way of life is an effective way to learn more about who you really are. By looking more closely at the numbers that work together to make us us, we can start to understand ourselves a lot better, and then make lasting self-improvements.

To find out more about lifelogging and the Quantified Self, check out this presentation by Gary Wolf.

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How to Take Criticism Without Becoming a Doormat

Welcome
Photo courtesy of fauxto_digit

One thing I’ve learned from watching a lot of reality TV is that when people say things like “you should learn to take criticism, get a thicker skin,” what they really mean is they want to continue to walk all over you and they don’t want you to say anything back. I’ve come across this sort of behavior a lot recently – people speaking very bluntly about their opinion of you, only to accuse you of being uptight when you decide to bite back. So where is the balance? Isn’t there a way to still take criticism without becoming a doormat?

For me, a big part of taking criticism is about the other person’s motivations. What are they trying to gain by criticizing you, and how do they react when you contest that criticism? There are some people who simply enjoy conflict, or can’t help but give their “honest” opinion when it isn’t asked for. I’ve also come across people whose second nature is to try to dominate a conversation, regardless of the topic. They’ll rant about their views at length, only to shoot you down when you try to add your own opinion into the mix. This kind of conversational pressuring typically comes from the same people who tell you to “get a thicker skin” or, my personal favorite, “learn to take a joke” when their telling you how it is rubs you the wrong way.

On the other hand, criticism can be an excellent tool for self-improvement. I don’t think I’d be the person I am today if I hadn’t received a whirlwind of criticism from my closest friends and family. As long as it remains constructive, getting the odd piece of criticism from somebody who knows your faults and habits well can be invaluable to personal growth. It can help you to pay attention to the finer details you’d previously overlooked, or learn to stop repeating the same mistakes over and over.

There is definitely a fine line between taking criticism and letting others walk all over you. Whether you agree with the points being made against you or not, it makes sense to listen to what the other person has to say before flat out disagreeing with them (as is in our nature). Don’t be a doormat, sure, but learn to take criticism for what it is: a useful tool for bettering yourself.

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How Cheating Has Opened the Door for Real Learning

Classroom Cheater
Image courtesy of Jared Stein

Traditional classroom learning is losing a significant amount of its practical value. How do I know this? I already had a hunch it was true based on my observation that friends with work experience were getting decent jobs more readily than friends with advanced degrees. However, something that happened recently drove the point home from another perspective.

I was offered a freelance writing gig through a friend of a friend, and after some inquiry, discovered it was a position with an “academic writing” service. Translation: students who have to work multiple jobs to pay for their university education do not have time to do things like actually acquiring the education, so they pay academic writing services to do some or even most of the work for them. Shocking.

Also eye-opening: it’s not very difficult to find people who, for a fee, will disguise themselves to look enough like you and take an exam on your behalf. If the exam time conflicts with your schedule or you just don’t feel confident enough to take it, simply hire a stand-in. Many university classes are large enough that no one would notice.

Against university policies? Almost certainly. Unethical? Without a doubt. And employers aren’t stupid – what exactly is the value of a degree if there’s no way to determine whether or not the person holding the degree actually earned it?

As technology and the internet provide increasingly refined ways to cheat, I think we’ll definitely be seeing even more of a shift toward companies placing less emphasis on degrees, and more on the demonstration of skills and experience. Luckily, the internet also provides resources for those interested in learning these skills on their own. As a bonus, with self-learning, you also develop valuable meta knowledge (i.e. learning how to be your own teacher in the most effective way), which in itself is extremely useful.

While I still think there’s plenty of intrinsic value in a traditional education (after all, I’m currently looking into graduate programs myself), I think from a practical standpoint we need to start reassessing that value in a more modern way. Teachers and guides are useful, of course, and even necessary in many areas, but the focus now needs to be on education for its own sake, not on the degree certificate as the end-all-be-all.

After all, in a world where you can basically purchase a degree, the person who can actually demonstrate knowledge, regardless of how they acquired it, will be king.

What could you start learning today, on your own, that would enrich your life or job prospects down the road?

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