The Unrealized Powerful Potential of Self-Awareness


The Unrealized Powerful Potential of Self-Awareness

I remember it vividly.

It was Thanksgiving, 2011.

I visited my parents for the Thanksgiving festivities. Mom, being a chef, enjoyed doing the cooking.

The day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday. It’s something I’ve never participated in... until this time.

Last time I spent money like this, I was 9 years old. I saved up my money from my car washing business to buy my first BMX bike for $200 (along with computer programming books).

This time, in 2011, I was buying a mountain bike. The local bike shop had a bike I was eyeing for 30% off on Black Friday. I bought it. 

I remember the first time I rode it.

“I’ll go for a spin around the block” turned into a 10 mile ride around the lake.

I loved the exercise, the focus, the time with nature, the time with self, and the immersion of it all. I still do.

I remember the first lesson I learned from mountain biking.

It was riding through puddles, or streams of water. I did it a few times.

The challenge was I was either screaming joyfully, or breathing with my mouth open, and riding fiercely through a water stream threw back water and mud (etc) towards my face and... sometimes in my mouth.

It took me several rides to consciously remember to close my mouth when riding over water.

This small story is a story of self-awareness. “Live and learn” is a mantra that is not often lived out when we’re not consciously learning through self-awareness.

If you're reading this, I want you to know, I'm grateful for every second you spend with my characters. 

The words written here are spoken with conviction because I've felt and experienced much of what I am about to share with you. 

What is self-awareness?

Dictionary.com says that self-awareness is “the state or condition of being aware; having knowledge; consciousness.”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary says that self-awareness is “knowledge and awareness of your own personality or character.”

Wikipedia takes the definition a step deeper: “Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection and the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals. It is not to be confused with consciousness.... While consciousness is a term given to being aware of one’s environment and body and lifestyle, self-awareness is the recognition of that awareness.”

Infants are not self-aware. Our youth is a time for us to evolve in our bodies. Adulthood is about evolving our mind.

I’m a fan of simplicity. I define self-awareness as simply awareness of self. It’s awareness over our emotions, thoughts, habits, and actions.

Within the context of the human experience (HX), I believe the human experience is about connection. Self-awareness is being aware of our connections. Our connections to self, the connections within our life that create our story, and our connection to others. Self-awareness is understanding connection.

CEOs, leaders, and high performers, have the most to benefit from self-awareness. 

Powerful analogies to self-awareness

You could skip reading this section, but I wouldn't advise it. I believe in strengthening our conviction for better understanding. Part of that process includes repetition. I want you to understand the power of what I am about to say.

The car analogy 

Imagine your life is like a car. You drive this car all day long. To and from work. You vacation in this car. You have a family that drives in this car. Time passes, the car never changes. It’s your car for life. One day, you’re out on a family vacation, and you’re in the middle of nowhere with no phone service. You get a flat.

What do you do?

Option A) You try to fix the flat, but you’ve never fixed a flat before. You fumble around with the tools, maybe you find a car manual, and you attempt to fix the flat. Uncertain, unconfident, slightly defensive because you know you should know better, and pressed for time because your family is waiting on you... you struggle to fix the flat.

Option B) You’ve never fixed a flat before and the thought of fixing a flat yourself frightens you. Paralyzed in fear, you never get out of the car. Instead, you die in the car.  

Option C) Uncertain, unconfident, and maybe anxious, you get out of the car to attempt the repair. You follow the instructions in the manual if you can find it. You understand that you're exactly where you need to be. You attempt, and are determined to figure it out. 

Option D) You’ve fixed a flat before and this process is as simple as your favorite piece of carrot cake. You get out of your car, fix the flat, and resume driving.

Most people spend their lives with option A or option B. The struggle never ends, or they never try and end up dying. Smart people move from camp C to D. I’m not being critical or judgemental, this is neither good nor bad, I’m making an observation on our shared human experience (HX). I also accept that I am doing the best I can, with what I’ve been given, with where I’m at in my life at every moment. Because I believe this of myself, I believe the same is true of others.

The car analogy - Braking

Using the car analogy from above, imagine you’re the driver of your car... but you don’t fully understand the car. Imagine driving a huge object that weighs about 4,000 pounds. Imagine driving it on the streets, in neighborhoods, and on the freeway. Imagine driving a 4,000 pound object at 65 miles per hour on the freeway and not knowing how to drive or use the car. How do you turn? How do you communicate to other drivers? How do you stop?

Imagine all of the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, newborns, pregnant women, cousins, uncles, aunts, great-grandfathers, great grandparents, who are also on the road with you.

Imagine your possible impact to them.

How do you stop?

Option A) You press the wrong pedal and speed up. Now you’re driving 4,000 pounds at 90 miles per hour. Police don’t exist in this world, this is not the freeway, this is life. Imagine all of the families and humans on the road with you. Imagine the danger you put them through when you don’t know how to stop.

Option B) You don’t know what to do. You coast. You’re a drifter. You somehow manage to drive around others in traffic without hurting yourself, or others. You survive. You get by. You don’t impact anyone else and you don’t allow yourself to be impacted by anyone else. You don’t even leave tire marks on the freeway. You’re just another car in a sea of millions of cars.

Option C) You try to brake. You press your foot on whatever you can. You embrace the uncertainty and risk of the moment. You understand what you're doing and realize you'll only learn by doing. 

Option D) Stopping is one of the few things you know how to do with your car. Stopping is as simple as eating your favorite piece of cheesecake. You stop your car.

Most people spend their lives with option A or B. They speed up because they don’t know how to respond (lacking response-ability), or they coast because they don’t know how to brake (lacking awareness that a brake exists and/or is connected). The smart people move from camp C to D. I believe everyone is doing the best they know how to.

The car analogy - Sideview mirrors

Same car analogy. New scenario. This time, you’re driving on the freeway. 4,000 pound object. You don’t know how to use the object. There are families, great-grandparents, brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers, all around you. Your task is to change lanes. Your task is to move into the lane where another car could be. Your task is to turn the wheel, be mindful of your own safety, the safety of those in the car with you, and the safety of those in the lanes around you.

Oh, and watch out for your blind spots. Remember, objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

How do you change lanes?

Option A) You never change lanes. You think you’re trying. You say you’re doing the best you can. But some story in your mind is holding you back. You’re a coaster, a drifter. Like a log lost in the ocean with no purpose or vision for itself. It’s lost, like you. You have certain beliefs. You care about certain things. You’ve been deeply affected by personal circumstances. But you never change lanes. You never move towards what calls you from within. Maybe the regret bubbles up during your last breath.

Option B) You change lanes, but you cause an accident. Unaware of the car, unaware of the weight, unaware of the blind spot, unaware of potential impact, unaware of the speeds, you cause an accident. Maybe you live, maybe you don’t. Maybe those in your car live, maybe they don’t. Maybe the person you hit lives, maybe they don’t. 50/50. You had one chance, one task, one move, one opportunity, and you took it. One life.

Option C) You change lanes, mindful of your blind spots and others. You’re aware. You know what you’re doing. You know how to do it. You see all the angles. Maybe you even have intimate understanding of the engine. Maybe you use your blinker. But you know, and you care enough about your life and others to put in the effort to execute your one task. One life. Easy as apple pie.

Most people spend their lives with option A or B. Void of conviction, empty of effort to make a move, this group drifts without leaving a fingerprint behind. Without wearing down the tires or the road. Those who take option B make a move, but it’s a fumble. The smart ones move from camp B to camp C. Those are the ones who are learning, and evolving, and growing, and adapting. Majority stay in camp B. Like a bowling ball bouncing off the bumpers on every throw, these people lack the self-awareness. Sure, they could throw a strike, but it can be inconsistent. 

The thing that moves people to Option C...

Surrender.

Yes, that’s it. One simple powerful word. Surrender.

I’ve written about mine before.

Maybe it’s surrender to natural law, like gravity.

Maybe it’s surrender to your humanity.

Maybe it’s a surrender to your power.

Maybe it’s a surrender to the idea that you want to see your great-grand-children so you should focus on your health. That’s a “life or death” surrender. Survival. Powerful.

The surrender is important. What extreme will you go to?

We learn how to fix a flat by repetition. Surrender to the moment, rinse and repeat to learn. 

We learn how to brake by listening within through self-awareness and knowing when to brake. (Even if that means asking for help)

We learn how to use our rearview-mirrors through trying, failing, learning, picking ourselves up, and trying again.

This is surrender to natural law.

The very real effect from lack of self-awareness

In August of 2013, I went bikepacking with 2 good friends. We mountain biked a total of 57 miles, climbed 4,813ft in elevation, and moved for about 7 hours. The average temperature was 86F. We did this while mountain biking with overnight gear strapped onto the bikes.

At mile 30 or so, I started cramping. First my left leg, then my right.

It turns out I miscalculated my water intake with temperatures in the high 80s. The effect, cramping, happened on a ride with several miles to go with wildlife in the mountains. At night.

Fortunately, I was able to recover from that experience. I learned to be more mindful of my body and water intake on such a long ride.

If I was more self-aware, I would have consumed water at more appropriate intervals and respected my body more. When we're self-aware, we learn from these moments.

Effects of lacking self-awareness

Oh, where to start...

This is tough to answer because self-awareness is the beginning of everything.

It’s the beginning of higher levels of thinking and living.

It’s the beginning of purpose.

It’s the beginning of mindfulness.

Could I say that lacking self-awareness is like a tree not giving off oxygen? Not really, because self-awareness is the dirt. It’s the foundation.  

Everything we experience is a result of our biology or our awareness.

And as I mentioned in an article on depression, our awareness and thoughts can alter our biology. 

Well, if it must be said, lacking self-awareness could result in...

Broken friendships and relationships.

Pain.

Lack of empathy. (If you don’t understand yourself, how are you supposed to understand others?)

Detrimental habits.

Damaging impact on those around you.

More fear. (Fear within you breeds more fear with those around you)

Unsustainable lifestyle.

No self-improvement.

Divorce.

Weak belief systems.

Depression.

Insecurity.

Suicide.

Take all of these side effects of lacking self-awareness. Then imagine yourself giving the same thing to your team, employees, family, son, daughter, and everyone around you.

Personal growth is not personal. It’s about those around you.

I say these things as a way to raise your awareness. I know what raising my awareness has done for me.

The Unrealized Potential of Self-Awareness

We’ve talked about self-awareness. What it is. Examples. Side effects from not having it.

This is the value of self-awareness.

I may describe something that lives in your blind spot. It’s like trying to describe where the furniture is in a home you’ve never been in when it’s pitch black inside. It’s like trying to explain where on the floor there is a child’s hot wheel that you could trip over when you can’t see the floor.

You have 2 options here:

  1. Become skeptical to the darkness and live in your darkness blind to how you exist in the world and how you affect others.

  2. Surrender to the blind spot that you’re unaware of for yourself and for those around you because you care.

How will you choose? (Not to choose is also choosing)

Self-awareness is like x-ray glasses

In neuroscience, there is a theory around “mirror neurons.” Mirrors neurons are how we learn growing up. We mimic behavior. We mirror others. We use this to transmit skills from generation to generation. Some evidence suggests we use mirror neurons to read minds.

This important theory around mirror neurons states that we are only able to understand in others what we can understand in ourselves.

Think about it.

If you don’t know what kind of car you’re driving, can you understand what kind of cars other people are driving? (Can you even know what a car is?)

If you don’t understand how your car works, can you understand how someone else's car works?

If you don’t understand your deepest motives, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs, can you understand it in others?

The truth is simple: what we cannot see in ourselves, we cannot accurately see in others.

When I know my insecurities, I can see it in others.

When I know my shame, I can see it in others. 

When I know my pain, I can see it in others.  

When I know several of my weaknesses, I can see it in others.

When I know my depression, I can see it in others.

When I know what true power is, I know how to recognize it in others.

When I know about my struggle with perfectionism, I know how to recognize it in others.

Everything linked above are things I have openly shared to help raise your awareness to inspire legacy.

This truth is the foundation of emotional intelligence.

Increased efficiency

Can you tell me one universal truth that is common sense?

Go on, do it.

It’s so simple, when I say it, you may laugh.

Here’s the simple obvious truth:

Everything you do in this life will involve people.

By understanding yourself more, you will better understand others.

This is not an auto-pilot process. It takes effort.

The increased efficiency happens when improved understanding of yourself helps you understand others.

What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?

Are you playing to your strength and executing your life against your strengths?

Have you offset your weaknesses by having others leverage their strengths?

Self-awareness will tell you that. Too many unintentionally lie to themselves and others because they lack self-awareness.

More time

What? Self-awareness will give you more time?

Yes.

When you understand your mood, and your energy, and how you feel, you can be more effective in the time you have. This will create the appearance of more time because you will strengthen your relationship with time.

Energy management, not time management.

Connect with others better

I believe the human experience (HX) is about connection. When you can connect to yourself better through self-awareness, you can connect with others better.

This is the blind spot of many.

Similar to mirror neurons, I’m talking about empathy. Connection. Not sympathy.

Brené Brown says sympathy is “feeling for.”

Ever hear someone say “I feel sorry for...?”

That’s feeling sorry for.

Empathy is feeling with another human being.

Empathy is powerful, sympathy is weak.

People want empathy, not sympathy.

People want true connection, human-to-human interaction, more than anything. We’re wired for it.

Connect with yourself. Connect with others.  

More compassion. More love.

Understand how food affects you

When you’re self-aware, you understand how food makes you feel.

You feel it in your body.

All foods, beverages, everything. You’re more in tune with your body when you’re self-aware.

What will that do? It can empower you to make healthier choices.

What will that do? It can prevent future pain and it can extend life.

Know when to ask for help

Self-awareness allows you to know what you lack and when you need to ask for help.

From the example above, it’ll let you know when to ask for help on changing your flat tire. Learn from someone else, avoid pain and discomfort, and move forward.

I get it, some grown ups want to learn for themselves. I wonder how they would be if they continued to see themselves as growing up. A "grown up" is a static state. Stubbornness is often a result of how much power your parents/caregivers gave you during childhood. If parents/caregivers decided for you all the time, they took away your power to decide, so you spend your life trying to reclaim that power... hence, stubbornness. You want to decide for yourself. (Also due to insecurity, lack of self-awareness, and fear) Listen, I get it. If this is your story, I hope you find the self-awareness to transcend this because the side effects are not in your favor (and can actually be detrimental to those around you). I know, this is my old story. I hope you recognize your power to move through this. Turn it into a strength. (Also, because I accept I am doing the best I can, with what I've been given, with where I'm at in life, I give all parents and caregivers this same gift)

Understand the paradoxes of life better

Life is a paradox. To fight this natural law is a fool’s game.

To borrow from an article I wrote on the growth paradox...

There is a time to listen to others, and a time to listen to yourself.

There is a time to attach to the moment, and a time to detach.

There is a time to embrace, and a time to let go.

There is a time to help others, and a time to help yourself.

There is a time to build, and a time to listen.

There is a time to learn, and a time to do.

There is a time to accept, and a time to reject.

There is a time to settle, and a time not to settle.

There is a time to be inspired, and there is a time to calm down.

There is a time to know that you’re enough, and a time to know that more is possible.

When you’re self-aware, you see the paradox. You’re not living on either side blindly. You’re like a boat that knows how to autocorrect the path. You can self-correct your path because you’re aware of what’s happening.

Trust more accurately

You ever lie before? (It's just me and you, no one else is here. Be real with me.)

You ever try too hard before because you didn’t want to let someone down?

You ever feel like an impostor before?

As the mirror neurons theory from above says, what you can recreate within your body, and what you understand about yourself, you can more accurately see in others.

The more self-aware you are, the more accurately you can see others and know when to trust.

Increase odds of success

Whatever success means to you, the odds go up.

The odds go up because you have clarity. You have perspective. You have insight. 

I’ve heard stories from people who spent a decade chasing a dream someone else wanted for them. It’s not something they wanted for themselves.

Self-awareness increases your odds in getting what you want out of life. Not the fake stuff, the real stuff. The meaningful stuff, to you.

The Unrealized Powerful Potential of Self-Awareness

Something that is powerful has great power or strength. 

1. Fear versus trust.

When you’re self-aware, you understand the biological influence fear has over you and others.

When you’re self-aware, you understand that your ability to trust can overpower your biology.

2. Power over self.

When you’re self-aware, you realize you only have power over yourself.

Some people never learn this truth.

I’ve seen life or death situations bring it to light.

I know what you believe about power because I hear it in your words and I see it in your actions.

Confident people know where their power lives.

Powerful people know where their power lives.

I’m talking about true power. None of that fake overcompensating nonsense.

3. Change your story and language.

When you can see your story, and understand your language, you can begin to change it so it serves you.

As I mentioned in the depression article, one of the greatest lies we tell ourselves is that we all live in the same world. We don’t.

We create our worlds. Your biology and the stories you tell yourself are the reality that you and only you fully experience. When you’re self aware, you’ll understand how your thoughts can influence your biology.

It’s less about the language you use. It’s more about your relationship with your language.

Here is the vision I have

At HX Works, I believe the human experience (HX) is about connection.

I believe in a world where we know how to connect to ourselves so we can connect to others in meaningful ways.

The school, parents, and the education system don’t teach this.

No one teaches us how to exist in ways that serve us.

The more we connect to our deepest sense of self, the more we connect to the human spirit that lives within. This is the piece we all share. This is the strongest connection we can create with ourselves.

The world I live in is full of love, understanding, empathy, compassion, support, encouragement, and true interdependence. True connection. Connection where we acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses and journey together in a stronger way. Not for us, but for future generations.

It starts with respecting our legacy. It starts with respecting our value to humanity.

We change the world by changing the only true thing we have power over: ourselves.

I believe the more CEOs, leaders, and high performers understand this, the greater we can thrive together.

To use my car analogy from above, I believe when we have heightened self-awareness, the stories become less of “we could kill someone with our car” and more of “we stepped on someone’s shoes on the dance floor.” That’s all it is.

How to become more self-aware

This is not an automatic process.

It requires effort.

Effort is the foundation of it all.

It takes time.

It's a life-long journey.

I share these words and questions with conviction because I’ve examined many of my behaviors. I am grateful to you for putting in the effort to get this far.

Know your default response. When you experience many of life's moments, what’s your default response? Do you get defensive? If so, ask yourself, what are you defending? Do you try to control? What do you get out of trying to control? What does that prevent you from dealing with? If your response is passive aggressive and you’re technically lying, what do you get out of that? What are you hiding? If your behavior changes and affects your mood, what is causing that change? If you make excuses, what do you avoid by making excuses? If you exaggerate, what do you get out of exaggerating? Usually someone is overcompensating for something. Uncover your unconscious. 

Look at your friends around you. Who do you choose to put around you? What similarities are there with your friends? What do they have that you don’t? What do they have that you have? What do you get out of spending time with them? People say “opposites attract” because we are often attracted by what we lack. Look at your friends to see what you may lack. (None of this is good or bad, it simply is.)

Reset your perspective. Here’s some reset language I use to remind myself of our objective reality: "I am 1 of ~7 billion people. I am just like everyone else: another human being in our species trying to figure this thing out called life. Anything I experience is either because of my biology or because of my inner narrative (the voice in my head). My thoughts affect my biology. What thoughts do I have that cause me to feel this way?"

Surrender to yourself. Surrender to this truth. Surrender to your current level of self-awareness. Accept that you’re evolving, like everyone else. Respect that. Surrender to your humanity and your blind spots. Surrender to the idea that you are loved by others. Surrender to the idea that you are love to others. Surrender to your power. Surrender to the idea that your words can affect someone else for the rest of their life. Your actions, spoken and unspoken, can affect others too. Surrender to these natural laws. Not for yourself, but for those around you. Personal growth is not personal.

Listen deeply. When you’ve learned to listen to yourself, you can begin to truly listen to others. You can begin to listen to what they say, and what they do not say. Why? Because the more you learn about yourself, the more you move beyond self and can truly begin to learn and connect with others.

See like an X-ray. The more you learn to see into yourself, the more you can learn to see into others. This isn’t black and white, but the more you learn to see into yourself, the more you notice the patterns. The more you see how everything is connected. The more you can begin to see into others.

Know your indicators. The more you learn about what you want and what you don’t want, the more you can learn how to keep what you don’t want out of your life. What are your indicators? What do you want more of? What do you want less of? How do you get more of what you want? How do you get less of what you don’t want? How can you make it easier to get what you want? How can you add friction to things you don’t want to do?

Pay attention to your dreams. There is high correlation to self-awareness and lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming is when you’re able to take control of your dreams and do the unimaginable (like flying). Think about it: the more self-aware you are in your waking state, the more aware you are in your non-waking state. Lucid dreaming is a result of being more lucid during the day. (Lucid dreaming is also linked to being more insightful and possessing greater problem solving skills)  

Express the real you. Yes, allow yourself to be seen. There is power in vulnerability. Show up, all of you. The real you. The more you do this, the more data you give yourself to reflect on. If it helps, start to express your truest thoughts and feelings in a journal. Remember, the human experience (HX) is about connection. To better understand yourself, disconnect from yourself. Through journaling or the way you talk to others or meditating. Allow yourself to be seen.

Travel more. Get out of your bubble. The bubble, or your usual environments and people and stimuli, feed autopilot. To get out of autopilot, fly somewhere you’ve never flown before. If you're right-handed, do more things left-handed. New cultures cause you to more closely see your own culture. New societies cause you to see your own society more clearly. New languages cause you to examine your own language. You are wired for new connections and memories. Embrace it.

Find your purpose. The better you understand yourself, the greater your capacity becomes for a purposeful life. Purpose gives you something to connect to. Something greater than self. Your greatest pain or worries or struggles can be reframed into purpose. This is where powerful conviction lives.  

Embrace metacognition. Another word for self-awareness, or metacognition, is thinking about your thinking. The more you can switch from the driver’s seat to the passenger’s seat in your car, the greater your capacity to see more clearly. This is a skill that allows you to move to greater levels of mastery. 

Learn from other people and resources. Ask a trusted friend what they see in you. Ask for candid feedback. Whatever they say doesn't need to be true. You decide truth. Be open to whatever they say, reflect on it. Most never experience honest feedback because they never ask for it. While you're at it, research personality tests to learn more about your personality and things you may not know about yourself.

Write your story. Most people never write the end of their life awake, alive, conscious, mindful, proactive, or intentional. This is neither bad, nor good, it simply is. I accept that I am doing the best I can, with what I’ve been given, with where I’m at in life. I give this gift to others. To write your story, you must first see it. You must first create the self-awareness to step outside of your story and determine how you want to write the ending. When you don’t create self-awareness for yourself, you become a prisoner to whatever self the world or society or culture or parents/caretakers want for you. You become a slave to your default future. Self-awareness is where your power lives. This is where your freedom lives. Are you going to grab the reins?

Then, inspire legacy. What is legacy? Legacy is your value to humanity.

It is not about self, but it requires self.

It is the story people tell about you.

It is what you leave behind.

How do you inspire legacy?

Well, how do you give someone who is thirsty a glass of water?

First, you must have a glass. Secondly, it must contain water. Thirdly, you must own the glass of water.

Guess how you inspire legacy? Through self-awareness, you create the truest sense of self-ownership you can, and you share where you’re at with what you have along the way to the next person.

If you don’t own it, what do you have to give away?


Matthew Gallizzi equips entrepreneurs with the mental tools that result in personal power, better health, impactful communication, and more. He believes mental tools empower entrepreneurs in reaching the highest levels of success.

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