10 Ways to Improve Self-Awareness & Career Choices

Take a deep dive into your subconscious and learn to become more self-aware.

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

Person looking in a mirror and practicing self-awareness

The secret to finding a fulfilling career is to know what makes you tick. It's more than just earning lots of money; it's being productive and happy. For your job to be truly satisfying, you should be fully involved in what you do.

You can't be fully immersed in your career if you don't like it. And you can't know what you like if you don't attain self-awareness. Without self-knowledge, it's impossible to realize your full potential, let alone enjoy your work.

Although many people would like to think that they're self-aware, only a small percentage are. What is self-awareness? What are its benefits? And how can you cultivate it? Let's find out.

What is self-awareness?

Different people may define self-awareness using alternative words. In general, self-awareness is the ability to know yourself. It's objectively assessing, interpreting, and understanding yourself (your actions, thoughts, and feelings) without letting your emotions control you.

When you are self-aware, you readily recognize your strengths and challenges. You can monitor your actions and reactions to situations. You understand better how you feel, why you feel that way, and how other people perceive you, and all of these things help when it comes to choosing a career that’s right for you.

Self-awareness shouldn't be confused with momentary insights into your inner world. It's a comprehensive awareness of your likes and dislikes, your goals, and how your actions relate to your internal standards. When you achieve self-awareness, you gain a level of freedom—the ability to be the best version of yourself.

Benefits of self-awareness

Whether you just graduated from college or you're reevaluating your career, knowing yourself is critical. In-depth self-knowledge can take you from feeling trapped in your job to being confident in your abilities. Consider some specific benefits you enjoy when you're self-aware:

  • You're satisfied with your job
  • You manage your emotions better
  • You perform better at work
  • You deal with stressful situations better
  • You're better at time management
  • You're less judgmental of others
  • You relate better with colleagues
  • You become a better leader

Examples of self-awareness

It's essential to understand the different levels of self-awareness before thinking about how it affects your career. The two main aspects of self-awareness are internal and external self-awareness. Inner awareness is an in-depth knowledge of your feelings, emotional triggers, abilities, and limitations. External awareness is understanding how others perceive you. 

In the workplace, self-awareness is necessary for the following situations:

Choosing a career

There's the temptation to focus on the salary for the job you're considering. While that's an essential factor to consider, evaluating your strengths and challenges is more critical. You don't want to end up at a job in which you have no interest whatsoever.

Choosing a career requires careful analysis of yourself and personal development. Is the job something you like to do? Does it align with your core values? Is there room to grow? These are some of the questions you need to ask yourself when career planning and deciding on a career path.

Job interview

Preparing for a job interview can be dreadful. You're worried about how you will perform in the eyes of the interviewer. You're also nervous because you want the job. The most effective way to go into an interview well-prepared is to be self-aware. A good interview isn’t just about answering interviewers' questions to win the job, it’s about feeling confident in those answers. When you're already aware of your strengths and weaknesses, you can fully analyze the prospective job, and potentially escape unfulfilling employment at the interview stage.

Performance appraisals

Most employees dislike performance appraisals. Imagine doing your best in your job, only for someone to tell you that you need to improve. It's almost second nature for humans to reject negative feedback. Not if you're self-aware, though. Instead of fearing performance appraisals, you'll look forward to them. You take these as welcome opportunities to improve or reexamine your career choices. You may even prefer to perform self-assessment before anyone else does. You will also be open-minded when corrected.

Leadership in the workplace

What would you say is the best quality a leader must have? Integrity, perhaps. At CareerAddict, we believe that self-awareness is top of the list of the most important muscles you need to build as a leader. To be approachable is excellent, and so is a willingness to accept suggestions and change your mind when necessary.

A leader who doesn't accept the opinions of others is likely to appear arrogant and aloof. On the other hand, if you're already self-aware, you know that others are better than you in some areas. You are willing to accept corrections and apologize when necessary.

Relating with your superiors at work

It's one thing to relate well with those under you, but what about those above you? How do you feel when you receive orders that appear unwise or unreasonable to you? The easy thing to do would be to feel irritated and act irrationally. However, if you're self-aware, you know your place and have developed the ability to express your opinion respectfully. You won't let other people's actions determine your happiness. You gain fulfillment by doing your job to the best of your ability. When you're self-aware, it's easier to allow your colleagues to be themselves.

Steps to become more self-aware

All these benefits of self-awareness sure make you want to give it a try. But with all the information available online, it can be unclear how and where to start the journey to self-awareness. We made this workable guide for you:

Step 1: Accept feedback at work

Your peers and superiors are likely to express their opinions about your work. If you're to become more self-aware, welcome their views. You may even ask for insights on how to improve. Don't be offended when you're corrected. Use performance appraisals as a tool to get better.

Step 2: Practice self-assessment and self-exploration

Learn to listen to yourself. In every situation, hear your inner self telling you what triggers your actions and reactions. Understanding your emotional triggers is a surefire way to increase your self-knowledge. Additionally, learn to describe yourself without referring to outside factors, such as family, education, friends, and environment. Answer the question: Who am I?

Step 3: Take a psychometric test

A psychometric test is an activity—or set of activities—aimed at helping you understand your abilities, behaviors, and how you interact with other people. If you want to know yourself, take the test and be honest with yourself when working to improve where you can.

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Step 4: Identify your strengths and weaknesses

To attain self-awareness, you should know what you're good at, activities you're not so good at, and stuff you simply can't do. This awareness is vital in the workspace, as you don't want to waste your productive years stuck at a job where you can't deliver. Reviewing and accepting your strengths and weaknesses is a bright light on the path to self-awareness.

Step 5: Practice mindfulness

Instead of getting stuck in the past, or needlessly projecting the future, focus on the present. There are several ways to practice mindfulness. For example, you can focus on your breathing for a few minutes. Think deeply about the here and now. A moment of mindfulness can help you reset and get your thoughts in order, so you can focus on the task at hand. It makes you more productive and brings you a step closer to knowing yourself deeply.

Step 6: Know your priorities

What is most important to you? Once you have a clear picture of priorities, move on to strategizing on how to achieve your goals. Don't forget to track your progress. These steps help you stay focused on what you want and the work you need to do to get there.

Step 7: Ask friends for their perspective

On top of accepting feedback at your workplace, ask your close friends what they think about you. It is easier for your associates to view you more objectively than you do yourself. Remember to be open-minded when asking for viewpoints, because you may not always like what you hear. Knowing other people's perceptions of your personality will help you anticipate their reactions and empathize with their choices and decisions.

Step 8: Keep a journal

Write down a note each day. It could be just one line, a paragraph, or more. You may use a blank page or a guided template if you like. The goal is to write down your emotions. With a record of your positive and negative emotions, you can go back and figure out what your emotional triggers are and, in retrospect, better understand your reactions.

Step 9: Work out your core values

Do you know what you stand for? What are your internal standards? Knowing your core values protects you from swaying back and forth with emerging ideas. You can confidently say that you're self-aware when you know your values, and this will help you progress in both your career and personal life.

Step 10: Get out of your comfort zone 

It may sound counterintuitive to explore the unknown, but going out of your comfort zone is a massive step towards self-awareness. Although you may think that sticking to the familiar is being true to yourself, trying new things helps you see how you react to unfamiliar situations. You may be surprised to find out just how comfortable you are in new environments. You may even discover new passions.

Final thoughts

Self-awareness is rare but not unattainable. The steps to self-awareness are so simple that you may overlook them. However, no one becomes self-aware by accident. You have to cultivate it step by step. The secret is in the tiny steps you make daily by following the points you've learned here.

The job you choose determines your level of fulfillment, affects your family relationships, and determines the level of self-development you experience. To best plan your career, you need to have in-depth self-knowledge. Self-awareness helps you build stronger relationships, both at work and at home.

Join the conversation! Is self-awareness something you’re working on? What steps have you taken to better understand your strengths, weaknesses and motivations? Let us know in the comments!

This is an updated version of an article originally published on 5 January 2017.