Focusing on yourself and identifying your beliefs, needs, and challenges can help you manage emotions, feel empowered, and be intentional in your personal journey.

Can you identify the values and aspirations that guide your day-to-day actions? Your strengths and weaknesses in various circumstances? Or the way your feelings and behaviors might impact those around you?

If you answered, “Not really,” you might want to consider developing more self-awareness. Research suggests that doing so can help you build more confidence, contentment, and even a sense of control over your life.

In the field of psychology, self-awareness can be defined as the ability to see oneself as the object of attention or awareness.

When you look at yourself and are able to recognize and connect emotions, core beliefs, thoughts, and traits — including weaknesses and strengths — you’re practicing self-awareness.

Self-awareness may mean different things for different people, though.

After studying 31 articles on self-awareness, authors of a 2021 systematic literature review found that the concept may have different interpretations, depending on context. It can also be confused with concepts like self-knowledge and self-consciousness.

According to these authors, self-consciousness can be an aspect of self-awareness. When you focus and identify elements of your internal self — beliefs, values, purpose, or emotions — you become self-conscious. On the other hand, self-knowledge, they propose, is the result of practicing self-awareness.

Your sense of self starts to develop in early childhood, as you realize that you’re separate from your environment — a unique being.

As you grow older, that sense of self tends to include an internal awareness of what makes you “you” — your likes and dislikes, values, passions, and purpose.

And, although you may think you’re fully aware of who you are, this may not always be the case.

Tasha Eurich, PhD, researcher and organizational psychologist, has spent more than 10 years surveying people about their levels of self-awareness. She’s found that while 95% of study participants think they’re self-aware, only about 10% to 15% of them fully are.

“We think we come across a certain way, then we see a video of us giving a talk or interacting with others and we don’t sound the way we think we sound, or look the way we think we look,” adds ​​Thomas Plante, PhD, a psychology and psychiatry professor at Santa Clara University and the Stanford University School of Medicine.

“It can be quite a shock.”

“Self-awareness allows us to shift perspective, to see both hard realities and possibilities,” explains Eurich. “We’ve found that people who are more self-aware are also more self-accepting.”

Eurich, also an executive coach, tells her clients that moving bravely into self-awareness can help them feel empowered as they begin to see themselves and their impact more clearly.

A 2016 study on measuring the outcomes of self-awareness may back up Eurich’s work. Researchers found that practicing self-awareness and mindfulness improves:

  • self-acceptance
  • self-confidence
  • proactivity
  • stress related to social interactions

A 2015 study also suggests the value of self-awareness at work. Study findings show that self-awareness training for full-time employees is associated with:

  • improved job-related satisfaction and well-being
  • greater appreciation of diversity
  • increased confidence
  • better communication with colleagues

These expert- and research-backed tips can help you dip a toe in the waters of deeper self-awareness:

1. Try daily check-ins

Eurich says her work shows that people with higher self-awareness scores practice quality micro-reflection. These are brief moments of introspection that help them learn more about themselves each day.

You don’t have to spend hours in therapy or self-reflection to become more self-aware, says Eurich, who’s the author of “Insight: The Surprising Truth of How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More Than We Think.”

She recommends taking 2 to 3 minutes at the end of each day to ask yourself these questions:

  • What went well today?
  • What didn’t go so well today?
  • How can I be smarter tomorrow?

An emphasis in the last question can help you avoid ruminating on things that didn’t go well. Try to stay future-focused and action-oriented, advises Eurich.

2. Consider a ‘dinner of truth’

A “dinner of truth” helps you develop courageous and creative ways to ask for feedback from friends, family, and colleagues. Eurich borrows this self-awareness strategy from Josh Misner, PhD, a communications professor at North Idaho College and Gonzaga University.

To try this out, consider thinking of someone you trust but whom you’d like to have a better relationship with. You can take them out to dinner and ask them, “What do I do that is most annoying to you?”

This can sound scary. You might be worried they’ll take the opportunity to tell you that they no longer want to be friends, or that you’re unbearably aggravating.

It may be a good idea to ask the other person to give you concrete examples of your behavior, instead of assessing your character as a person.

For example, instead of saying something like, “You’re rude,” feedback could be more like, “When we were talking about my job the other day, you kept interrupting me, and I couldn’t finish my story.”

In most cases, says Eurich, people will be kind, and you’ll walk away with focused, actionable advice.

“The first time I did this, my friend said, ‘I love you in person, but I hate you on social media,’” she shares. “It helped me to see things I hadn’t seen before, feel more empowered, and improve my relationship with this person. Any time we’re vulnerable with the people we love, we have a deeper connection.”

This type of feedback is similar to what you might experience in a 360-degree review at work, in which you collect and consider input from managers, employees, and other people you interact with.

Without trusted feedback from others, we can sometimes find ourselves living in our own worlds, out of touch with how we present ourselves and impact other people, explains Plante.

Most humans have a self-serving bias, he says. But at the end of the day, we’re all human and we all have things we could do better.

3. Identifying your ‘yes’ people may help

Plante suggests looking at the people in your life and assessing whether they tend to agree with your every move. Having the support of friends and family is essential, but so is having people who are comfortable giving you feedback.

Once you know who your “yes” people are, and who’s more willing to openly discuss your behavior, you’ll know who to invite to the “dinners of truth.”

“If we want to be more self-aware, we have to increase our humility,” he says. “When you ask for feedback, promise that you won’t get defensive or interrupt.”

Self-awareness is the ability to identify and connect your emotions, thoughts, values, beliefs, and behaviors. It can help you remain consistent and focus on what you need to work on.

Building self-awareness can help you understand how these thoughts, feelings, and actions impact your health and sense of well-being, as well as the people around you.

Developing self-awareness is possible at any age. It can start by asking for feedback, checking in with yourself every day, and knowing who can provide you with honest information about your actions.

Self-awareness can lead you to feel more confident, accept yourself more, and reduce stress when interacting with other people.