Developing Self-Awareness: A Messy, Ugly, Five-Step Process

I work hard at self-awareness. I find it to be helpful to my learning process as an athlete. I discovered I always follow the same 5 step process of breakdown and awareness. It’s ugly, but it works.

I know some of myself very well – some habits, proclivities, and tendencies. I work fairly hard at self-awareness because I find it to be helpful in all aspects of my life, athletic and otherwise. How am I going to capitalize on my best habits and reduce the influence of my less adaptive ones if I can’t identify them and their effects? Being aware of my sensitivities and the places where I feel confident can help me take the actions more likely to help me meet my goals.

Self-awareness isn’t something I just decide to have, however. Over time, I discovered that the way I uncover pieces of my own psychic puzzle follows a fairly predictable process. Of course, while I’m in the throes of it, I have no idea what’s going on and feel like I’m floundering around in the deep end, but with the benefit of hindsight, I can clearly see how it works. Read on for a description of how I progress, bit by bit, toward self-knowledge.

Step 1: I pay attention to frustrations.

Frequently my self-awareness breakthroughs are precipitated by a sense of frustration in some aspect of my life because things aren’t going the way I want them to. And while this can be, well, frustrating, the feeling can actually start to bring to conscious awareness a subconscious tendency that might be hindering me. This can actually be very challenging and require several big smacks upside my head before I take notice. But eventually, the dissatisfaction I may feel about a certain part of my life slowly becomes something I can articulate. And once I can name it, I can address it.

Let’s say I’m feeling stymied because I’m not improving at guard passing as quickly as I would like to or think I should be. I can just stew about it, or I can start to pay attention. The fact that I want to stew is the first indication that some kind of self-awareness breakthrough will eventually be the payoff for what’s about to come next – if I do my part.

Step 2: I look for patterns.

Now that I’m good and irritated, it would be really tempting to blame the world for my tribulations. And many people do just this. But in doing so, they are putting the locus of control for their lives outside of themselves. They might feel better about themselves in the short run, but in the long run, they’ll feel lousy because nothing will change for the better. So, with apologies to Animal House, instead of pointing fingers at others, at this point it’s time for someone to put his foot down. And that foot should be me.

In my guard-passing hypothetical, I might start to keep a training journal to see if there are any patterns I haven’t otherwise been able to identify. I may think I have a good sense of my training habits, but sometimes seeing them in black and white can be telling. And squirm inducing. Upon review of my journal, perhaps I discover I have missed class or had to leave early one out of every three classes in the previous month. Or perhaps I keep ending up on the bottom when I train so I can’t practice the target behaviors.

Step 3: I ask for input.

At this point, my frustration has led me to try to identify behavior or thought patterns that might be causing me to stagnate. Now I need to put my ego aside (sigh) and see if someone else can round out the picture. Perhaps at this point I ask my coach or a trusted teammate to observe as I work on guard passing drills. Or I roll with someone, making sure to be on top so I can practice passing, and then ask that person for feedback. Perhaps s/he will notice that I repeatedly make the same mistake or repeatedly miss a specific detail. And obviously I didn’t know I was doing it or I would have stopped.

Step 4: I despair.

self awareness, self-awareness, learning process, athlete, cookiesMaybe some people get to skip this step, but it’s the one I seem to do quite well. It’s not easy to come to unflattering realizations about myself, and when I do, sometimes it feels like a punch in the stomach from which I have to take time to recover. Even if it’s something seemingly minor like acknowledging that I let other aspects of my life take precedence over my guard-passing goals, or that I’m human enough to need more work to understand all the nuances of a movement pattern, it’s still uncomfortable to own my imperfections.

So when a new realization dawns on me that is tough to acknowledge, I frequently recover with naps, snacks, and not a small amount of wallowing. And of course all of this varies directly as to the nature of the imperfection. (In other words, the bigger the weakness, the bigger the bowl of ice cream.) I’m not proud of it, but it seems to be an integral part of my process.

Step 5: I resolve to do better.

When the nap is over and the snacks are gone, it’s time to get back to work. By that time, I’ve come to terms with this recently identified area in need of development. Frequently, I’m even excited to get to work. And things continue apace until the next shrouded corner of my psyche makes itself available for me to contemplate.

I find this process works in all aspects of my life, not just in my athletic endeavors. What are YOU frustrated about? Your love life? Your career? Your own athletic pursuits? See if you can follow the thread of that frustration all the way through the process of becoming more self-aware. And post your experiences to comments.

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