“Become.” “Becoming.” These are important words in Latter-day Saint theology. They help fuel our emphasis on personal growth and development. Here are a few ways that they have been used in General Conference addresses:
- “Mortality is an essential gift in our journey to become like our Heavenly Father.” (Elder Peter F. Meurs)
- “A disciple strives to become as [Christ] is by keeping His commandments.” (Elder Robert D. Hales)
- “Now is the time for each of us to work toward…becoming what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.” (Elder Dallin H. Oaks)
But, how does one “become?” What skills are necessary to go from being one kind of a person to becoming an improved kind of a person, one more like Christ?
In the field of leadership, I am becoming increasingly exposed to a skill that is essential to becoming, growing, and developing. Yet, it is a skill that is largely missing from Latter-day Saint vocabulary. In fact, it has only been mentioned twice in General Conference (1993 & 1994).
This skill is self-awareness.
One of the best definitions of self-awareness that I have found comes from Steven R. Covey. He defines self-awareness as “our capacity to stand apart from ourselves and examine our thinking, our motives, our history, our scripts, our actions, and our habits and tendencies.”
Relying upon this definition, it seems clear that if we want to go from being one kind of person to become an improved kind of person, we need to have the skill and ability to examine ourselves, to clearly know and identify where we currently are and identify where we yet have to go.
But, this is much easier said than done. In a TEDx Talk on the topic, Tasha Eurich states that 85% of people think that they are self-aware, but only 15% of people are actually self-aware. These statistics suggest that both you and I think we are much more self-aware than we actually are. Additionally, these statistics imply that we probably have much further to go in our journey of “becoming” than we think we do.
Knowing that self-awareness is a critical skill and ability for us to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become, there are two purposes for this article. First, it is meant to help church leaders better understand self-awareness to improve their own lives and leadership. Second, it is meant to help church leaders better understand self-awareness so that they can promote it to those they lead.
Signs You Are/Are Not Self-aware
For those unfamiliar with the term self-awareness, it might be helpful to identify signs that you either are or are not self-aware. The lists below were compiled from multiple self-awareness websites. I’ll be honest, some of this was a wake-up call for me.
While these are general signs associated with self-awareness, allow me to be audacious enough to identify signs of a lack of self-awareness that I feel are common in the church culture (many of which I have done):
- Being more concerned about being right on a topic than the feelings of others
- A mentality that there is only one way to think about a particular issue (e.g., seeing things as being black/white)
- Being closed to ideas and suggestions from others about how to improve our church experience
- Not being able to discuss difficult or challenging topics
- Thinking there is one right way to do something
- Only valuing information that supports your perspective
- A frequent bearing of testimony on Fast Sundays without questioning one’s motives for why one feels frequently compelled to bear their testimony
- Taking more than your allotted time for a talk or a lesson
- Getting defensive when someone says something you do not agree with
- Teachers that are unwilling to change their “style” to better meet the needs of the class
- Not being aware of the attitudes of those you lead or teach
- Not getting the “voice” or ideas of those you lead prior to creating a goal or a plan that influences them
- Making snarky comments about how one is dressed (e.g., “no white shirt today, huh?”)
I do not know about you, but I think these things are rather common in our church. Each of them is generally a reflection of one’s inability or unwillingness to “stand apart from ourselves and examine our thinking, our motives, our history, our scripts, our actions, and our habits and tendencies.”
A Hallmark of a Self-Aware Person
While this article is meant to be a high-level overview of self-awareness, I do want to add a bit of depth to the topic. To do so, I want to discuss one hallmark of a self-aware person. This information largely comes from Brendon Burchard’s book, High-Performance Habits.
Self-aware people recognize that there is a difference between emotions and feelings. Emotions are instinctual reactions to a situation or event. Our feelings are a mental portrayal or interpretation of an emotion. The key difference between these two is that while we may not be able to always control experiencing unpleasant emotions, we can choose our feelings. We can either let the emotions drive our feelings, or we can select the feelings they want to have regardless of emotions that arise.
For example, I just went into the kitchen and my son wanted to show me what he was eating for breakfast. In the process of showing me, dropped his bowl of cereal on the floor. When this happened, negative emotions rose within me. Luckily, I was having a self-aware moment. Rather than let my emotions dictate how I was going to respond to my son, I chose to override my emotions and create feelings within me that were much more productive.
People with low self-awareness bumble about their day allowing their situations to define how they feel. A self-aware person is one that can recognize when unpleasant emotions rise within them and actively alter or control them. They calibrate the feelings they want to have regardless of the emotions a situation incentivizes. This means that they go so far as to enter a situation having thought about the feelings they want to experience.
For example, prior to getting your kids to do their homework, prior to going on a date, prior to going into a meeting, or prior to coming home from work, do you think about the feelings you want to create in that upcoming situation? This is something self-aware people do. Before they sit down with their child to work on math homework, they ask themselves, “What do I want to feel when I’m helping my child? What feelings do I want them to have about me, about homework, about their life?”
Ultimately, self-aware people are those that understand and practice what Victor Frankl was saying when he said: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Why is it Important to be Self-Aware?
While there are many important reasons to be self-aware, let me present five reasons why it is important to become more self-aware.
- We become better leaders – To be an effective leader, we need to be someone that others want to follow. People strongly prefer to follow those that are more self-aware than less self-aware. In fact, some studies have found that emotional intelligence is four times more important to leadership effectiveness than intellectual intelligence.
- Example: Few are interested in following a leader who always feels compelled to be the first and the last one to speak.
- We are able to grow and improve – We are not going to change if we are unable to see that we can improve. By better knowing who we are and why we do what we do, we can chart a course for improvement.
- Example: If we cannot tell that we can be abrasive in our communication, we will be reluctant to change our communication style.
- We are better able to navigate life – Self-awareness helps us make decisions that are best for us. It is almost impossible to put ourselves in a position to succeed if we are unsure about who we are, or if we see ourselves as being different than who we really are.
- Example: I have known many people who try to pursue a career that is not well-suited for them. The result is that they end up floundering throughout their career.
- We are better able to monitor and control our emotions and thoughts – All of us are guilty of reacting as opposed to thoughtfully responding. Reacting, unless for safety reasons, rarely leads to positive outcomes. By becoming more self-aware, we are better able to thoughtfully respond.
- Example: Are you someone that easily reacts to poor officiating at a sporting event? Church basketball, anyone?
- Self-aware people are more compassionate to themselves and others
- Example: Usually when someone is offended in the church, it is because (1) they are not as self-aware as they should be, AND (2) the offender was not as self-aware as they should have been. I might argue that issues of self-awareness are at the heart of any grievance that people have with the church or its members.
What Can We Do to Become More Self-Aware?
Let me provide six suggestions for how we can improve our self-awareness.
- Work your mindfulness muscles
I believe that mindfulness and self-awareness are like muscles. The more we strengthen them, the more endurance we have with them. Some ideas for how you can strengthen your mindfulness muscles are to:
- First, create the time and space for increased awareness and self-reflection
- Practice evaluating your thinking
- Evaluate what you do and push back on why you do those things
- Question the things you see as white/black
- Meditate (this is different than praying)
- Engage in journal writing
- Read books and articles related to self-awareness to help you gain the knowledge and expertise necessary to evaluate yourself more effectively. At the bottom of this article, I recommend some books that have helped me become more self-aware.
- Get the perspective of others
Open yourself up and become vulnerable by asking others how they perceive you and how you can improve. You could ask a spouse, a friend, a mentor, or hire a coach that is trained in helping people become more self-aware.
- Engage in personal assessments
There are a variety of personal assessments out there that you can use to better understand yourself and those around you. Some that I have used and have found beneficial include:
- Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsFinder – Helps you clearly identify your top strengths
- DISC – Personality and communication assessment that will help you better understand your communication preferences and that of others
- Big Five Personality – this is arguably the most valid and reliable personality assessment. You can find many of these for free online.
- Strong Interest Inventory – This is a personality and values assessment designed to help people find what careers would be a good fit for them.
You can google any of these to find out more information. If you have used other assessments that have been beneficial to your self-awareness, let me encourage you to comment at the bottom of this article for others to benefit.
- Acknowledge your self-limiting beliefs
Latter-day Saint doctrine places an emphasis on this earth life being a time to learn, grow, develop, and “become.” But, I have learned that our ability to learn, grow, develop, and “become” is contingent on our ability to be self-aware. Yet, self-awareness is not something that is directly discussed within the church. I believe that our lack of discussion and direction around self-awareness is limiting us from “becoming” better people, better instruments in God’s hands, and more like Jesus Christ.
In fact, in the spirit of trying to be more self-aware, I, unfortunately, believe that our “truth” and “certainty” culture (which surely has some positives) has a tendency to socially incentivize and fuel a lack of self-awareness. While surely not intended, our emphasis on “truth” and “certainty” leads us to place a rather firm emphasis on being “right.” And, if taken too far, we come across as being self-focused as opposed to other-focused, and reactionary as opposed to thoughtfully responding. While I am not suggesting that we cannot take strong stances, what I am suggesting is that while we have strong backs, we also need to have softer fronts.
When I have been less self-aware, I have mistakenly thought that I would help and bless others by being right about something, getting the best point across, or even telling someone that they are wrong. What I am learning is that if I do these things without first being aware of (1) why I feel inclined to do these things, and (2) how they are likely to respond to my position, my actions will have the opposite effect than I have intended.
I have no doubt that we are all trying our best. But, I also believe that our current best is not our ultimate best. If we want to reach our fullest potential and if we want to become more like Jesus Christ, it is necessary that we become more self-aware. Further, if we want those we lead to reach their fullest potential, it is necessary that they become more self-aware.
This article is an introduction to the topic of self-awareness. I would like to produce more material related to self-awareness, but only if it of interest to you. To demonstrate such interest, comment below by indicating things/sources that have helped you become more self-aware, or just post questions related to self-awareness that you have.
Recommended books to help us be more self-aware (in no particular order):
- Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman
- Leadership and Self-Deception and/or Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute
- First, Break All the Rules by Jim Harter and Marcus Buckingham
- Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton
- Any Brene Brown books
- Falling to Heaven by Jim Ferrell
- The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt
- The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann
- Deep Change by Robert Quinn
- Lift: Becoming a Positive Force in Any Situation by Ryan and Robert Quinn
- High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard
- Way Below the Angels by Craig Harline
- You are a Badass by Jen Sincero
- Mindset by Carol Dweck
Ryan Gottfredson, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Organizational Behavior and the Assistant Director of the Center for Leadership at the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics at California State University-Fullerton. His topical expertise is in success mindsets, leadership development, performance management, and organizational topics that include employee engagement, psychological safety, trust, and fairness. He holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Human Resources from Indiana University and a BA from Brigham Young University. Additionally, he is a former Gallup workplace analytics consultant, where he designed research efforts and engaged in data analytics to generate business solutions for dozens of organizations across various industries. He has published over 15 articles in various journals including the Journal of Organizational Behavior, Journal of Management, Business Horizons, and Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies. You can check out his leadership and personal success blog at https://www.ryangottfredson.com/.