Self-Awareness: A Foundational Skill for Emotional Intelligence

“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”

Ralph Ellison, Your Content Goes Here

Do we know why we behave the way we do? What drives our decisions? How do we really feel about ourselves and the people in our lives? 


While awareness is knowing what’s happening around you, self-awareness is knowing what’s happening inside yourself, what you’re experiencing. Self-awareness is the ability to know what we are doing as we do it and understand why we are doing it.

Self-awareness is the foundation for emotional intelligence, self-leadership, personal development and mature adulthood. With it, we can grow and develop. Without it, we are like a leaf riding a wind current.

Our goal is to become more conscious of what’s driving our behaviour. To accomplish this, we need to increase our sensitivity to our emotions and instincts—the information we rarely access with our conscious mind.

There are many self-awareness activities and exercises designed to increase our sensitivity to what’s going on inside us.

Mindfulness Meditation: Developing the Observer

Of the many types of meditation, mindfulness has become the most popular in the West largely because of the research conducted on how this form of meditation affects the brain. 

Mindfulness is a form of observational meditation where meditators place their awareness on a focal point. This point can be the breath or our thoughts, but it can also be on any information coming in through our five senses. Developing this observing self is the key to developing self-awareness. 

The reason we are largely unconscious to our behaviour is that our egos act autonomously. We have no one monitoring our thoughts, feelings, actions, and behaviour from moment to moment.

Through observational meditation, we create a space between the doer of actions, the thinker of thoughts, and the feeler of feelings. The observing self can then monitor our thoughts, feelings, and actions with objectivity.

It’s important to understand that we don’t have this observing self unless we develop it. Without this inner observer, we can’t develop self-awareness.

Self-Awareness Activities to Improve Mind-Body Connection

Reconnecting with our body/instincts is an integral part of developing self-awareness.

Most people fail to develop self-awareness because they don’t get rooted in their bodies first. I recommend exploring Yoga, Tai Chi or Qigong. The aim of these practices is to strengthen a body-mind connection.

Grounding Techniques: a series of exercises for grounding yourself in your body and reconnecting to the Earth. These activities don’t require a lot of time to get started, and you will develop greater self-awareness skills of your body right away.

Stand on the Earth

Take off your shoes and socks and stand in one place, walk, or lay down. Grass, stone, sand, or dirt work best.  As in forming any electrical circuit, you need two points of contact. One foot alone on the Earth won’t ground you, but two feet will. If you’re lying on the ground, you can use any two connection points to form a circuit, for example, an elbow and a foot.

Mindful Walking

Simply walk and stay present with your environment.

My favourite way of earthing is to walk barefoot on my property and the surrounding woods. Depending on how active my mind is, it takes only a few minutes before I am more mentally calm and centred. Walking barefoot has the added benefit of massaging acupuncture points in your feet like in reflexology.

Roll Around Like a Cat

Have you ever noticed how cats and some dogs roll around on the Earth?

Try getting dirty and rolling around on the Earth helps discharging negative energy. You’ll understand why cats do it. It feels good.

Earthing Visualization

Feel the ground beneath you and centre yourself. Now, focus on your heart. Become present with the energy of life emanating from your heart. Now, imagine the centre of the Earth. It could be a magma core, a circle of light, or whatever comes to mind. Next, visualize a curved beam of light or energy going from your heart down to the Earth’s core. A complementing curved energy beam extends from the core to your heart. Feel the connection between your heart and the Earth’s core.

Time: 2 to 5 minutes.

Self-Awareness Exercises to Get to Know Your Personality

Your personality is a collection of patterns. These patterns include thoughts, beliefs, worldviews, feelings, tendencies, and behaviours. Our experiences and environment condition these patterns into us. Most of these patterns lie below the surface of our awareness. By getting to know our personality, we bring these patterns into consciousness increasing our self-awareness.

Personality tests. Assessments like Enneagram and Myers-Briggs provide insights into the dominant patterns of behaviour for your personality type.

Self-reflection. Self-reflection is the practice of examining our own character, motives, and actions in any situation. Observe and evaluate feelings and emotional reactions without judgment or criticism. Take time each evening to reflect on your behaviour for the day. How do you perceive yourself? How do others perceive you? What can I learn from observing my behaviour today?

Personal values. One of the biggest causes of stress, frustration and lack of motivation is the lack of alignment of our action plans with our core values. Values represent an honest expression of what is most important to you, what drives you, what you enjoy, what inspires you. By building a life & lifestyle around your values you create a life that is satisfying and meaningful. Values change over time and deepen as you understand yourself better. Core values answer the question: what’s most important to me? When you become aware of your personal values, you can evaluate if you’re living in accord with them.

Journaling. Capturing your inner thoughts and feeling in a journal helps us objectify them, reduce overwhelm and gaining clarity. Journaling works because it creates conscious awareness around your behaviours and patterns. The more you use it, the more your consciousness will expand. It’s in this expanded consciousness state, where you find the ultimate empowerment. Below some of the main benefits of journaling:

  • Help clarify your thoughts and feelings 
    It is difficult to think through a situation clearly when your thoughts become muddled, chaotic and confusing. Taking a few minutes to sit down and write them down is a great way to clarify your thoughts and to stop circular thinking and negative thought patterns in their tracks. 
  • Manage stress and anxiety 
    Writing down our fears and anxieties can help release the intense emotion surrounding them. By describing them to yourself in a space that is outside your own mind, you can become clearer about these emotions. In doing so, you stop them from weighing you down and take steps towards letting them go. 
    Recognize triggers and thought patterns 
    To challenge unhealthy thought processes and patterns we first need to understand what these are. Keeping a daily journal is a proven way to recognize triggers, thought patters and automatic self-talk and get to the root of any negative emotions or anxieties surrounding them. 
  • Learn to be honest and true to yourself
    A journal is a safe place for your deepest and most intimate thoughts. By expressing yourself freely and authentically every day, you are practicing an honest and true internal communication. With time this internal monologue will radiate outwards, enabling you to live a life that is true to you.  

Shadow work. The human shadow is our dark side; our lost and forgotten disowned self. Your shadow is the place within you that contains all of your repressed feelings, primitive impulses, and parts deemed “unacceptable,” shameful, “sinful”. Shadow work is the process of exploring your inner darkness. Get to know that part, accept it, make it a part of you. Because without revealing to ourselves what we have hidden, we remain burdened with problems such as anger, guilt, shame, disgust, and grief.

Please note: Shadow Work should not be undertaken if you struggle with low self-esteem. Exploring your demons will likely make you feel worse about yourself and may spiral into self-hatred. Before doing Shadow Work, I encourage you to work on Self-Love. Shadow Work should only be undertaken by those who have healthy and stable self-worth.

Gain Self-Awareness Through Others

A primary way a coach helps their clients build awareness is by giving effective feedback.

You can ask your coach or a trusted friend questions like:

  • What behaviours do you believe are limiting my potential?
  • How do you feel when you’re talking to me?
  • What do you think I’m good at? What are some of my weaknesses?
  • If you had to describe me to someone, what would you say?
  • Is there anything you avoid saying to me because you’re afraid of how I’ll react?

The stronger our observing self becomes, the more space we have between us and our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

All of these activities and processes help you get to know your personality, improve intrapersonal intelligence, and build self-awareness.