What On Earth Are You Thinking?
“A person’s success in life can be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”– Tim Ferris
What is External Self-Awareness?
Most people think about self-awareness the same way they do sex. They believe they’re great at it when, in reality, no-one knows where on God’s green earth the G spot is (or that there even is one).
One of the major components for building self-awareness is understanding what other people honestly think about us (including our ability to have sex).
This is what’s known as external self-awareness. Researchers have concluded it’s every bit as important as internal self-awareness (how well we know ourselves).
Here’s a pretty little table outlining the 4 major Self-Awareness Archetypes:
Why We Suck at Giving and Receiving (Feedback)
Now, the major issue we have with external self-awareness is ascertaining honest feedback from others. This is a major issue for two obvious reasons.
- First, people usually avoid telling us what they really think. In fact, most people fake certain feedback making us think we’re much better than we really are!
- Second, we avoid asking for feedback in the first place. We’d rather remain under the covers than be told about our own, um, shortcomings…
This a brutal truth to remember during your never-ending self-awareness journey: Not only do you not want to tell people the truth, you don’t want to know the truth yourself.
But of course, knowing the truth is the only way we can become slightly less terrible human beings. So, a crucial life skill at home, work, or in the bedroom is learning to both give and receive (feedback).
The question, as always, is how?
How to Both Give and Receive (Feedback)
The first thing to remember is that you’re a human aeroplane. One that is governed by all sorts of internal biases/faulty mechanisms.
- Our memories suck the big one. They are unreliable and often flat-out wrong, especially when remembering how we felt at a particular time or place. Our ability to predict our thoughts and feelings in the future is even worse.
- We overestimate ourselves constantly. As a general rule, the worse we are at something, the better we think we are, and the better we are at something, the worse we believe we are. It’s like that quote, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.“
- We all suffer from a confirmation bias. We look for evidence that affirms our worldview while discarding anything that challenges it. In fact, contradictory evidence often makes us more confident of our position.
What I’m trying to say is we’re all a bunch of stupid apes who think way too highly of ourselves. You know what?
The point of becoming aware of our flaws is to gain some control over them. But this doesn’t work if we don’t learn to accept those flaws at the same time.
So, here are a few ideas.
1. Hold weak opinions.
Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one. They also tend to stink up the room.
It’s worth remembering you’re the only person who loves the smell of your farts. That’s not to say you shouldn’t. But when you do fart, don’t take it so seriously.
Thoughts are simply echoes of all the crap you’ve been fed. (Helpful tip: eat a wholesome diet of long-from content such as books or documentaries.)
Here’s a thought to chew on? Are your opinions really your own? Think about that for a second.
2. Consider you’re wrong.
Something you can do before you open that smelly mouth of yours is tell yourself the following: “I might be wrong about this.”
This immediately places you in a state of openness and curiosity. When you do this, your thoughts aren’t shared to be validated but discussed. This is a better position for everyone.
Just ask your spouse!
3. Laugh at yourself.
All your thoughts and behaviours are simply reactions to your emotions. As you should know by now, your feelings be crazy. You shouldn’t take them so seriously.
Something you can do is openly mock yourself for all your shortcomings. This has the paradoxical effect of making you more endearing in the eyes of others.
4. Remember your strengths.
All of us have this thing called a negativity bias. It’s worth being aware of. This is why we tend to fixate on and obsess over all our flaws.
What we fail to realise is that our weaknesses are often intimately linked to our strengths. For example, I’m not the grittiest person in the world. I’m easily distracted. I frequently have my head stuck in the clouds.
But you know what?
I’m also incredibly thoughtful, creative, silly, and funny. These qualities aren’t separate. By reminding myself of my strengths, and seeing how they’re related to my weakness, I’m more accepting of my flaws.
I’m better able to work on them as a result.
5. Start with the positives.
Criticism hurts like your first time! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but most of us aren’t terribly receptive to it.
The danger is we shut down. This is especially so if we receive feedback that confirms a negative view we already have about ourselves.
That’s why it’s a wise strategy to start with the positives. Talk about what went well before you mention the negatives.
You can think of it as feedback foreplay. It helps to soften everything up!
6. Learn your patterns.
Learn to recognise all the ways you’re a deeply flawed human being.
Recognise how you’re not a morning person. Recognise how you’re quick to anger when you’re tired or when your children start to open their mouths.
Learn to recognise what your triggers are. What sends you down the emotional rabbit hole? At what times? With who? What causes you to reach for the phone or the bottle?
This will help you recognise which emotions you’re avoiding that need to be acknowledged and surrendered.
7. Practise with a trusted co-pilot.
Both my wife and I avoid confrontation. This is because we are both very agreeable by nature. This a big problem mainly because I’m a massive idiot. I need my wife to confront me.
To ensure this happens we make a point of talking to each other every evening without fail. We have a series of questions we ask:
- What are you grateful for today? What are you proud of? What went well?
- What didn’t go well? What could you do better?
- What do you want me to know? What can I do better?
- Finally, what can we do better? How can we improve as a couple/parents?
This is what I suggest you do as a final point.
Find a trusted copilot you can confide in. Make a habit of talking to that trusted copilot every day. Make a habit of telling them something difficult – of being vulnerable.
Make a point of asking for feedback and giving some advice in return. Put your phone away and really listen.
What you might find is, it ends in sex. There will be no need to fake anything.
- One of the major components for building self-awareness is understanding what other people honestly think about us. This is what’s known as external self-awareness.
- Most of us avoid giving people honest feedback. Most of us avoid asking for it too.
- To help give and receive honest feedback it’s useful to:
- hold weak opinions/consider the possibility we’re wrong
- remember our strengths when we receive feedback
- start with the positives when we give feedback
- practise asking for and giving feedback with someone we trust
This is part 4 of a series of posts on the topic of Self-Awareness:
Part 1: The Automation Paradox
Part 2: The Three Areas of Self-Awareness: What on Earth Am I Doing?
Part 3: The Three Areas of Self-Awareness: What on Earth Am I Feeling?
Part 4: The Three Areas of Self-Awareness: What On Earth Are You Thinking?
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