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Developing self-awareness

The first competency of emotional intelligence can help us change and regulate our reactions to encourage more positive behaviours

17 April 2018, at 3:57pm

Described by Daniel Goleman as the foundation of emotional intelligence, self-awareness is the ability to be introspective to such a degree as to recognise the emotions within us at the present time. These emotions may be recognised from the past or anticipated in the future. The process involves being aware of our strengths and limitations, and of past behaviours which have followed on from certain emotions. 

Being non-judgemental is an essential, but difficult, aspect of self-awareness. If we see certain emotions as good or bad, then observing them can become uncomfortable for us. To have disturbing emotions is human. To err is also human. However, to err repeatedly in the same way in reaction to these emotions is entirely within our control. This is self-regulation.

Left ignored, behaviours and reactions to feelings generally repeat themselves. We can become conditioned to react in a certain way each time we feel a particular emotion if unchecked and unregulated. 

To spend our lives in denial and ignorance of our deeper selves will inevitably result in repetition of those behaviours, which may have led to our distress in the first place. For example, fear of failure may lead to anxiety, anger may lead to shouting and alienation of loved ones or colleagues, grief may lead to depression. However, we cannot begin to self-regulate if we lack true self-awareness. 

Try not to judge yourself for feeling a feeling, but do judge your reactions. Self-regulation is our moral compass and the second competency of emotional intelligence. 

How do I become more self-aware? 

Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize winner for his contribution to behavioural science, has described the difference between the experiencing self and the remembering self, and how it can affect our decision making.

Daniel explains that how we feel about the experience in the moment and how we remember that experience can be very different, sharing only 50 percent correlation. And this difference can have a significant impact on the story we are telling ourselves, the way we relate to self and others and the decisions we make, even though we may not notice the difference most of the time. 

To be aware of your present self, be mindful. Pay attention to your inner state all day and try to make observing it the new normal for you. In the last issue, we discussed how to practice mindfulness. If done daily, we are observing our thoughts as they happen, rather than trying to remember them days or weeks later. 

When overwhelmed, take time to look inwards at the gamut of emotions you may be feeling at times when your head is spinning. Write them down one by one. Simply by recognising each emotion, acknowledging it and giving it a name, you can take more charge of your emotions and thus more control of your ensuing reactions. It puts you in

Simply by recognising each emotion, acknowledging it and giving it a name, you can take more charge of your emotions and thus more control of your ensuing reactions. It puts you in charge of your feelings, rather than allowing your feelings to be the master

charge of your feelings, rather than allowing your feelings to be the master. 

Once you have written the emotions down, arrange them in order of importance – a triage list. Once “sorted”, you may feel less overwhelmed and in a better place to observe whether you have any conditioned behaviours related to these emotions that you would like to change.

When we are focused, we truly have the power to change our reactions to given situations. Simply being aware of our previous conditioned reactions gives us the option to continue with that behaviour or to reject it in favour of a more productive behaviour. It’s our choice and entirely under our control.

Laura Woodward has been the surgeon at Village Vet Hampstead for over 10 years. Laura is also a qualified therapeutic counsellor and is affiliated with the ACPNL and the ISPC. She runs Laurawoodward.co.uk – a counselling service for vets and nurses.

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