Self-awareness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence. It helps you regulate your emotions, motivate yourself, and relate to others. In the context of recovery, self-awareness is crucial. Having insight into what drives your addictive behavior, what causes cravings, and what helps you cope in a positive way is a tremendous advantage to anyone who is trying to stay sober. The downstream effects are equally powerful since being able to resolve conflict, connect with others, and communicate effectively are essential recovery skills. However, self-awareness is also tricky. We think we know ourselves better than we do. We all have blind spots that prevent us from understanding why we do what we do. There is hope though. With a little effort, curiosity, and open-mindedness, the following will help you become more self-aware.
When you’re getting ready to go out on a special occasion, you probably ask someone how you look. You don’t want to walk into a nice restaurant with cat hair on your jacket or toilet paper on your shoe. Yet, when it comes to our behavior, we don’t like to hear criticism and we almost never ask for constructive feedback. This is unfortunate because a little feedback from people who know us well might save us a lot of trouble in life. Start small by asking a close friend about your strengths and weaknesses. Many people don’t like to be critical, so maybe phrase it like, “If I have one weakness, what would you say that is?” Make it clear that whatever they say, you won’t hold it against them. When you’re a little more used to getting this kind of feedback, consider other ways you might benefit from feedback, perhaps asking for feedback from your boss or subordinates at work.
You might think of a therapist as a feedback expert. Typically, your therapist won’t come right out and say what you’re doing wrong. It’s often more effective to help you discover that for yourself. For example, your therapist is not likely to bluntly say, “You worry too much about what your friends think.” She’s more likely to ask you questions about your values and motivations that lead you to discover this on your own.
Group therapy is also great for broadening your self-awareness. Group therapy is especially good because you can get many different perspectives. Self-awareness isn’t as simple as looking in a mirror; it’s also about learning what questions to ask. Group therapy can open you up to many new perspectives on yourself.
Keeping a journal is great for many reasons, including self-awareness. When you write down what you did that day and reflect on what you were feeling and thinking, you significantly increase your level of self-examination. When people first start keeping a journal, the entries are typically short and superficial but as the practice continues, entries typically get more astute and expansive. After a while, you’ll start noticing patterns, if for no other reason than you’re tired of writing about the same things every day. Journals are also a good record of your thinking process. It’s easy to look back with hindsight and feel like you made a really terrible decision, but decisions aren’t made with hindsight. Understanding how you made a decision in real-time can help you make better decisions in the future. Journaling can be especially good for noticing patterns related to cravings and negativity and understanding these issues can help you stay on track.
Meditation can help with recovery in a number of ways, including reducing your reactivity to stress, feeling greater compassion for yourself and others, and tolerating challenging emotions. Meditation can also help you become more self-aware. Research shows that meditation leads to decreased activity in the brain’s default mode network. The DMN is responsible, among other things, for creating a coherent sense of self, which is useful for daily life but also problematic because it censors thoughts, emotions, and memories at a subconscious level if they don’t fit with our self-concept. Meditation is a way of bypassing this censor and gaining access to parts of ourselves we weren’t consciously aware of. This can be distressing though, so it’s best done under the guidance of an experienced teacher or therapist.
Self-awareness is about far more than what someone else can tell you; some things you just have to find out for yourself. Most of the time, we tend to slide into little pockets of comfort where most of the challenges stay the same from day-too-day. Few people make an effort to try different things to find out the extent of their strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you ask most people what their passion is, their answers fall broadly into the categories of sports, entertainment, and the arts. These are all things most of us have been exposed to from a young age. Few people are going to say “solving mechanical problems” or “resolving disputes in ways beneficial to both parties.” These are things you typically only discover by accident, often as part of your job. Unfortunately, most people never stumble on these important discoveries because they don’t try enough things. Trying new things will result in some failures but it will also result in some successes. Either way, it results in more self-awareness.
The things we intensely dislike can be valuable clues to the parts of ourselves we’re not aware of. Consider the following list, for example, tardiness, swearing, listening to loud music, being devoutly religious, saying “all of the sudden.” All of the things on this list make someone angry but it’s unlikely all, or perhaps any, of them make you angry. If you especially dislike something or someone, it’s worth asking why. Typically, the answer has more to do with us than them.
Expanding your self-awareness is a process that never ends because you never stop changing. Embracing this process is key to overcoming addiction and living a happier, more fulfilling life. At Hired Power, we can help you create an individualized recovery plan that fits your life and we can help support you throughout the process. To learn more about our services, call us at 714-559-3919.
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