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How Introspection Can Be Self-Deceiving

Narrow focus and tunneled vision will take us only as far as the beaten path

In an interview with Harvard Business Review, organizational psychologist and executive coach Tasha Eurich stated that “according to our research with thousands of people from all around the world, 95% of people believe that they’re self-aware, but only about 10–15% really are. So, the joke I always make is that on a good day, that means that 80% of us are lying to ourselves about whether we’re lying to ourselves.”

In my view, effective leadership is about our ability to respond and to connect — to move from executing to leading. Only by understanding our own reactions and behaviors we can relate with others, make better choices, and change through personal growth. We can do this by deliberately expanding our awareness.

Self-awareness is a clear perception of our own personality, including our strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivations and emotions. It is an understanding of our thought processes and their triggers. When we’re self-aware, we’re awakened to the impact we have on ourselves and those around us and the perception we are creating based on our attitudes and responses at the moment.

Introspection is a reflection arising from self-awareness based on inward insight that’s shaped upon examining those thoughts and feelings.

Retrospection calls for an advanced skill of metacognition, a deeper dimension of thinking about feeling, feeling about knowing, and knowing about thinking and feeling. It means going way far beyond what we are habituated and accustomed to seeing about ourselves. Retrospection becomes an active action of looking back on and reviewing past events with an ability to draw constructive conclusions and acknowledge learnings and teachings received, especially our own.

The fact is that our stories bind us, shape our identities and influence the ways we experience our relationships with people, circumstances and ourselves. We’re wired to replay “the old news” by using stored memories that trigger the same thoughts and feelings, which form our beliefs and contribute to very specific perceptions of reality.
So, where to from here?

Retrospection, introspection and self-awareness often fail or are not accurate enough because our internal quest is based on the wrong assumptions. Entangled in our own stories, distracted by our repetitive thoughts, drowning in borrowed assumptions and beliefs, we often ask the wrong question when it comes to self-reflection, according to Eurich: why.

“Why” opens the gate to reasons and justifications. Since we tend to make assumptions and take things personally, and we are hardly ever free from bias, we end up formulating answers that “feel true but are often wrong.” Our confidence about our rightness outperforms the ability to see our blind spots and limits the perception of the situation. Asking why only reinforces our reasons without inquiring about their rationality.

Mastering Self-Awareness

There are two types of self-awareness, both of which are necessary to see ourselves clearly. The first is our identity or the “actor’s view.” This is the person we think we are, our aspirations, values, fears, reactions, drivers and motives to get along and get ahead while finding meaning. The second is our reputation, the “observer’s view.” This is the you that others know based on your obvious behaviors.

This difference plays a substantial role when it comes to job performance, organizational success and leadership effectiveness. The two types, surprisingly, are not related. Just because I can see myself doesn’t mean that I know how other people perceive me, and vice versa.

Most of us experience the gap between who we think we are and how others perceive us. We often communicate one thing and do another. In this space, we tend to hurt relationships and hinder our ability to inspire and engage others.

Our perception of the world reflects our state of self-awareness. As shocking as it may sound and as deniable as we want to be about it, we create our own reality. The knowledge we have often overshadows our self-insight. To manage the perception of our reality, we must first own it, whether we agree with it or not.

Do The Work

• Instead of why, ask “what” to stay “objective, future-focused, and empowered to act on your new insights,” according to Eurich. For example, instead of asking why you feel a certain way, ask what is making you feel that way.

• Confront your limiting beliefs.

• Agree to disagree.

• Give yourself permission to be vulnerable.

• Don’t assume that you know yourself as well as you think you do.

• Make a commitment to see things just a little bit differently.

• Monitor your self-talk.

• Become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Get frequent “feedforward,” not feedback, for different aspects of your life.

Ultimately, self- awareness shapes a new mindset. New information confronts our thinking. Confusion challenges the status quo and allows us to recognize choices not available before.

So, lets step outside and never stop exploring.

This article was originally published at Forbes. What would be possible for you if you could expand your own and your team self- awareness skills? Curious? — Lets connect.


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