Most people don’t know themselves as well as they think they do. This is a problem because the less you really know yourself, the more likely you are to find yourself struggling with difficult people and challenging situations, being manipulated by others and living a life that doesn’t feel satisfying and fulfilling.
If you are committed to your own personal growth, success and happiness it’s important to be willing to learn as much about yourself as you can.
In this post, along with 2 other self-awareness experts, I’ll share 7 of the best self-awareness tools and activities you can do to dig a little deeper and learn the most important and helpful things about yourself that will empower and enable you to live life on your terms instead of other people’s.
Why is Self-Awareness so Important?
When I (or any other coach) begin working with a client the first step is to find out as much about them as possible. This helps me to know how I can best help them, but it’s also usually very eye-opening for the client as they learn things about themselves they were not aware of.
Here are a couple of comments from participants of my Inner Mastery program that demonstrate this:
“I had a wonderful moment of clarity about fear. I have allowed fear way too much power over me in my life. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s so obvious all of a sudden.”
“When I look back on the past 5 weeks I can’t believe how much I have changed. I feel like I have more control, more peace in my life. I’m more accepting of others, I have a better relationship with my brother, not so jealous, more loving relationship. Same with my mom. I feel like I’m releasing a lot of things that I have had inside for a long time.”
I do understand that many people are reluctant to embrace the concept of self-awareness. If you feel this way, it could be because:
- You feel that spending time on self-reflection is selfish - you should be focusing on others
- You are afraid of what you will find
- You think you already know everything about yourself
- It feels like a waste of time when you should be doing more important things
- Emotions and feelings are not important
As human beings we are complex. Most of who you think you are and what you think you want is probably based on what you have learned from others, based on their experiences, beliefs and conditioning.
Part of the journey of self-awareness then is about letting go of what you thought you knew and being open to learning about the real you - not somebody else’s version of you.
There are many benefits to really knowing and understanding yourself at the deepest levels, such as:
- You’ll be able to clearly express your desires and be accepted for who you are.
- You experience less inner conflict as you learn how to respond to difficult people and situations.
- Setting boundaries becomes much easier.
- You have the clarity to make better and more informed choices that benefit you.
- Your relationships improve as understanding of yourself leads to greater understanding and tolerance of others.
- You stop comparing yourself to others - because you don’t need to.
- You’re able to bring your uniqueness and natural vitality to everything you do.
All of these things enable you to live a richer and more meaningful and fulfilling life.
So where do you start with getting to know yourself more deeply? There are a great many self-awareness tools, activities and assessments that it can easily become overwhelming and difficult to know where to start.
I’ve compiled a list of 7 of my favorites self-awareness tools and activities to help you get started.
Self-Awareness Tools and Activities
Your values are the things that are most important to you.
They are the core beliefs that motivate you to act in certain ways, focus on and do certain things.
When your values are not being met, life does not feel fulfilling and it’s difficult to set healthy boundaries.
Your values are guides to decision-making, boundary setting and are the reasons why you set goals.
Research shows that just thinking or writing about your values can make it more likely that you take healthy actions.
Knowing and staying connected to your values will also help you to stay motivated, particularly when you’re feeling tired or things are difficult.
Do you know what your top 5 values are?
You might think you do, but people are often surprised to find they have values that they weren’t even aware of.
One of the easiest ways to find out is to refer to a list of values, like this one from Carnegie Mellon University (add your own if you feel there is something missing). Then narrow it down until you have your top 5.
Don’t think about it too much as you do the exercise. You can always do it again a few days later to make sure you really find the ones that are the best fit for you.
Interests include your passions, hobbies, and anything that holds your attention over a sustained period of time.
To figure out your interests, it’s helpful to ask yourself these questions:
- What do you pay attention to?
- What are you curious about?
- What concerns you?
- What do you love to talk about?
- What do you enjoy reading about?
- What’s something that you could spend hours doing and time just seems to fly by?
Many people have built a career around a deep interest in something.
Although it may not be possible for you to build a career around your interests, it is important that you make time for them.
Life is much more interesting and enjoyable and you will feel a lot more energized when you allow time for your interests and hobbies.
When you talk to someone about their passion they come alive. It’s like a light shines from within. What is that for you?
Your Temperament and Traits
- Do you restore your energy from being alone (introvert) or from being with people (extrovert)?
- Do people tell you you’re “too sensitive?”
- Are you a planner or go-with-the-flow type of person?
- Do you make decisions more on the basis of feelings or thoughts and facts?
- Do you prefer details or big Ideas?
Knowing the answers to questions like these could help you more easily choose situations in which you could flourish and avoid situations which would be more of a struggle for you.
Certain things you’ll already have a good feel for - for example, whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, or whether you prefer details or are a big picture person.
Here are some valuable self-awareness tools to help you discover even more about your temperament and traits:
It is estimated that approximately 20% of the population has what is known as “sensory processing sensitivity,” otherwise known as high sensitivity, or HSP (highly sensitive person).
If you’ve ever been told “you’re too sensitive,” it’s likely that this applies to you.
When you are highly sensitive your brain and nervous systems are literally “wired” differently from everyone else's.
Psychologist and researcher, Dr. Elaine Aron, who is the pioneer into research on this trait has written many books on the subject and if you are interested, I highly recommend you start with her first book: The Highly Sensitive Person.
Like many others, when I read Elaine Aron’s book it was a life-changing experience for me.
When you’re not like everyone else, and others can’t understand why you think, feel and behave the way you do they tell you there’s something wrong with you - and you end up believing them.
When you learn that you are highly sensitive, and that it is simply a trait that applies to many other people, then you understand that there is nothing wrong with you.
You learn as much about the trait as you can and how to use it to your advantage. This is what I and many other HSPs have done.
You begin to realize that there are many advantages to being highly sensitive and that it’s really a gift, when used in the right way.
To find out if you are highly sensitive, here’s a link to the self-assessment used by Dr. Aron in her book. CLICK HERE
Being a highly sensitive person can be very challenging and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s a lot you can do to learn how to make the most of your highly sensitive nature and use it to your advantage.
There are many self-awareness assessments that are used by coaches and organizations all over the world. It can be difficult to know which ones to use.
Here’s her response:
Meyers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
This assessment is the ‘gold standard’ among personality assessments. It has been around for over 50 years and has a strong test-re-test reliability. [See note]
The assessment identifies preferred personality ‘types’ which then can be applied in a variety of ways: leadership development, team building, communication skill development, career development and change management.
It is this versatility that makes it my preferred ‘go to’ assessment with my wide range of coaching clients. In particular, I have had great success with both the career and leadership development applications.
There are many ‘MBTI knockoffs’ on line and while they may provide some initial insight into personality styles, the MBTI administered by a certified practitioner, really provides all the depth and breadth the instrument has to offer!
There are 16 Meyers Briggs personality types. You can read more about them on the Meyers Briggs web site.
MBTI can be taken on line. The cost is $50 [paid on-line]
If required, an in-depth interpretation can be facilitated by Sarah for $100 through two virtual coaching sessions via Zoom. It’s also possible to go to a community college career center [when it opens again] to take the assessment and receive assessment feedback (cost unknown).
[Note: by Jake Beech - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30859659]
Daniel Goleman who developed this assessment once stated that EI is a greater predictor of success than IQ.
I agree with this analysis! This assessment gauges the degree to which people react to typical life situations.
The purpose of the assessment is building awareness of emotional responses which are all too often exhibited from an unconscious state.
The logic behind the assessment is that once one is aware of one’s emotional triggers and responses to a given situation, one can make a different choice of how to respond in that moment.
I have found this assessment to be particularly useful for clients who experience interpersonal challenges at work or home.
When you purchase the book (about $27 on Amazon) it comes with an access code you can use to take the test online.
If you are new to this kind of work, it is recommended that you work with a Certified Professional Coach, as the assessment could trigger some emotional baggage that a coach or therapist could help you navigate.
Dr. Stebbins is a coach and consultant living in Portland Oregon. Specializing in change management, she is currently writing a book “From Fire to Water: Moving through Change. The Six Steps to Personal Resiliency”, important writing for our time!
Learn more about Dr. Stebbins HERE.
Meyers Briggs: I have to admit that it’s a long time since I did the Meyers Briggs test. So long ago that I can’t find the results and can’t remember exactly what type I am! I do remember that I found it helpful though.
Perhaps it’s time for me to re-visit this test.
There are a number of sites online where you can take the Emotional Intelligence test for free.
Emotional Intelligence: I recently took the test through the Psychology Today web site. It was a long test - taking about 45 minutes to complete.
The results were about what I expected - I scored fairly high with "some room for improvement." To find the areas of improvement you'd have to pay for the full report, but I found taking the test itself to be interesting and thought-provoking.
One of my personal favorite self-assessments is The Enneagram.
The Enneagram is a powerful tool for helping us understand ourselves and others more deeply.
You can take a free Enneagram test to determine your particular type HERE.
You can read more about each of the 9 individual types on the Enneagram Institute web site.
I have found this test to be particularly helpful in learning more about myself and I encourage my clients to take it. Not only does it help them learn about themselves, it helps me know how to help them most effectively.
Here’s an example of how understanding the Enneagram has helped me personally: I am a Two on the Enneagram - the Helper. Those with the Helper personality experience a compulsive need to help anybody and everybody. This can be good, but often is not healthy.
Here are some of the ways iit might not be so good - if you are an Enneagram number Two you may relate:
- Helping others when they haven’t asked for help
- Trying to fix things for other people
- Helping others at the expense of yourself
- Being so focused on others that you have no sense of yourself and your needs
- Believing that you’ll receive love by helping others
- Being perceived and treated as a ‘doormat’ by others
- Never being able to ask for help or allowing others to help you
- Wearing yourself out by focusing on other people’s needs instead of your own
- Believing that whatever you do is never enough
- Believing that you are not (and can never be) good enough
Understanding this has been incredibly helpful for me as I’ve worked to turn these things around and become a healthy version of the Two personality.
I remember one time I was talking to a friend and she asked if I could recommend a book on a subject that would be helpful for her business.
I then ‘observed’ myself giving her the names of several books, but then I went on to share many other ‘helpful’ resources. Even though I knew I was doing it and I was giving her things she had not asked for I couldn’t seem to stop.
Afterwards I wrote to her to apologize because I knew I had completely overwhelmed her.
That, and other similar experiences helped me move from unhealthy to a much healthier version of the helper personality.
I still help people - that’s just who I am, but it comes from a place of strength rather than weakness.
The Enneagram helped me understand my innate nature much more clearly and learn how to change it.
This is the tool that helped me transform from a chronic people-pleaser to learning how to challenge myself and others to be the best we can be. It helped me learn that I didn’t need to take things personally, which was life-changing.
Obviously you can go into a lot more detail because we are all so multifaceted and have aspects of all types within us.
I think that learning about your basic type can be extremely helpful even if you don’t want to dig deeper than that.
~ Eckert Tolle
Since 1997 people have been finding self-awareness through a pearl of ancient wisdom called Human Design. Other personality or skill set assessments like the Myers-Briggs are based on how we see ourselves. Human Design is a synthesis of modern science and ancient wisdom like Astrology, and the I Ching, giving profound insights to our true nature.
Each human has a unique energy signature, which we can discover with our birth information.
Why Human Design?
Our modern world is speeding up. Yes!? With speed comes the potential for additional stress, even burnout. Human Design delivers intelligence to navigate life’s challenges so we can connect with the correct people and projects.
Where do I start?
The first step to unlocking your human potential is to know your Type.
There are four primary Design Types, each with variations. No one type is better than another; each has its strengths, needs, and unique purpose.
The second step is to know your strategy to optimize your unique energy Type.
Knowing your Type and experimenting with the suggested strategies provides a framework to allow your true nature to emerge organically.
Next is understanding how to make the best decisions about who and what is a good match for you.
The fourth step is beyond understanding your potential but to practice it to obtain results.
For example, “Kathy” often felt pulled by other people’s wishes and demands. As a prominent leader in her community, her friends and colleagues frequently asked her to endorse or help them with their projects.
After learning about her Human Design strategies, she practiced them with each invitation and request. What she discovered was that she had agreed to other’s wishes based on what she thought she “should” do or felt obligated to do.
“Kathy” found a new sense of freedom, additional creative energy for her projects, increased income, and more explicit partnership agreements.
You can obtain your free chart and beginners’ guide at the Human Design main website, Jovian Archive.
Recommend reading and study guide: The Definitive Book of Human Design, The Science of Differentiation by Ra Uru Hu. Inside you’ll read about the origin of the system, as well as a follow along description for each of the main aspects of your chart.
About this expert
Nattalee K Lillico is a certified Life Purpose Coach (ICF), IHDS Human Design Certified Analyst & Teacher, and the only recognized Genius Report Trainer in the United States.
Her Human Design journey began in 1999. In private practice since 2006, her intuitive insights and robust coaching techniques have created breakthroughs and desired results for hundreds of clients.
You can learn more about Nattalee on her YouTube Channel.
My experience: I have to say that Human Design is one of the tools that has helped me the most. It is very in-depth and can help you identify and change behaviors that are not serving you.
One of the ways it helped me was in learning to manage my creative energy. I am enthusiastic about many things and that didn’t always serve me as I would find myself putting my energy into things that weren’t necessarily a good fit. Only I didn’t find out until I was deeply immersed in whatever it was.
Understanding this about myself I learned that one of the most important things for me to do was to pause and step back before taking on anything new.
This was not easy for me to learn. But it was one of the most valuable lessons and my life is so much better because of it. I no longer waste my energy on things that aren’t right for me, which enables me to put all my energy into things that are in alignment with who I am and what I want.
This is a small sampling of self-awareness tools that are available.
Each of them will give you valuable information about yourself which you can then use to improve your life experiences.
Commit to exploring at least one of these tools in more detail and to learning more about yourself.
Self-awareness is empowering. If you want to change anything, you start by knowing yourself.