“To believe our own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true of all men, - that is genius.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-reliance
Research suggests that when we are self-aware, we have higher esteem and creativity levels. However, as individuals and as creatives, one of the biggest obstacles holding us back from achievement is ourselves. Ironically, the very value of what we produce is intrinsic to our authenticity and because no two of us are exactly the same, we all possess a genuine competitive advantage. We are, however, often victims of our own thoughts that spread doubt and pessimism throughout our artistic faculties. At times, it seems that the entire world could be throwing roses at our feet yet figuratively speaking, we are incapable of “seeing the forest for the trees.” The reasons are many and most unfortunate but the consequences are clear. When we allow negative thoughts to harden, they become self-fulfilling prophecies and the resulting low esteem eventually drains the vibrancy of our work and our lives.
I have known this since I was five years old, the age at which I found out I was adopted yet, intuition has no ease of acquisition. I work at it constantly. I take an insightful five steps forward and challenges of validation seem to push me three steps back again. I become reclusive then yearn for the comfort of an understanding peer or companion. It is cognitive behavioral ping-pong. The sheer number of those who identified with and commented on my first post attests to this state of minds’ pervasiveness. Thank you for engaging in this conversation with me. I know that it is no walk in the park!
I read something that gave me hope recently though. A study by Dr. Tasha Eurich involving upwards of 5,000 participants uncovered many obstacles, misconceptions, and truths about self-awareness. Chief among them are these three findings:
There are two types of self-awareness.
Don’t beat yourself up about your need to be validated. Research suggests that self-awareness is broadly categorized as both internal, how clearly we see ourselves and external, how other people view us. The research does not evidence valuing one attribute over the other but advocates for the striking a delicate balance. Dr. Eurich developed the four archetypes in the chart below to help conceptualize the characteristics of imbalance. Help yourself!
Experience and power hinder self-awareness.
Simply put, the further you go, the less you know. This isn't some millennial weakness. The study recognizes a connection between experience and overconfidence. Eurich offers that, “even though most people believe they are self-aware, only 10-15% of the people we studied actually fit the criteria” (2018). Some will say its the sample population but some of us will take it as an opportunity to check our egos.
Introspection doesn't always improve self-awareness.
This finding hit home for me. As someone who is constantly examining my own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, you would think I’d have it all figured out. Wrong! Research contrasts this assumption, asserting that the more introspective, the less self-aware an individual is likely to be. Further research finds fault of in the type of questions posed in introspection as opposed to the act itself.
Introspective questions beginning with the word “why” are simply beyond our abilities to fathom because we generally can not access the infinity of unconscious ideas and feelings that justify those inquiries. Additionally, these types of questions tend to give way to negative thought patterns and anxiety.
Dr. Eurich makes the following suggestion to improve the results of our introspection:
“Therefore, to increase productive self-insight and decrease unproductive rumination, we should ask what, not why. “What” questions helps us stay objective, future-focused, and empowered to act on our new insights.”
The implications of this study are monumental for creatives because perceptions are the driving forces of our work. Realizing that self-awareness is a dynamic balance of both inside and outside thoughts, not being too overconfident to check in with ourselves and qualifying our introspection in terms of what not why we think, feel and behave a certain way could be the key to unlocking truest selves and our best art. However radical the medium or the message, as the architects of culture and the leaders of societal inspiration, it is of high importance that we, the creatives, hold these truths to be self-evident and see ourselves clearly. Self-awareness must be a priority in our lives in a world that is interconnected to the point of invasive and unforgivingly haste. Lest we be silenced and our art be forgotten in the shadows of truer voices possessed by braver artists.
Brother 2 Chainz will now lead us in the music ministry.
Emerson, R. W., & Appelbaum, S. (1993). Self-reliance, and other essays. New York: Dover Publications.
Eurich, T. (2018) What self-awareness really is (and how to cultivate it). Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/01/what-self-awareness-really-is-and-how-to -cultivate-it.