Exercises to Build Self-Awareness

Our inner monologue runs nonstop, whether we pay attention to it or not. It is a valuable source of self-awareness and a key to knowing our blind spots.  Some call it self-talk, mind chatter, or inner voice. It often tends to be negative and judgmental.  Even though our inner monologue filters, interprets, and gives meaning to our perceived experiences, we rarely acknowledge it―perhaps we don’t like to catch ourselves being critical.

Yet, becoming consciously aware of these inner thoughts liberates us from being controlled by them.  It is a first step toward greater self-awareness because it enables us to use our thoughts and beliefs to improve our lives.  Since self-awareness is so important to becoming emotionally intelligent―as well as being a foundational asset for leadership―it is worth our time and energy to learn how to listen to our inner monologue.

An Easy Exercise

Here is an exercise anyone can try that will reveal what goes on in our minds. This is suggested by author Joshua Spodek in his book Leadership Step by Step: Becoming the Person Others Follow (Amazon Digital Services, 2017).

  1. Carry a notebook, smart phone, tablet, or recording device.
  2. A few times a day, write or record the words of your inner monologue as best you can, a few lines each time.

Each time you record a monologue will take about a minute.  Do this exercise until you’ve got a few dozen passages.  It’s important to do it for several days, under different situations.  For example, write down some self-talk at work, at home, alone, with people, and when feeling different emotions.

Simply record your dialogue without making any judgments. Judgment clouds the ability to be observant.  The goal is to raise awareness of the words we use.  If you find yourself being critical of someone, write down the words, not how you feel about the words.  Later on, in a follow-up exercise, we can examine meaning, beliefs, and what to do about them.

Remember, this isn’t as easy to do as one might think.  We can’t write as fast as we think.  The very act of writing changes what we say and feel because we can’t help but interpret at the same time.  Persist and practice, focusing on getting the actual words we use in our self-talk onto the paper or screen, one line at a time.

In my coaching practice, I’ve seen a number of people experience “a-ha!” moments of self-discovery.  They tell me it’s an eye-opening exercise.  Take a minute to share with me your “a-ha” moments of self-discovery.  I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.