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Last Updated on November 7, 2020

Having a high-level of self-awareness is one of the keys to building your emotional intelligence and this can help you deal with stress better, help your self-development, and help you understand colleagues and other people better.

So with the benefits in mind, let’s take a look at 12 easy steps and techniques to improve your own self-awareness.

(Note: You can also use this post as a training activity if you are a teacher or trainer – activity instructions are at the bottom of this post).

Emotional intelligence and improving self-awareness
Slide from the Emotional Intelligence training materials

1. Keep an Emotions Diary

It may be hard to remember what emotions we feel on a daily basis and what triggered them.

With a diary, you can read back what happened and spot patterns in your emotion. You can see, for example, which emotions make you feel better, which ones bring you down and what situations trigger them.

Describe the emotions you feel, the situations you experienced them in, and the people who surrounded you, and remember to describe the physical sensations you felt too.

Seeing this information in written form can be surprisingly effective for learning to understand your own emotions and this technique can be used for understanding your emotions in the workplace or in your private life.

2. Set an Awareness Trigger

Remembering to write an emotions diary can be something many of us might start off doing, byt then we forget.

So setting an awareness trigger, i.e. an alarm, and that goes off a few times a day, can be effective.

This alarm will help to remind you to check your emotions. When the alarm goes off, spend a minute or so to check how you feel and why.

This is another very easy to do technique and you might be surprised at how it will help you to become that much more self-aware of your emotions.

3. Reflect on Behaviors

Sometimes, especially when you are at the start of your emotional awareness journey, it can be hard to focus on abstract emotions. Instead, check your behavior.

When you have a chance, such as when sitting down for 5 minutes with a cup of tea or coffee, imagine that you are looking at yourself from the outside and see what you are doing.

What are your actions? How do you respond to events?

Once you have observed your actions, ask yourself why you were acting in the way you did.

4. Develop Your Feelings Vocabulary

Use a tool such as the wheel of emotions to identify words that help you to describe how you are feeling and to help you assess the intensity of your emotions.

The wheel of emotions that you can use in emotional intelligence training.

You can use these words from the wheel of emotions to help you with points 1, 2 and 3 in this post.

5. Know Who and What Pushes Your Buttons

Rather than thinking about situations in general, it is more useful to pinpoint exactly what triggers your reactions.

If you know your triggers, you will be able to put things into perspective and give yourself more time to collect yourself.

For example, you might be irritated by that colleague sat next to you who is always leaving things out of place and has a lot of paperwork piled up. This may be because if you are a person who is organized and tidy, and cannot stand confusion.

If you know exactly why you find your colleague irritating, you will be able to deal with this sense of irritation better as you know why it happens.

So, instead of lashing out, you might either accept the situation thinking that it is not such a big deal or be assertive and propose a solution or a compromise that helps you and your colleague coexist peacefully in the future.

6. Ask Yourself Why You Do the Things You Do

Sometimes we may do something out of character or something we regret.

When that happens, ask yourself why you acted like that. Consider:

  • What emotion influenced your behavior?
  • Can you remember if this happened at other times?
  • Was there a trigger (a person or a situation)?

7. Don’t Treat Your Feelings as Good or Bad

When you experience an emotion, avoid judging it. Just take notice of what you are feeling without trying to assess if it is good or bad.

If you judge your emotions, this will only lead to piling up other emotions on top of it, such as guilt or anxiety.

This will only create confusion for you and stop you from understanding clearly how you feel.

Improving self-awareness skills in the workplace
PPT Powerpoint slide from the Emotional Intelligence teaching materials

[The points on this slide above are a continuation from the previous slide and these points are explained below.]

8. Observe the Ripple Effects of Your Emotions

The way you behave as a result of your emotions has an impact on the people around you. So, it is important for you to observe not only your emotions but also how other people react.

For example, imagine you are a team leader who is often angry, for whatever reason. You are not aware of your emotions and you wonder why your team members are always on edge and never come up with ideas and suggestions when there is a problem.

It might be that they do not want to take a chance and be on the receiving end of your anger, should they say something you do not like.

As a result, they will be less assertive and less creative in solving problems.

9. Accept Your Discomfort

Sometimes, coming face-to-face with your emotions can be uncomfortable, painful even. You might not like what you see. If this is the case, do not let it stop you from working on your self-awareness.

Just accept that this is the way it is and be more accepting of your emotions and compassionate towards yourself.

If you ignore your emotions, they will not go away. Instead, they will only resurface when you least expect it.

10. Feel your emotions physically.

The body and the mind are very closely connected. Every time you experience an emotion, your body feels it even before you are aware of that emotion.

When you are alone and have a couple of minutes, do this exercise. Close your eyes and be aware of how your body feels. How are you breathing? How fast is your heart beating? Do you feel any tension in your muscles anywhere in your body?

Now imagine that you are feeling an emotion, maybe remember a situation from the past. Think about it as vividly as possible.

  • Has the feeling in your body changed?
  • Is your breathing deeper or shallower?
  • Are your muscles tenser or more relaxed?
  • Is your heart beating faster or slower?

11. Check how you look.

Usually, our emotions influence the way we present ourselves to the world. So, for example, if we are feeling down, we might neglect to do our hair properly or we might wear dark colors.

If we feel happy and confident, instead, we might make an effort to look our best and we might choose to wear cheerful colors.

Paying attention to how you decide to present yourself in terms of your external appearances usually provides a good window into your inner feelings.

12. Spot Your Emotions in the Arts

Artists are good at portraying emotions and/or eliciting emotions in us.

Whether you are watching a dance performance, a movie, a theatre play, or looking at a painting or listening to music, pay attention to the emotions either being represented or that the work of art makes you feel.

This is a fun way to familiarize yourself with your emotions.

Bonus: Seek Feedback

Looking at yourself is important but it has limitations, as you look at yourself through your own lens, which may be distorted.

Asking feedback to people you trust, in terms of how you react to situations, can help you get a more varied perspective.

Ask more than one person and, when you ask for feedback, ask them to provide specific examples of situations.

Using this as an Emotional Intelligence Training and Workshop Activity

You can also use this post as a training activity

Activity: 15 to 20 minutes.

Show the title of the slide but do not yet show any of the bullet points, until after the activity.

Ask participants to form groups of 3 or 4 people.

Give them a sheet of A1 paper per group and some marker pens.

Explain to the groups that they need to brainstorm to come up with a list of things they would do if they wanted to improve their self-awareness.

Ask each group to write down their list on the A1 sheet of paper.

Give groups 5 to 10 minutes for the activity.

After the time is up, start a discussion with the whole class for each group to share their ideas with the rest of the class. Allocate 10 minutes for this.

After the discussion, show the bullet points on this and the following slide to compare their ideas with your list.

Below (after the online teaching suggestions), you will find an explanation for each of the points on the slide.

If you are teaching online

Use breakout rooms to separate participants into groups.

Participants can write down their ideas by using an online whiteboard, a chat or an online tool, such as Lino or Padlet.

Once the group activity is over, bring the participants back to the main room for the whole class discussion.

Emotional intelligence training course materials
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Valeria has been involved with education for over 16 years. She has taught in the UK at the University of Bath and Cardiff Metropolitan University (where she got her PhD), in addition to working as a researcher at Exeter University. Valeria additionally has several years of experience of also working with Ofsted and Cardiff University in management roles.

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