Self-awareness refers to the conscious knowledge of one’s own character, emotions, desires, and motivations.
It is a key component of emotional intelligence theory and, in psychology, the two concepts are often studies as co-dependent and intricately linked (Goleman, 2018; Goleman et al., 2018).
Being self-aware can refer to the ability to be conscious of both your own behaviors and how others perceive them. For example, ability to identify and name your current emotions and identify how others are reacting to your behaviors are both examples of self-awareness.
Types of Self-Awareness: The 4 Archetypes
One well-known framework for explaining and defining self-awareness is the four archetypes model. This model argues that self-awareness can be divided into two categories: internal and external (Eurich, 2017; Eurich, 2018).
- Internal self-awareness refers to understanding your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and actions. This is an inherent introspective task and an intrapersonal skill (Carden, Jones & Passmore, 2022; Duval & Silvia, 2002).
- External self-awareness refers to understanding how others perceive your thoughts and actions. In other words, it’s the ability to be aware of your situatedness within social contexts and a key interpersonal skill (Carden, Jones & Passmore, 2022).
Based on these two types of self-awareness, Eurich has presented four ‘self-awareness archetypes’. See which one you most identify with:
|Low External Self-Awareness||High External Self-Awareness|
|High Internal Self-Awareness||Archetype: Introspectors|
1. High internal self-awareness
2. Low external self-awareness
1. High internal self-awareness
2. High external self-awareness
|Low Internal Self-Awareness||Archetype: Seekers|
1. Low internal self-awareness
2. Low external self-awareness
1. Low Internal self-awareness
2. High external self-awareness
Each is described below:
- Introspectors: Introspectors have high internal self-awareness, meaning they are very much aware of their own emotions. However, they’re often unaware of how others perceive them (low external self-awareness). They often don’t seek out feedback from others, which can limit their self-growth and lead to plenty of blindspots (Eurich, 2018).
- Aware: The ‘aware’ archetype is the idealized model because it represents people with very high emotional intelligence. These people are both internally and externally self-aware, meaning they will both self-reflect regularly and seek out external information and feedback to help broaden their perspectives and address blindspots (Eurich, 2018).
- Seekers: Seekers don’t think much about themselves, their emotions, thoughts, or identities. They also aren’t aware of how others perceive them. As a result, they’re often frustrated by their lack of progress (especially in terms of networking and relationships) (Eurich, 2018).
- Pleasers: Pleasers tend to be more focused on and concerned about how others perceive them than their own self-perception. By focusing too much on pleasing others, they often make decisions that aren’t in their own best interests, such as by saying ‘yes’ to too many collaborations, leading them to becoming burned-out! (Eurich, 2018)
1. High Internal Self-Awareness
High internal self-awareness involves the understanding of one’s emotions, thoughts, and values, and how they affect behavior.
Here are 26 examples:
- Recognizing when you are under stress and understanding why.
- Knowing your strengths and how to use them optimally.
- Understanding your weaknesses and working on improving them.
- Being aware of your motivating forces.
- Knowing your personal values and how they dictate your decisions.
- Realizing when you are happiest and striving to spend more time in that state.
- Understanding your key skills and leveraging them in work and life.
- Recognizing when you are overwhelmed and taking necessary action.
- Being aware of your mood swings and managing them effectively.
- Being clear about your long-term goals and what you want in life.
- Recognizing unproductive habits and actively trying to change them.
- Understanding the impact of past experiences on current behavior.
- Knowing your physical boundaries and not pushing beyond them excessively.
- Being aware of your mental boundaries and respecting them.
- Recognizing your preferred communication style and how it impacts others.
- Acknowledging your core personal beliefs and how they shape your worldview.
- Being aware of your emotional triggers and learning to control them.
- Understanding your biases and prejudices and actively addressing them.
- Recognizing when you are out of your comfort zone and how that feels.
- Identifying preferred learning styles and methods.
- Being aware of your physical reactions to certain emotions (e.g., stress, excitement).
- Understanding your personal needs and ensuring they’re met.
- Recognizing your patterns of behavior in relationships.
- Acknowledging your personal growth over time.
- Being aware of the intensity of your emotions and how they fluctuate.
- Recognizing when you are in a positive mental state and identifying what contributed to it.
High External Self-Awareness
High external self-awareness comprises the understanding of how one is perceived by others, recognizing others’ perspectives, and adapting to different interactions or situations.
Here are 25 examples:
- Actively seeking feedback from peers, friends, or family.
- Noticing how others react to your words and actions in various contexts.
- Awareness of how your behavior influences the mood and behavior of others.
- Being considerate of others’ needs while expressing your own.
- Tailoring communication style as per the audience and situation.
- Adjusting one’s behavior to align with cultural norms or social expectations.
- Understanding how your punctuality—or lack thereof—affects others.
- Recognizing how your reactions to feedback impact the feedback giver.
- Paying attention to others’ vocal tone or nonverbal cues when interacting with you.
- Monitoring how your work style meshes with or disrupts team dynamics.
- Understanding how your leadership style is received by your subordinates.
- Figuring out how your negotiation tactics are perceived by the opposite party.
- Observing how your dress and personal presentation affects professional interactions.
- Recognizing how your emotional state influences others around you.
- Comprehending how effective your persuasion methods are in changing others’ opinions.
- Adjusting conversation topics based on listeners’ interest level.
- Determining how your customer service approach impacts customers.
- Monitoring how your social media posts are received by followers.
- Understanding how different audiences perceive your public speaking style.
- Realizing how your coaching style is accepted by your mentees.
- Noticing how people respond to your jokes or sense of humor.
- Acknowledging how your level of assertiveness is reacted to in different situations.
- Recognizing if your method of conflict resolution is effective.
- Assessing if your teaching style is resonating with students, clients, or staff.
- Evaluating how helpful or meaningful your volunteering efforts are to the intended recipients.
Low Internal Self-Awareness
Low internal self-awareness denotes a lack of understanding or consciousness about one’s own emotions, thoughts, desires, and values, as well as how these influence one’s behavior.
Here are 25 examples:
- Ignoring feelings of stress or anxiety without investigating their cause.
- Not knowing what truly motivates or inspires you.
- Disregarding your personal strengths and weaknesses.
- Being unaware of deep-rooted personal values.
- Misreading emotions and attributing them to incorrect causes.
- Not recognizing patterns of mood swings.
- Overlooking significant past experiences that shape present behavior.
- Being ignorant about personal set goals and life expectations.
- Overlooking physical and emotional boundaries.
- Failing to recognize the effects of negative or unproductive habits.
- Not assessing personal beliefs and how they influence perceptions.
- Lack of awareness about personal communication style and its effects.
- Ignoring emotional triggers and their control.
- Neglecting to understand personal biases and prejudices.
- Not knowing which situations or experiences take you out of your comfort zone.
- Overlooking preferred learning styles and methods.
- Underestimating the intensity and range of your emotions.
- Ignoring personal needs and neglecting self-care.
- Neglecting your patterns of behavior in relationships.
- Underestimating the impact of your actions on others.
- Missing the recognition of personal growth over time.
- Being unaware of physical reactions in response to certain emotions.
- Failing to recognize the power and control of your thoughts.
- Being dismissive of the importance of reflection and introspection.
- Overlooking the potential for personal development and self-improvement.
Low External Self-Awareness
Low external self-awareness refers to a deficit in understanding how one is seen by others and how one’s behavior impacts them.
Here are 25 examples:
- Neglecting to seek feedback or acknowledging it when provided.
- Failing to notice reactions or feedback to one’s behavior from others.
- Being blind to the effect one’s emotional state has on people around.
- Showcasing a lack of consideration of how your actions affect others’ needs or feelings.
- Ignoring the suitability of one’s communication style for various situations and audiences.
- Overlooking how others react to your punctuality habits.
- Not recognizing how your reactions to feedback affect the person providing it.
- Disregarding others’ perspectives or failing to take them into account in decision making.
- Ignoring how your behavior or actions alter team dynamics.
- Not understanding how your leadership style affects team members’ motivation and productivity.
- Failing to notice the implications of your negotiation style on the outcome of agreements.
- Ignoring the impact of personal appearance on professional interactions.
- Overlooking how your emotional transparency affects the emotional state of others.
- Ignoring how your behavior might differ from social norms or expectations.
- Disregarding the impact of your sense of humor on others.
- Neglecting to adjust your communication methods based on signals from listeners.
- Ignoring the influence of your customer service approach on customers.
- Failing to recognize how your social media presence impacts others.
- Neglecting the effectiveness of your public speaking style on diverse audiences.
- Overlooking the effect of your coaching style on your mentees.
- Ignoring the reactions of others based on your level of assertiveness.
- Failing to recognize if conflict resolution techniques effectively resolves disputes.
- Overlooking student feedback or response to teaching methods.
- Ignoring how your actions and behaviors align with societal expectations.
- Neglecting whether your volunteering efforts are impactful to recipients.
The Benefits of Self-Awareness
The benefits of self-awareness are profound and far-reaching, profoundly impacting various aspects of life.
Some key benefits include enhanced decision-making, relationship-building, personal and professional growth, stress management, and emotional health. Each is outlined below:
- Relationships and Interpersonal Skills: Having high internal and external self-awareness means you’re tuned not just into your own actions and emotions but also those of the people around you. This can help predict and respond appropriately to others’ behaviors, needs, and emotions, strengthening and deepening your relationships.
- Personal and professional growth: By understanding your strengths, weaknesses, core values, and areas that need improvement, you can develop strategies to bolster your skills and address areas of weakness. In a professional context, this might translate to choosing projects that align with your strengths or opting for upskilling in areas where you’re not as confident.
- Stress management: Recognizing your emotional and physical reactions to stress can help you develop effective coping mechanisms. Whether it’s understanding that a walk outdoors can calm your mind or realizing that speaking about your challenges helps relieve stress, these strategies are borne out of self-awareness.
- Emotional health: Self-awareness lets you better understand and manage your own emotions, leading to improved psychological well-being. Take, for example, developing clarity about sleep patterns, foods, exercise patterns, or actions that affect your mood. This self-awareness can help you to make life decisions that can manage your emotions more effectively. Decoding your emotional responses leads to better resilience and overall emotional health.
Ashley, G. C., & Reiter-Palmon, R. (2012). Self-awareness and the evolution of leaders: The need for a better measure of self-awareness. Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management, 14(1), 2-17.
Carden, J., Jones, R. J., & Passmore, J. (2022). Defining self-awareness in the context of adult development: A systematic literature review. Journal of Management Education, 46(1), 140-177. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1052562921990065
Duval, T. S., & Silvia, P. J. (2002). Self-awareness, probability of improvement, and the self-serving bias. Journal of personality and social psychology, 82(1), 49. Doi: https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.11
Eurich, T. (2017). Insight: Why we’re not as self-aware as we think, and how seeing ourselves clearly helps us succeed at work and in life. London: Currency.
Eurich, T. (2018). What self-awareness really is (and how to cultivate it). Harvard Business Review, 4.
Goleman, D. (2018). What makes a leader?. In Military leadership (pp. 39-52). Routledge.
Goleman, D., Kaplan, R. S., David, S., & Eurich, T. (2018). Self-Awareness (HBR Emotional Intelligence Series). Harvard Business Press.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]