By Jeanne Mariella Uwimana

Having conscious knowledge of one’s own character and feelings is something that I began paying attention to back in 2015. Almost five years later, I am ready to say that I am glad I came to know and understand what role self-awareness can play in helping me understand my past life, as well as how I live my current life and deal with my feelings.

Self-awareness is the ability to focus on yourself, and how your actions, thoughts, or emotions align – or don’t – with your internal standards. If you’re highly self-aware, you can objectively evaluate yourself, manage your emotions, align your behavior with your values, and understand correctly how others perceive you. Tasha Eurich, a researcher and organizational psychologist, described two categories of self-awareness in a 2018 Harvard Business Review article – internal and external self-awareness.

Internal self-awareness is the ability to see your values, passions, and aspirations, and how well those standards fit with your environment and your reactions (which include thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses). Essentially, internal self-awareness could mean recognizing, for example, that your current job doesn’t match your true passion for marketing, or that you are feeling dissatisfied with a heated conversation you had with your colleague, which conflicts with your belief that kindness is important. External self-awareness, on the other hand, is the ability to clearly see how other people view you. People who know how others see them are typically more empathetic. Leaders who can see how their employees view them are usually more effective and have stronger relationships with their employees.

I have fallen in love with self-awareness and consciousness, and I don’t want to separate myself from this way of understanding the world for the rest of my life. Self-awareness and self-consciousness make me feel fulfilled because when we have a better understanding of ourselves, we are able to experience ourselves as unique and separate individuals who are empowered to make changes and to build on our areas of strength, as well as identify areas where we would like to make improvements. This has a huge impact on our lives, both on the people around us in our immediate families and everyone else we interact with.

I have had time to think more about self-care and self-control during the COVID-19 lockdown. Like everyone else, I was not prepared to stay home – especially with three kids I care for by myself. I admit I felt out of control often, and had to deal with the fear that uncertainty brought. Where would I be now, if I hadn’t already begun the journey of learning and understanding myself? This is the central question I have been asking myself recently, when the future stretches on in uncertainty. I have decided to focus on the values that will last in my life, and to be responsible to my life – to be aware and to have ownership of my choices. This means not blaming anyone else, but instead responding to life consciously and using my freedom to choose who I want to be – to feel and have balance.
In this lockdown, I have had the time to talk to my little boys (who actually told me that they are not little kids anymore)! I am fortunate to acknowledge that, in my sons, I have best friends with whom I can sit and discuss serious issues. For example, once we came across a mention of “cabin fever.” We became very interested in this idea, since it was new to us. As we learned more, we found out that the distress caused by cabin fever is very real, even though it is not recognized as a psychological disorder. That does not mean that the feelings are not real; symptoms connected to cabin fever are like those of living during the COVID-19 lockdown. I became aware of the symptoms and adopted techniques to cope with that.
Having routines in the house during the pandemic has helped me as a mom, as well as my boys. I have made sure we have weekday wake-up times, and breakfast, morning prayers, and reflections. I have made sure to have my quiet time before the kids wake up. This one hour (minimum) morning time for myself has been priceless to me. By the time my sons wake up, I am usually prepared to handle the duties that need my attention. Another technique we use is getting out daily, although this was very hard to coordinate at the beginning of the pandemic. Whenever I observed signs of irritability, a lack of concentration, or the boys fighting while homeschooling, I knew we needed a change, or fresh air. That would be when we would go outside for a hike, a bike ride, or just a walk around the neighborhood. A feeling of gratefulness for and appreciation of nature developed as we fell in love with where we live and discovered so many places and trails over the course of these months.

Luckily, self-awareness can be practiced and cultivated; it’s not a fixed trait. I am glad I have allowed myself to practice self-awareness, which has helped me learn and grow. As a study conducted by Tasha Eurich estimates, only 10-15% of people are truly self-aware. Thinking about the challenging times we are living through, my wish is that more people would learn to become self-aware. This is a valuable tool that can help you align your current life with your passions, and lead to a happier self, and more productivity. Are you aware of self-awareness?