16% A LOT 51% NOT MUCH 33% NOT AT ALL
My friend Mags* laughs like a mime artist: wide jaw, no sound, jazz hands. It’s a joy to watch. She makes a mean salted-caramel brownie and never judges. I value her friendship. But Mags has a habit of turning every conversation back to her. Had a bad week? Mags has had a bad month. Psyched about your promotion? Congratulations! Did you know Mags is on track for one, too?
It used to infuriate me, but I realised long ago that Mags doesn’t mean to be self-involved – she simply has no idea how she can come across to others.
But before you dismiss this sort of behaviour as something you’d never do, bear in mind that being intelligent, successful, empathetic and sociable does not make you immune. I thought I was enlightened when it came to my shortcomings. I know I’m bossy and that if I don’t eat every three hours, it’s best to avoid me. So I was shocked when my husband informed me (a er much badgering) that I can be ‘slightly self-obsessed’.
Apparently, I talk about work incessantly. But I’m self-employed and my husband is usually the rst person I’ve spoken to all day, so it’s hardly my fault if I occasionally navel-gaze, right?
It would seem I’m in denial, much like the rest of the population. ‘Ninety- ve percent of people think they’re self-aware, but the reality is closer to 10 to 15%, which means on a good day, 80% of us are lying to ourselves,’ says Dr Tasha Eurich, author of an illuminating new book, Insight (R421, Pan Macmillan), which explores the power of self-awareness in a self-deluded world. Are we really that misguided? ‘It never occurs to us to ask if we know ourselves as well as we think we do. It’s far easier to de ect and criticise others,’ Tasha adds.
So what in uences how self-aware we are as adults?
Ultimately, says the author, self-aware parents do raise more self-aware children, so the way you are around others starts early and remains the same, unless you are committed to changing it.
‘This makes sense, because children of self-aware parents see a sense of insight modelled as they grow up,’ says Tasha. ‘But by that same token, some of the most self-aware people I’ve come across in my studies had an un-self-aware parent. This shows us that people can change their destiny. Quite o en, some of the best self-awareness lessons come from seeing the mistakes the un-self-aware make.’
We’re o en told we live in an age of narcissism – a side e ect of social media and its xation with sel es – but our obsession with the self goes much further back, according to journalist Will Storr, the author of
(R421, Pan Macmillan). ‘Aristotle believed you couldn’t succeed in life unless you were in a state of ennobled self-love,’ he says. ‘We still have these ideas around self-esteem – that if you love and believe in yourself, you’ll do well and be happy.’
Individualism, says Will, originated in ancient Greece, a civilisation of small island states that weren’t suitable for farming. ‘Everyone had to rely on themselves and so lots of small industries sprang up. The same applies in the West today. Governments don’t look a er us any more, there’s no job for life – in order to get along and ahead, you’ve got to care about yourself because it’s all on you.’ In other words, a little self-obsession is essential for survival, but focusing too much on oneself can lead to a lack of selfawareness, warns Tasha.
Why is it so important to be self-aware? For starters, studies have shown that people who understand themselves and how others see them are generally happier. They’re also more likely to be smarter, get more promotions, lead more pro table companies and are less prone to lying, cheating and stealing.
I bite the bullet and ask a few loved ones what they really think of me. My best friend singles out my people-pleasing, while my mum has issues with my ‘knee-jerk reactions’. My dad’s gripe is my insistence on playing the Rolling Stones every time he visits (‘I like that Ed Sheeran, too, you know’).
Tasha is right – it’s freeing to face your aws. Once, I would have tried to stamp out these imperfections. Now, I acknowledge them and choose to like myself anyway, and I’m mindful of acting impulsively, or blindly droning on about what I’ve been up to at work all day without considering if people want to hear it. It’s a long road to full self-awareness, but I’m taking the rst steps. a f s ss d nd hat It s ing s