Marie Claire (South Africa) - - REAL LIFE -

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

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