Updated: Apr 28
By Matz Skoog
Self-awareness: everyone thinks they have it, but in reality most people go through life hardly ever noticing how they truly feel. The fact is that the majority of our thoughts and actions are on autopilot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. Our habits, routines, impulses, and reactions carry us through our lives so we don’t have to stop and think about it every time we leave the house, or meet a new person. The problem is when we’re on autopilot for so long that we forget we’re on autopilot. Because when we’re not even aware of our own habits, routines, impulses, and reactions, then we no longer control them; they control us.
The first and most important step in personal development is consequently self-awareness. This is because personal development of any kind means change in your actions, behaviours and attitudes, but for something to change for the better it must first be recognised as a problem. Achieving self-awareness of any personal foibles that may be holding you back is the first step on the journey. It will provide you with a powerful tool to help you transcend those blockages and realise your full potential.
Lack of self-awareness and limiting thinking to an undemanding level is a convenient device to fool oneself into feeling problems does not exist. Because maintaining a fragile and undesirable status quo, even if it’s horrible, is at least familiar. However, change even when desired is tricky and the more transformational it could be in your life the more difficult it is to achieve. This is true even when you know that your existing patterns of behaviours are dysfunctional. But if you are unwilling to challenge yourself and find courage to step into the unfamiliar you run the risk of remaining slightly unsatisfied and unfulfilled for the rest of your life.
In this article I list thirteen of the most common indicators that something might be stopping you from living your best life. They are not accusations; everyone has at least one of these symptoms and most of us have more. But once you know where to look, you’ll find beating them that much easier. Use them as prompts for self-reflection and encouragement to explore a better way to be.
Firstly DISCOUNTING. This is a typical unhelpful head-in-the-sand behaviour. Are you aware there might be an issue but ignoring its importance? Do you accept the problem but believe that you can’t change because it’s simply too difficult, too dangerous or just too damn uncomfortable—so it is easier to pretend it does not exist.
DENIAL. A variation on the discounting syndrome is combating personal dissatisfaction and performance at work, or at home, by making yourself believe, and I mean truly believe, that everything is fine and refusing to see, despite the strong hints, that there are problems up ahead?
DISPLACEMENT is struggling with internal anger and frustration by putting it onto other people? Was someone damaging, nasty or unpleasant to you at work or at home, perhaps way back in the past? – Perhaps you’ve developed kick-the-cat syndrome rather than addressing the core issue.
TRANSFERENCE is very similar; incorrectly and unfairly transferring to someone in your current environment the negative characteristics and emotions that should rightly be associated with an earlier relationship, at another time in another place, perhaps with an authority figure such as a parent or a teacher.
RATIONALISATION is when you intellectualise and analyse rather than deal with strong emotions, which might otherwise be unsettling and overwhelming. Do you find it easier to; keep your emotions at bay by making them seem abstract, and therefore pretending to feel they have no personal impact on you?
INTROJECTION is believing you are ‘stupid’ or a ‘non achiever’, often because someone repeatedly told you so when you were little; perhaps someone in authority, a parent, a teacher or perhaps some bully at school? Low self-esteem makes personal change a real struggle, especially when it is easier to believe oneself a failure, and not try to change, then attempt to change and run the risk of failing.
What about its opposite: PROJECTION? This is dreading that a particular kind of shortcoming might be yours and preferring to project it onto someone else. This is the principle of ‘if you spot it, you got it’. Importantly, there is also positive projection, which is equally damaging to your self-confidence because you are creating an unrealistic fantasy about another person by assigning them the qualities that you would like for yourself but are struggling to implement.
REPRESSION is holding you back by allowing yourself to ignore important memories because they are too emotionally powerful to deal with. By denying honest and objective recollections from your past, both good and bad, you will prevent yourself from seeing the future objectively.
REGRESSION is reverting to an infantile state as soon as you meet resistance or are under stress, stamping your proverbial foot and having unnecessary tantrums. However, effective as this may be in manipulating others into doing your bidding it’s a very unattractive trait. It is unproductive and you will find it quickly loses you respect of friends and colleagues.
UNREALISTIC PESSIMISM is mistakenly assuming that if bad things will happen they will inevitably happen to you. Do you wake up during the night, finding it difficult to go back to sleep because you ruminate about everything and everyone? You should know that 90% of everything we worry about on a daily basis will never come to pass.
VICTIMHOOD is self-protection through constantly feeling sorry for yourself and thereby avoiding taking responsibility for your actions. Often this is due to terror of what positive change might involve. Perhaps you are unable to see what you have contributed to a problem yourself because you feel your misfortune is always other people’s fault, or find constant self-blame easier than trying to achieve something?
To be a COMPULSIVE APOLOGIST is always saying sorry as a way of keeping other people’s criticisms at bay. Or perhaps you are using it’s variant: doing ‘little me’ talking – constantly belittling your own achievements and personality to elicit easy sympathy and make people give you praise.
Lastly, DIGITAL THINKING stops you from being truly happy because you are always generalising situations, and people, as being brilliant or terrible; black or white with nothing in between. You can miss out on healthy relationships because you forget that every situation in life has its own shade and nuance, and every person is uniquely and infinitely complex?
If any of the above strike a chord with you please remember you are not alone. Almost everyone suffers from similar insecurities. Avoiding change is a defence mechanism rooted in human evolution: where you may have risked your life by stepping outside the normal patterns of tribal behaviour. In our modern society, however, sidestepping change and keeping painful truth at bay is a way to avoid facing up to personal shortcomings and difficult emotions.
A less admirable reason (although quite common) for dodging responsibility to change is that maintaining your shortcomings can provide an effective way to manipulate others through guilt. Finally, the biggest reason of all for evading change is the fear of failure together with its close relation: the fear of success.
You may find you want help navigating the uncertainty and complexity of a particular situation, or finding clarity of direction to what’s next in your life. If you need help getting where you want to be, coaching provides perfect support. Coaching helps identify the necessary actions for positive change and build the courage to take them, which will in turn strengthen your confidence and motivation. This is because confidence is not only the cause of action but also the product of taking action.