n my last article, I stressed the importance of becoming more self-aware in order to improve some aspect of performance.
For athletes, ask yourself the following questions-
- When am I at my best? What are the variables surrounding that optimal performance? What did I eat? How was my warmup? What was my self-talk like? When I made a mistake, what strategies did I use to recover?
- When my performance is not going as planned, what is happening? What are my beliefs about my opponent and my ability to compete against them? How are my interactions with my coach and other individuals on my team or support team?
There are plenty more questions you can reflect on, but these questions will get you thinking about potential variables that come into play when you are both performing well and when you’re not.
I ask many of the athletes I work with to keep a performance journal which helps them to see patterns develop when they are at their best and when they’re not. Once they know the variables surrounding optimal performances, they can use that knowledge as a key to unlock more consistent performances.
The same process works for non-athletes. The questions you ask yourself will vary slightly but the process is the same.
So step one to increase your self-awareness is to pay attention on purpose. Your performance is your result, but you need to first know what happened before the performance that contributed to that outcome.
In order to do this, you also need to commit to a present moment focus. This may be considered Step 1b. We can only process between 40-50 bits of information per second, however, we are bombarded with over 11 million bit of information per second. I’m not sure how scientists figured out that number, but even if they were half correct, that is still a lot of opportunity for distraction. We need to be able to choose what we focus our attention on, and the more fully present we are, the easier this will be.
A good strategy for increasing present moment awareness is taking 10 minutes a day to meditate. Now some of you may completely reject this idea. You may think its too new age or something only monks do. You may fear the thought of sitting for 10 minutes in silence with nothing for your breath. That was me. The thought of sitting quietly and trying to harness my mind which has a tendency to be all over the place was scary. But THAT is exactly why I needed to do it. I will do a separate article on my experience with and the benefits of meditation, but a few of the benefits include increased present moment awareness, lower levels of stress, and increased attention and focus. I like the Calm app because they offer guided meditation and I find the women’s voice to be pleasant, but there are a lot of options out there.
A second option to increase self-awareness is to take time for reflection. Similar to keeping a performance log, you can engage in a less formal activity by simply taking a few minutes to reflect on a recent performance.
Let’s say that you just landed a big client and you felt like everything was clicking during the meeting. After the meeting, take a couple of minutes and reflect on the sales process. Did you do anything different than you normally do? What was your emotional state going into the meeting? Were you more prepared than you typically are? Did you spend more time building rapport? It is the answers to these types of questions that can point out the variables that contributed to the positive performance. The same is true if you had a sub-optimal performance.
Another option to increase awareness is to solicit feedback from others. Most of us don’t deliberately seek out feedback from others as it opens us up to information we may not want to hear. Feedback from those we trust though, can be a valuable source of information that we may not know about ourselves and shed some light on some of our blind spots. If you do try this option, accept the feedback and avoid being defensive with the information that is given to you. Of course, that is easier said than done, but recognize that if you’re asking someone you trust to give you honest feedback, it is likely just as uncomfortable for them and they are providing that feedback as a favor to you. Don’t make them regret it.
A final strategy that I will provide here is to know your character strengths. Research has shown that when individuals operate utilizing their top strengths, they are more likely to be engaged and fulfilled in the activity. This alone leads to higher levels of performance. There are several assessments designed to uncover your strengths, but the one I prefer to start with is the VIA Character Strengths survey which can be found at https://www.viacharacter.org. Here, you can click on the orange “Take the free survey” button to start the assessment. According to Seligman, a pioneer in the field of positive psychology, there are 24 unique character strengths and we all possess varying degrees of these strengths that make up what is best about our personality. I highly recommend investing the few minutes needed to take this assessment as I believe it will provide you with a great deal of information that you can use on your journey of becoming the best version of yourself.
There are a host of other strategies for increasing your self-awareness, but I believe these to be the ones that will move the needle the most. Committing to higher levels of self-awareness is not easy and will require you to look at aspects of yourself that you may not prefer to acknowledge. Without it though, your ability to fully reach your potential will be stunted.
I hope you found value in this article and I invite you to share any specific strategies that you use to increase your awareness in the comments below.