Ever since we were little, we were told to set goals and strive to achieve them. Graduate high school. Get into a good university. Secure a good job. Start a family. – These are all common goals people set in life, ever since their teenage years. When something happens that prevents us from achieving a long-set goal, frustration starts to appear, and we start to wonder what we did wrong. Because, while many will tell us to set goals, no one is able to tell us how to achieve these goals. 

Aristotle once said that knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom, so could self-awareness be the key to succeeding in life and reaching your goals? Self-awareness is the first stage of emotional intelligence and is believed by psychologists to be the starting point of everything, so what role does it play in achieving success?

Self-awareness begins to develop naturally when you are about one year old, but as you get older, it stops being an automatic process and becomes something you need to work on. Everyday life and distractions that keep us busy are often the main reason we start neglecting self-awareness. In simple words, self-awareness revolves around understanding who you are from a practical point of view.

The reason why you act a certain way or why certain things influence your mood easier than others represents a combination of your experiences and traits you have inherited. As long as you know how to look for information, you are the best source for it.

But how do you achieve self-awareness? And, most importantly, can you do it all by yourself? 

Emotional intelligence – the key to it all

Emotional intelligence was not a well-known term until 1995 when author and psychologist Daniel Goleman released his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. His ideas turned out to be revolutionary, as it was revealed there is more than one form of intelligence, ad this one can not be measured by IQ. 

Instead of being treated as weaknesses or obstacles we need to get past, our emotions were revealed to possess a form of wisdom that we have not yet harnessed. Emotions and intelligence were no longer in conflict but rather working together. 

Emotional intelligence is believed to have four stages, which are meant to be seen as four concentric circles:

  • Self-awareness

This sits at the centre of emotional intelligence, and psychologists refer to it as the psychological state in which an individual is fully aware of their behaviour, feelings, and traits. A lot of introspection is needed to achieve this stage, and you must learn to view your actions from an objective point of view. Talking to a therapist can be one of the best ways to understand yourself.  

  • Self-management

After becoming aware of your emotions, the second stage of emotional-intelligence requires taking responsibility for these emotions. This does not mean assigning blame but rather understanding the causes and triggers of these emotions. This is often one of the main goals of therapy and an important step towards achieving your goals. 

  • Social awareness

The more you get to know yourself, the less you will need to seek validation from others. Instead of looking at those around you as if they were a reflection of you, you begin to see them for who they truly are. And you will soon start seeing it becomes much easier to open yourself to what surrounds you, be it people or experiences.

  • Relationship-management

Understanding how emotions and past experiences are related allows you to observe the people around you, empathize with them, and build healthy relationships. Success relies a lot on the connections you make, so achieving your goals will depend on it as well. 

Focusing on yourself does not mean selfishness

One of the biggest challenges therapists encounter with their patients is helping them overcome the sense of guilt they feel for wanting to put their needs above others'.

Wanting to achieve something does not make you a selfish person, as long as you are the one who works to achieve it. And in order to do so, you need to be your best self. 

Let's say one of your goals in life is to be a good parent. This means taking care of your children, as well as teaching them how to become their own person. But how can you do that if you are not your own person? Just as they learn to walk and talk, children need to learn how to manage their mental health, and parents should be the ones to teach them. 

If you want to give others your best, you need to be at your best, and self-awareness is the best way to do so. 

Self-awareness and success

When you are self-aware, you know your strengths, the things that set you apart from others, as well as your weaknesses and the things you need to improve. This is what helps you grow and what helps you understand that, even when failure hits, it does not mean your journey is over, but rather that you need to look at it with a fresh mind. 

Knowing yourself will also help you see how people perceive you, which is especially important when it comes to achieving your career goals. For example, being authoritative, decisive, and sometimes even controlling are common traits associated with leadership. Ironically, these are also traits that have the potential to alienate people, so you need to balance them well. This is what many individuals learn in therapy, especially if the reason they come to counselling is not because of a serious mental illness but rather because they want to simply better themselves.  

Don't do it all by yourself

Therapy is one of the best methods to know yourself better and discover what's keeping you from achieving your goals. In fact, one of the first steps towards self-awareness is acknowledging you cannot do everything on your own, so it is often advised you look for professional help to get to know yourself better.