A new book offers fresh insight into how we can look at ourselves from another perspective to spot our weaknesses. The findings include ditching the diary for super-focused daily check-ins and trying a stomach churning-named “dinner of truth.”
How to become more self-aware.
To learn more about ourselves, our strengths, weaknesses, motivations and fears, the obvious thing to do is to spend time deep in introspection or to keep a daily diary. But Eurich explains that these techniques don’t work, at least not the way that most of us do them. For example, research shows that people who spend too much time reflecting about the self tend to suffer more anxiety and poorer wellbeing (in part because it’s all too easy to slip into rumination, self blame and the search for absolute truths that simply don’t exist). And according to studies by Eurich and others, diary keepers are more self-reflective, but they don’t have any greater insight.
One reason is that people who like journaling often do it too frequently: experts on the emotional impact of writing, such as James Pennebaker, suggest doing it every few days, certainly not every day. And, says Eurich, it’s important to “explore the negative and not overthink the positive” – you should aim to turn confused perceptions of events into “a coherent meaningful narrative” and avoid squeezing the joy out of positive experiences by over analyzing them.
Another way to boost your insight is to ask yourself the Miracle Question (first described in Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch): Imagine a miracle occurs tonight as you’re sleeping that ripples out and benefits many areas of your life, what might this miracle be? “Think for a moment” says Eurich, “… how is life going to be different now? Describe it in detail. What’s the first thing you’ll notice as you wake up in the morning?”. Eurich gives the example of Matt, a leader who saw all the benefits that would come from realizing that asking for help isn’t a weakness. His solution “wasn’t an oversimplified single action …” says Eurich. “Instead, he envisioned exactly how both he and his employers would change on a far deeper level.”
Also, try daily check-ins. Unlike journaling or diary keeping, these are short, focused responses in which you spend from just a few seconds up to a maximum of five minutes reflecting on how your day went, what worked, what didn’t and how you could do better tomorrow. Eurich cites research with call center workers that found those who performed this daily ritual boosted their performance by 23 percent on average.
Other tricks to self-awareness involve helping yourself see things from a different perspective. Eurich recommends a basic technique called “going to the balcony” (as named by negotiation expert William Ury), which you could also think of as like imagining you are a fly on the wall. Next time you are in an argument or a stressful situation, place yourself outside of it and see how things seem from that vantage point. Similar to this is “zoom in, zoom out” technique. Again, when you’re in the midst of a tricky encounter, zoom into your own perspective and the baggage you’re carrying – maybe you’re tired, stressed or worried about something – then zoom out to the other person’s perspective – ask yourself, what kind of day may they be having? What are they thinking and feeling?
Meanwhile, to find out more what others think of you, you could try the well-known 360-degree technique, in which each person in the team rates everyone else. Or if you’re feeling particularly bold, Eurich recommends the “dinner of truth” during which you ask the other person “the one thing that annoys them most about you.” This approach should be handled with care! Indeed, when it comes to seeking feedback from others, Eurich stresses that it’s important to seek the right kind of feedback from the right people – loving critics are ideal, people who have your best interests at heart, but who are also prepared to be honest.
But whomever you are seeking feedback from, especially if it is of a personal nature, brace yourself for unpleasant surprises – practicing a brief moment of self-affirmation can help with this, which means reminding yourself of your values and what matters to you in life. That way you’re more likely to take on the new information constructively rather than it stinging and making you resentful.
Ultimately, the path to self-insight is a process. It’s an approach to life rather than a chore to be performed over a weekend. “It can be long, difficult and messy,” says Eurich. But she promises that it will be worth it. “If we can get just a bit more mindful and self-aware each day, the sum total of these insights can be astonishing,” she says.