A strong sense of self-awareness is one of the essential pillars of effective leadership.

Knowing our own trigger points, patterns of decision making, unique strengths and even what ignites us versus what dumbs us down is integral to leading well.

When it comes to self-defeating behaviours or bad habits, self-awareness really comes into play. You know the ones – where you regret your actions or curse your behaviour after the fact.

For me, it was talking over the top of people. Finishing other peoples’ sentences whilst having a conversation. As a leadership coach, becoming aware of this behaviour and subsequently learning some strategies to rectify it has been incredibly helpful.

How do you become more self-aware?

Generally speaking, there are four stages of self-awareness. It can be helpful to know what these are and the action steps to take at each stage – so you can help not only yourself, but your teams as well.

Stage one. Blissful unawareness.

This is the stage where we are (blissfully) unaware there is a problem. But more often than not, others are noticing the behaviour.

You may have a vague sense that a particular approach doesn’t tend to get the results you want. But the key is pulling what’s below the water to above the water, in terms of the iceberg analogy.

Reducing blind spots (which others see, but you don’t) is crucial to moving forward.

Ask for 360 degree feedback. Take notice of yourself in certain situations. Ask your boss and peers for their opinion. Look closely at your performance reviews. These are all ways to become aware of what needs to change before transitioning to the next stage.

Stage Two. Aware after the fact.

This is the “doh, I did it again” stage. Once we identify a potential developmental area or bad habit, we often become aware we are doing it after the fact, once we have already done it.

This stage is a bit like becoming pregnant and then noticing pregnant women everywhere you go. Or, buying a new car and suddenly seeing the make and model all around town.

Often times, once it is above the water line, we see ourselves doing it all the time.

At this point you can expect to feel frustrated at yourself for doing it again. You might even cringe as you start to see yourself through this new lens of awareness.

The trick is not to rush into ‘fix-it’ mode, but to instead focus on observation versus evaluation. When do you most often fall into the trap? What situations trigger this bad habit? Whether it be losing your temper, becoming too emotional, being too quick to make a decision, or avoiding crucial conversations.

Stage three. Awareness during the fact.

This is where you follow your normal pattern of behaviour in a given situation, but become aware of yourself in the moment – and consequently, stop doing it. This feels better and signals the start of true change.

The trick is to congratulate yourself when you notice this and then keep up the efforts when you don’t.

Stage four. Awareness before the fact.

This is when you know in advance those situations likely to cause the bad habit/s  and can prevent yourself from falling into the trap in advance. Congratulations!  You’ve broken the vicious cycle!

What tips do you have for becoming more self-aware and for breaking bad habits?