Aristotle said “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”.
If that statement is true – and let’s face it, Aristotle’s wisdom has been proven over millennia – then why do we struggle so much or do so little to understand ourselves. When I googled self-awareness, I got 380,000,000 results in less than a half a second so there is definitely an interest. Yet when it comes down to it, we allow ourselves to get ‘triggered’ in situations that are uncomfortable for us and allow our emotional reaction to overwhelm our intelligence or a considered response.
The brain works on the principle of ‘foe before friend’. Our inbuilt threat detector is continuously scan-ning our environment for threat. It is said that that occurs every .2 of a second. This happens uncon-sciously and when the brain encounters things that are different, new or uncomfortable our amygdala spikes and our limbic system prepares us for flight or fight.
The brain also doesn’t know the difference between fantasy and reality. When providing an unconscious reaction to situations, the amygdala (our emotional centre) will quickly draw on previous experience in memory and the emotions attached.
It then links similarities in the current experience with the past that will ‘trigger’ often powerful emotional reactions that are perhaps inappropriate in the moment. Remember this all takes place in a nano-second and can often lead us to regret our reaction and its impact.
We’re great at rationalising. What people will often say is “that’s just the way I am”, “I know that was a tough reaction, but they deserved it because…” or “they should know better”. These rationalisations allow us to justify our behaviour and require no effort or reflection that would support our emotional growth.
Daniel Goleman wrote an excellent book on Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and his quote “If your emotion-al abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distress-ing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far”.
EQ will outstrip IQ every time, so if you wanted to rationalise why spending time in understanding your-self was important, it is because it will help you in life, career and relationships.
Today we see a strong drive for relational leaders as demand for a more diverse and inclusive work environment become more common. Relationship-based leaders who can inspire, influence, challenge and engage their teams are generally also people who have a strong values base and demonstrate a genuine empathy.
Whichever way you look at it, becoming better acquainted with yourself is a very good thing.