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All Self-Improvement Starts Here

Learn to increase self-awareness, an essential step to self-improvement.

No matter what kind of therapist or program you might consult to address emotional or behavioral problems, there is one place where they will all start: self-awareness. While a therapist will probably do some kind of assessment for them to understand your problem better, the next step is almost always to help you heighten your awareness of the problem.

Depending on where you are seeking help, you will be directed to pay attention to one or more of the following areas:

Sensations: This includes any sensations in your body, such as muscle tension in your shoulders, increased warmth in your face, and churning in your stomach.

Thoughts: This involves an awareness of the thoughts that go through your mind, particular beliefs that direct your thoughts, and the way you talk to yourself.

Emotions: Many people struggle with being able to identify their particular emotions. Make note of whether you tend to rely on general labels, such as upset rather than angry or hurt. When you label your emotions, encourage yourself to be more specific. (You might find it helpful to consult a list of emotions, which you can find by using a search engine.)

Patterns: This refers to patterns that currently occur between your sensations, thoughts, and emotions. It also refers to patterns you might see across your life. These patterns can help you to better understand why you do what you do.

Whatever your particular struggle, pay attention to these areas. You might even want to keep a daily journal of each of these areas for a week or two. Then review what you have written. Do you notice patterns related to your struggles? Are there areas in which you have less self-awareness? If so, continue to journal in those areas in particular until you sense that you achieve greater self-understanding.

For instance, you might notice that your body gets tense (sensation) after your partner has treated you unfairly (thought), leaving you feel angry with him (emotion). With continued journaling (and perhaps talking with people you trust), you might notice that you tend to avoid confrontations because you fear him getting angry with you. You might be aware that these kinds of situations have lead to building tensions with your partner until you can no longer contain it, and you explode. You might also realize that this pattern is one that has lead to previous relationships ending.

Your goal is to gain so much understanding that you can empathize with your struggles and have compassion for them. For instance, after remembering a series of experiences with feeling abandonned, you might better understand and have compassion for your fear of your partner being angry with you and maybe leaving you. This can help you to be gentle with yourself while also motivating you to overcome this fear. As long as you maintain this level of self-understanding and self-compassion, you will be ready to work constructively to improve your life!

(You might find it helpful to hear me talk directly to the combination of self-awareness and self-compassion in this 2+minute video on compassionate self-awareness.)

Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, NJ. She also writes a blog for WebMD (The Art of Relationships) and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.

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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.

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