Denise Fournier Ph.D.

Mindfully Present, Fully Alive

Five Ways Self-Awareness Can Save Your Life

Even the slightest bit of self-awareness can completely change everything.

Posted May 06, 2019

Does my title sound a little hyperbolic? When I first typed it out, I thought so myself; but I sat with it for a bit and ultimately decided that this particular point can’t be overstated. When it comes to navigating effectively through life’s myriad complexities, self-awareness is everything. It plays a key role in just about every facet of our human experience, helping us make clear decisions and produce successful, life-sustaining outcomes in every area of our lives. There’s no limit to how much even the slightest hint of self-awareness can benefit us. But for our purposes, let’s focus on these five important ways that self-awareness can be truly life-saving.

1. It helps us stay mindful of our health needs. Whether we’re talking mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual health, self-awareness is monumentally impactful. Without it, we easily overlook or neglect our needs, taking poor care of ourselves and literally risking our lives in the process. By practicing self-awareness, we give ourselves the opportunity to prioritize our health by giving ourselves what we need. The simple practice of paying attention to ourselves at the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual levels can—at the risk of sounding dramatic—mean the difference between life and death.

2. It helps us take positive actions in our relationships. When we get to know ourselves and commit to maintaining self-awareness, we transform the landscape of our relational lives. This allows us to engage with people whose values are aligned with ours, and who contribute positively to our lives. It enables us to set emotional boundaries and know when we’re being treated in ways that don’t support our wellbeing. But self-awareness isn’t just about paying attention to how others treat us; it also compels us to take responsibility for ourselves and our contribution to the relationship dynamics we create with others. By staying self-aware, we do our part to choose our relationships wisely, navigate them effectively, and create harmony with the people in our lives.

3. It helps us work smarter and more mindfully. It’s been estimated that the average American spends over 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime, so it isn’t much of a stretch to say that how we work affects how we live. No doubt, many variables in our professional lives are out of our control; but taking responsibility for what we can control can make a world of difference. Self-awareness allows us to recognize our strengths and weaknesses, so we can work smarter and set ourselves up for as much success as possible. It gives us the opportunity to take command over the aspects of our work lives that we’re able to control, thereby mitigating many unnecessary stresses. Finally, self-awareness lets us stay mindful of our work-life balance, which positively contributes to our general health and wellbeing.

4. It helps us live in the moment. The mindfulness revolution in our culture over the last few years isn’t some empty, fleeting fad; it’s the recognition of ancient wisdom regarding the importance of living in the present moment. Perhaps the reason it’s been so revolutionary is that we’re hardwired, and culturally conditioned, to be anywhere but here and now—and this has serious implications for our quality of life. Self-awareness is one key component of mindfulness, and it can play a crucial role in how we conduct ourselves. When we pay attention to what’s happening, and to our experience of it, we connect more meaningfully to our lives. We heighten our senses and improve our decision-making, thereby enabling us to move more safely and confidently through the world. A little self-awareness can be all we need to truly make contact with life and create meaning out of the time we’re given.

5. It helps us keep our cool at critical times. We can expertly implement self-awareness in all the areas I’ve discussed so far, and life will still throw us curveballs and reasons to get stressed. It’s in the heat of those unanticipated, nervous-system-activating moments that we’re truly tested. And if we can muster even a modicum of self-awareness, we’ll do ourselves a tremendous service. As many a thought leader has said, life isn’t about what happens to us, but about how we respond to it—and the word respond is key here. Our nervous systems are programmed to react in situations of true danger by gearing us up to fight, flee, or freeze; but, thankfully, most of what we’ll experience in life won’t be a true life-threatening emergency. When the rubber meets the road and our stress level spikes, self-awareness can really serve us. By paying attention to ourselves in difficult moments, we can slow down and soothe our triggered nervous system, thus sparing ourselves the noxious impact of stress and, perhaps, the unpleasant consequences of a reckless reaction. The implications of this for our long-term health are limitless!

Our relationship with ourselves is the longest and most significant one we’ll ever have. But in spite of the fact that each of us will live in our own skin from birth to death, true self-awareness is something we must cultivate. Knowing ourselves may take some effort and practice, but it may just be the most important thing we ever do.