When asked about the most effective way to work on self-awareness, my answer is always “time & truth”. Really, “truth & time” would be more accurate, but it doesn't roll off the tongue quite so well.
And, what I mean is that we need the strength and safe space to be honest with ourselves, as well as, the distance and perspective to be analytical about it. I usually advocate journaling as the practical way to achieve this “time & truth” approach.
Journaling gives you a safe place to be honest about what’s going on - physically, mentally, emotionally - in your life. You can capture the facts, those specific events or challenges that you are experiencing. Add to that your current interpretation of those facts, how you perceive them, what you make of them. Then, you can detail how you’re feeling about them. This is the “truth” part, and it only works if you’re being as honest as you can be in that moment.
I started journaling toward the end of my first marriage, in 2006, and I’m still at it. I never approached journaling with a lot of structure, I wrote when I felt like it. Dollar store composition books and ballpoint pens were my tools. I captured the events that felt important, I noted my thoughts about those events, I recorded my feelings, my reactions. To me, the specifics (frequency, format, medium) feel less important than dedication and commitment.
For some people, the act of journaling provides the necessary insight to objectively look at the situation, their feelings, their reactions. My personal experience shows limits to this insight. You’re still very close to whatever happened, and often that closeness obscures your view. Imagine standing on a mountain top, while you may have a wonderful view looking out, it's really hard to get a good look at the very mountain you’re on.
This is where the “time” component comes in, time yields that better perspective. Just like that mountain you stood on and couldn’t clearly see, distance yields a better view. Weeks, months, even years will all provide differing views of that “truth”. The clarity and insight can be amazing.
About two years after my first marriage ended, my coach encouraged me to pull out those notebooks and read through those pages. It was hard, much harder than I anticipated. There were painful memories and painful feelings. In addition to the sting of remembrance, there was the added bite of my own skewed perspective. Interpretations I was so certain of then, seemed much more questionable now. I more clearly saw my own participation. I also recognized my growth.
Journaling isn’t a quick, easy fix, it’s not magic. There is no shortcut to better self-awareness. When partnered with the want to grow, the want to develop your emotional intelligence; journaling provides some of the highest ROI you’ll find.
Do you journal? How has it helped build your self-awareness? Your EQ?