Self-awareness & Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence or EI and self-regulation is of great importance to you

What is self-awareness?

Self-awareness, or awareness of self if you prefer, is the first pillar of emotional intelligence. Self-awareness really is the key to everything in Emotional Intelligence terms.

Hopefully, you’ll recall that emotional intelligence comprises four pillars: self-awareness, self-regulation, understanding others and managing relationships. You could check out my “Emotional Intelligence is vital” post for more insight.

You’ve got to honestly get to know yourself first then be willing to work with that knowledge.

At its most fundamental level, self-awareness means being aware of yourself. Which means you become aware of the existence of an entity or presence which is identifiable, by you, as you. The idea that you are a distinct and unique being when compared to all the other beings around you. I’m going nowhere near this philosophical rabbit-hole here. However, feel free to explore it yourself if you like that sort of thing.

A more practical definition is the conscious knowledge of your own thoughts, feelings and behaviours. For instance, developing more self-awareness requires intentional monitoring. In other words, this means monitoring of one’s current self and the practical application of work and adaptation to produce a desired and different future self. This is generally known as self-development.

Why is self-awareness so important to your self-development?

You’ve got to make a start start from somewhere known. In other words, if you don’t know where you are starting from how can you plot an effective course from there to anywhere else?

A deep and honest appraisal of your strengths and weaknesses takes real courage. However, the knowledge you’ll gain from your efforts at self-awareness will pay huge dividends. I’m serious, because it can literally transform your life.

Assuming you have decided to develop yourself, it’s time to get your mental hands dirty. Get right down deep early and begin to look at your inner self in a radical new way. This is scary stuff by the way. Seriously, it’s very scary, especially if you haven’t done it before.

Why is self-awareness so scary?

Self-awareness shines a light on things we may prefer to keep in the dark. Because of this, we tend to hide ourselves from ourselves using sophisticated internal narratives which even we come to regard as absolute truth. These are nothing more than rationalisations. They are not truths but rather personal mental constructs. We have created the constructs to help make sense of our own confusing inner worlds. We then combine them with our experience of the external world to create a complete narrative. The technical term is confabulation; not lies as such but modified versions of reality we come to believe as truths. We now use these constructs to form beliefs and hold values about both our inner world and the outer world. These are not always accurate or helpful.

Why do we tell ourselves these inaccurate stories?

When we formed these narratives they would have been, or at least believed them to have been, highly beneficial and useful. As our lives move on, they may well stay useful but often become simply neutral; being neither useful or non-useful. Problems can arise when these narratives become non-useful to us. They can even become detrimental and harmful to us. We either decide or are forced to choose to make changes. Above all, we must confront, understand, let go and replace beliefs and ideas. This is what self-awareness means in terms of emotional intelligence. When we decide to do this ourselves, with or without help, this is called self-development and, believe me, it is scary.

Ways to get under the hood

Assuming you have chosen to become more self-aware to make changes you must now get started. You can follow several pathways to make progress. By the way, I don’t believe many people ever gets to total self-awareness because it is so hard to achieve. Total self-awareness is the realm of the buddhas and other enlightened beings. I’ve never gotten close. I therefore always treat the process of my own self-awareness as a work in progress. In other words, I’m simply enjoying the journey of discovery.

The key to it all is feedback. Internal feedback is generally known as self-reflection. External feedback is generally known as … well, external feedback. I can’t think of a better term for it.

They are both useful to you but become most useful when combined.

Seeking high-quality feedback is key

Completely solo self-discovery might be possible, but I struggle to picture someone making genuine and sustainable progress in isolation. We all need feedback to understand progress. Increasing self-awareness by seeking feedback Doing this is easier working either directly with other people or using resources created by others who possess the knowledge and skills we seek.

I will briefly discuss four areas here which will help you seek feedback and self-reflect:

  • The Johari Window
  • Psychometric tools and instruments
  • Coaching and/or mentoring
  • Mindfulness

The Johari Window

One interesting model for getting you started on your self-awareness journey is to look at something called the Johari Window. The model was devised by American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham back in 1955. The name chosen simply derives from a combination of their names. The model essentially states we have four symbolic or metaphorical areas within us. These impact on our interactions with the wider world. I’ll leave you to look on-line for more detailed information about the Johari Window model. It is fascinating and very well-documented, so I will not waste your time by reproducing unnecessary material here.

  1. An “open” area of which we are aware, but of which others are also aware.
  2. A “hidden” area of which we are aware, but of which others are not aware.
  3. An “unknown” area of which we are unaware, but of which others are also unaware.
  4. A “blind” area of which we are unaware, but of which others are aware

Actively exploring this model as a formal exercise is an interesting and informative activity. It’s good for both individuals and groups. Why not try it out? In addition, consider working with a coach or trusted friend and see what you can discover.

Psychometric tools and instruments

You could also examine some of, or all if your budget will stretch that far, the many psychometric personality and psychological profiling tools out there. Popular ones include MBTI, DiSC, Insights, MTQ48, EQi2.0 and many more. I won’t bore you with the details, but a quick online search will reveal a substantial and ever-growing list.

You may well have encountered such tools. They have their uses and can prove very incisive in some cases. There are many distinct types. Quite a number are aimed at highly specific aspects of personality or behaviour. Many are genuinely fantastic. I’m a fan and qualified user of several high-quality psychometric instruments. When used well and appropriately they are great for improving self-awareness. Not all the options out there are good of course, so caveat emptor or buyer beware. Do your research and ask your own network for feedback and advice. The results provided should be interpreted carefully and in context. I recommend seeking out a trained and or licenced practitioner to get the best value from your experience.

Once again, consider working with a coach or trusted friend and see what you can discover.

Coaching and/or mentoring

I have mentioned coaching several times now and I must admit to some bias here because I am a professional coach and I work with many people on just this kind of personal journey. People sometimes worry about the cost of employing a skilled professional coach, but the transformational returns often far outweigh any financial investment. The experience is often life changing and I would highly recommend it.

You can also be coached or mentored by a trusted friend or colleague. Someone who has been on a similar journey. You could buddy up with someone and take the discovery journey together. I believe the journey toward self-awareness itself is the most important thing so begin it as soon as you can and do it in the way which suits you best.

Start with the why and the how will look after itself.


Mindfulness is a simple meditation-based practice. I’m a huge fan. It yields a variety of mental, physical and emotional benefits; Many of these are now scientifically shown as highly effective. Mindfulness meditations typically consists of focusing full attention on something. For instance, simply observing your breathing, thoughts and experiences as they appear. Thoughts are transient, and thoughts are not the person. Energy flows where the attention goes so, by removing attention from unwanted thoughts they become of no importance. This means you have more control than you may have thought. Mindfulness is all about awareness, observing without criticism and learning to be compassionate with yourself.

With practice, mindfulness allows you to differentiate between wholesome and unwholesome thought patterns. The mindfulness practitioner then has many options available for either letting thoughts go entirely or modifying them into more wholesome forms.

Mindfulness takes time

Over time, mindfulness practice can bring about long-term changes in self-awareness, mood, happiness levels and overall mental and physical wellbeing. Studies have shown mindfulness can prevent the onset of depression and positively affects the brain patterns underlying day-to-day conditions such as anxiety, stress, depression and reactive emotions so that if they do arise, they dissipate more easily. Memory, creativity, reaction times and even productivity can all improve. Mindfulness practice creates wholesome thought processes. This improving or ameliorates any number of emotional attitudes, mental states and mind/body relationships.

Isn’t mindfulness just mystical nonsense?

Neuro-scientists have highlighted and proved the brain’s ability to alter its structure and internal connectivity in adaptive response to repeated conditioning: known as neural plasticity. We are familiar with the idea that effectively and repeatedly practising any activity, such as a musical instrument, leads to more and more skill with that instrument. In addition, running repeated thought processes over time will also alter the neural pathways to make that mode of thought easier and stronger; less commonly realised. Mindfulness takes positive advantage of this phenomenon because it seeks to strengthen wholesome thought patterns for the benefit of the mindfulness practitioner and those around them.

To practice mindfulness is to use the power of our minds. This gives us a deep, focused and non-judgemental view of ourselves. We then get live observational information about our own experience as it unfolds. It’s self-awareness on steroids.

Mindfulness is a gym for the mind and as such it opens a world of possibilities. As I said, I’m a huge fan of mindfulness. Seek a good introductory course. Read a good book for beginners. Above all, get practising. You could even attend a guided retreat if that is your thing.S

Other self-development resources for self-awareness

There are numerous books, courses, guides, videos, audios, apps and more besides, all designed to help you, or at least relieve you of your money, in your efforts to self-develop. The mighty Interweb has a seemingly infinite number of resources.

Choose carefully, do some research and only work with solid proven sources. Once again, a good coach or mentor can help with this. Whatever you do make sure you do something.

Although self-development is often an internal pursuit, it is not a theoretical or spectator-based activity. It requires action so act. Do something positive and you are on your way.

Some last thoughts on developing self-awareness

You are the centre of your universe. It all starts with you.

If you can’t, don’t or won’t dig deep and fully acknowledge and accept your true, warts and all, self then the rest of your life will be inauthentic and superficial at best. For instance, even if you learn to get on well with others, your lack of knowledge or ownership of your own core being will leave you with a sense of incompleteness and imbalance. In my experience others can sense this fundamental lack in you and they will treat you differently as a result.

Self-awareness takes courage

This search for true self-awareness takes courage, commitment and massive honesty. Of course, this doesn’t mean I’m suggesting you go and sit cross-legged on top of a mountain for years on end. I am suggesting you begin to identify your true strengths and weaknesses. Look for your true values and beliefs. Seek out your true desires and fears. Work with a coach, friend or trusted advisor if you need to. Seek honest feedback and accept it with gratitude because it works. Do whatever you need to do to learn more about the true you.

Above all, remember that self-reflection and high quality feedback are the keys to your EI success.

Is developing self-awareness easy?

Is it easy? Absolutely not. Is it even possible? Well, I’m still searching for my true self, so I can’t answer that one for you I’m afraid. I battle more than enough of my own demons to keep me busy on my search. I keep going because it is important to me. In truth, you may never find the absolute true you. However, if it’s important enough to you and if you try hard enough, you’ll find enough truth to start working wonders.

The next post in this series will look at self-regulation. Self-regulation is the second pillar of Emotional Intelligence pillar.

I hope you have enjoyed this article. If you have, please subscribe to either the blog or my newsletter to ensure you hear about subsequent articles and other useful and informative material.

In the meantime, you might also like to check out:

Emotional Intelligence is so important

Self-regulation and its importance to you

Understanding others and how to do it

Relationship: The art and practice


Emotional Intelligence is vital

Emotional Intelligence or EI is vital

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence or EI is a term used commonly in the business and professional world. You might also hear it called EQ or Emotional Quotient. Whatever the terms used, people are always banging on about it, aren’t they? You’ve probably heard them saying such things as, “You need more emotional intelligence” or “We need to hire for emotional intelligence.” It’s said with so much conviction you feel you must be the only one who doesn’t get it. Stress not. You’re not the only one. Far from it in fact. If they are honest, most people would admit they don’t get it. If you’re any sort of professional manager in any modern organisation, you’ll hear about it a lot. It therefore makes sense to get a good handle on it.

In relation to EI then, there are four types of people in the workplace. The ones who have high EI already often assume everyone else already understands it; they therefore feel no real need to explain it. There are the ones who don’t have it and couldn’t care less about anyone else anyway. Then there are the ones who do get EI and are keen to inform and help others and there are the ones who want to get it but don’t know where to start. This whirlwind tour article is for the last two types and especially the last type.

What is Emotional Intelligence anyway?

The definition of Emotional Intelligence we’ll use:

In a nutshell, I define having well-developed emotional intelligence as:

“Possessing a well-developed ability and willingness to closely and honestly monitor our internal emotional states and take full control of them and full responsibility for them. At the same time, we need an ability and willingness to monitor the emotional states of other people and to take full responsibility for carefully managing our relationships with those people.”

That’s it really. Were you expecting more? It is easy enough to define but takes a lot of effort to get right. So many people don’t get it right because they can’t be arsed to put the work in. It’s an ongoing commitment toward excellence.

One of the most important words in that definition is “willingness.” If you can’t be bothered with the work and effort, then please stop reading this right now and search elsewhere for the lazy route. There is no magic-bullet and no easy answer. EI is indeed a learnable skill; but the process of learning takes effort and commitment. You really do need to be motivated.

A down and dirty look at Emotional Intelligence

Again, the article is a whistle-stop tour of the four elements of EI and is designed to provide some awareness to get you started. I have produced four more articles to expand on each section.

Take emotional intelligence very seriously. Nurture it and develop it in yourself and others.

Why does Emotional Intelligence matter to you anyway?

Emotional intelligence is vital for everyone. It defines how well you know yourself and control yourself and it defines how well you get on with others. If you’re any sort of modern people manager or leader, you’ll be expected to possess an elevated level of emotional intelligence. You should ideally be constantly looking to improve it. You are also expected to identify and nurture EI in your staff and teams. The measure of your emotional intelligence level is known as your Emotional Quotient or EQ. This measure of EQ is now considered more important than the traditional measurement of intelligence or IQ.

Decision makers
Calm under pressure
Able to lead
And more

From an organisational perspective, emotionally intelligent people are seen as more influential, better team leaders, more politically astute, calmer under pressure, better decision makers, less stressed, more creative, more self-confident, more self-driven and more able to drive others. They see people with these attributes as the rising stars and the people with the most potential. You’d like some of this right? Absolutely. The answer is to become more emotionally intelligent.

The good news is that emotional intelligence can be learnt and developed by almost anyone. If you do this you will possess a remarkable set of transferable set of skills and mindsets. Elevating your EI levels will have a positive benefit throughout the whole of your life.

The effects of Emotional Intelligence in the workplace

Here’s the problem. Many of the professional people I encounter in my coaching and training work have a poor understanding of their own emotional intelligence levels. They also have a poor understanding of what is meant by Emotional Intelligence as a concept. This is a real concern as the negative effects can be highly detrimental and costly. Get it right however and the positive benefits are huge.

The organisational effects of low Emotional Intelligence

Managers and leaders with low levels of emotional intelligence tend to handle people poorly and have little understanding about other people. They tend to create high stress levels, high staff turnover rates, low productivity and low quality of output.  They can even create elevated levels in sickness and HR legal problems. At work, this costs you or your business real money. They generally, but unfortunately not always, do poorly themselves.

Managers with low Emotional Intelligence increase stress, increase staff turnover, lower productivity, lower quality, increase sickness and even cause legal issues.

The organisational effects of high Emotional Intelligence

Good managers and leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence tend to do the exact opposite. Such managers and leaders can make you or your business real money. They are generally more successful in their own right as well.

Managers with high Emotional Intelligence create harmony, increase craetivity, increase productivity, increase happiness and make more money

On a personal level a high level of emotional intelligence enables us to negotiate life with more ease and success. We understand ourselves well, we can curb our excesses and we can play to our strengths. We can build solid relationships and people both like us and want to be with us. Life is generally better with high emotional intelligence.

Life is usually more enjoyable and successful with high Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence in a nutshell

There are four main components or pillars to EI:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Understanding others
  • Managing relationships
The 4 pillars of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, self-regulation, understanding others and managing relationships

That’s it, plain and simple. These four elements cover pretty much everything you do in your life and work regarding interpersonal interactions and self-development. All well and good but what can you do in the real world now you know this? What does this mean for you?

There is a lot of complex theory, ideas and downright nonsense flying about regarding emotional intelligence. I’ll make this information as plain and straightforward as I can and keep it on a practical level.


Self-awareness is the first pillar of emotional intelligence

This is the first pillar of emotional intelligence and it is the key to it all. You are the centre of your universe. If you can’t, don’t or won’t dig deep and fully acknowledge and accept your true, warts and all, self then the rest of your life will be inauthentic at best. Even if you learn to get on well with others, your lack of knowledge or ownership of your own core being will leave you with a sense of incompleteness and imbalance. In my experience others can sense this fundamental lack in you and they will treat you differently as a result.

It can be scary diving into our self

This search for true self-awareness takes courage, commitment and massive honesty. I’m not suggesting you go and sit cross-legged on top of a mountain to meditate for years on end. I am suggesting you begin to identify your true strengths and weaknesses, your true values and beliefs and your true desires and fears. Work with a coach, friend or trusted adviser if you need to. Seek honest feedback and accept it with gratitude. Do whatever you need to do to learn more about the true you because it will allow you to move forward.

Is it easy? Absolutely not. Is it even possible? Well, I’m still searching for my true self, so I can’t answer that one for you I’m afraid. In truth, you may never find the absolute true you but if you try hard enough you will find enough truth to work wonders with.


Self-regulation is the second pillar of emotional intelligence

The second pillar of emotional intelligence is the regulation of oneself. Once you begin to discover and uncover this true version of yourself, you will then begin to realise certain behaviours, thoughts and emotions which are somewhat less than helpful to both you and others. You may discover beneficial traits and thought processes which you might not have realised you had. In order to improve your emotional intelligence, you will now need to work on regulating or controlling any unhelpful attributes and ideally boosting your more helpful attributes.

There is always something to work on

Once again, this is easier said than done. Do you have a lack of focus or attention? How about procrastination? What about really needing to lose weight or get fitter? Are you a perfectionist? Maybe a little too passive-aggressive perhaps? Are you lonely? Perhaps you lose your temper easily? Do you need more assertiveness? What about your fear of conflict? How are you going to address these and any other issues you might have?

What really stops you doing what you know needs to be done? Is it time? Is it money? Or is really laziness? Perhaps it is all three or even none of the above. Only once you become aware of your deep true self, which we looked at in the previous section, can you work on the true core issues?

Understanding others

Understanding others and what makes them tick is the third pillar of emotional intelligence

The third emotional intelligence pillar is developing an understanding of others. When you get right down to it, other people can be confusing and strange. It can be hard enough to try and figure out what makes us tick but once other people get involved in any part of our lives and work, it can get very messy and complicated. Life would be technically easier without other people, but it would be a lonely and essentially pointless existence. We need other people and generally we like other people, so it makes sense to understand them.

The big problem is that everyone is as unique in their way as you are in yours.

There is always some good news

The good news is, although each one of us is truly unique, we can also be usefully categorised and bundled in quite general ways. These broad-brush definitions and classifications are not truly accurate, but they are incredibly useful ways to inform our own thoughts about and behaviour toward the other people we interact with. They could be said to be intentional and well-meant stereotypes. With a little study and practice you can become very adept at recognising these broad categories. At this point you can then adapt your communication and behaviour to get the best from any encounter with them.

Even if you don’t like other people very much, learning to understand what makes them who they are can greatly elevate you as a communicator and leader.

Managing relationships with others

Managing relationships is the fourth pillar of emotional intelligence

Managing relationships with others is the fourth pillar of emotional intelligence.

“No person is an island, entire of itself; every person is a piece of the continent.” John Donne said this, although I have changed the quote a little for reasons of gender correctness – the 16th and 17th century world of John Donne was markedly different too our enlightened utopia.

Relationships really do matter

The truth of his statement is unaltered. You need to build solid and effective relationships with other people in all areas of our lives and work. All of us need to develop strong personal and professional networks. We also need to be able to operate effectively as key elements in the networks of others.

When the first three pillars of emotional intelligence are firmly in place we can then begin to create and successfully manage such relationships and networks.

Our friendships, family connections and working relationships can define us. Modern life is nigh on impossible without them. Even if it were possible to live entirely alone and isolated, for myself at least, it would be a miserable and pointless life.

Begin at the beginning

The order the emotional intelligence elements are in place is the order in which to then develop them for best results. Firstly, make sure that every element is in place then try and balance them in terms of level. If you are poor at managing relationships for example and relatively happy with the other key elements, then start by developing your ability to manage relationships. Completeness and uniformity of ability is the first step.

Start with balance

Secondly, once the elements are in place and broadly level, you can begin to consider bringing the level of all four up to as high a level as you can without overdoing any one area.

After balance then raise overall levels

There will always be a tendency to lead and lag on elements in any such endeavour but don’t stick to your favourites or strong areas at the expense of others. Using the relationship element again, if you hate talking to new people or even talking to friends and colleagues, don’t let it hold you back. Do not simply become a very self-aware observer of others. Be brave and break through your barriers. Make connect with them somehow. Seek tuition, coaching or support and force (or regulate) yourself to get out there and do it anyway.

This is a basic introduction. It is a practical overview at best. There is always more to learn and absorb. Like life itself, developing emotional intelligence is a journey of discovery.

Next steps

Educate yourself

I’m going to be blunt here. Leaders are readers so educate yourself and become informed. Learn all you need to know about emotional intelligence and its implications. This applies to all your life.

Dare to be different

Life isn’t a spectator sport

Don’t wait to be spoon fed. Too many people do that so stand out from your crowd and get the knowledge. If printed books are not your thing then get audio book versions. If video is your thing then seek out the information on or YouTube. Go on a course or hire a coach. Whatever you do make sure you get the information you need.  You owe it to yourself and your staff to be the very best leader and manager you can be.


I recommend you start with the work of Daniel Goleman who popularised the rise of EI with his book Emotional Intelligence then seek out the myriad of associated online resources.

Learn, experiment and grow

Once you have the theoretical knowledge, start to experiment and grow. Begin to apply the knowledge practically in the real world. Make mistakes then reflect, learn and move on. Try new things out. Seek coaching and training and try them out again. Seek feedback. Increase your own emotional intelligence and help others do the same. The effort is worth it.

I hope you have enjoyed this article. If you have, please subscribe to either the blog or my newsletter to ensure you hear about subsequent articles and other useful and informative material.

In the meantime, you might also like to check out:

Self-awareness and Emotional Intelligence

Self-regulation and its importance to you

Understanding others and how to do it

Relationship: The art and practice