Building Self-Awareness


When we become aware that change is possible and that we, personally, can begin to take actions to make a difference in our lives is when transformation begins. A few essential steps in the process of mental and emotional wellness and personal growth are becoming aware that things can be different than they are currently, you have the ability to learn new information and skills, and you can take action to change based upon new information.

Before we develop self-awareness, we are often victims of our reactions to thoughts and emotions. Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, was the beginning of awareness that my un-managed emotions affected me negatively. I found myself (re)acting in ways I did not recognize when experiencing vulnerability and conflict. The knowledge from her work about shame, vulnerability, and recognizing triggers gave me insight to seemingly in-explainable and overwhelming reactions.

Gathering New Information To Grow self-Awareness

By reading new blogs and books, watching new videos, learning from new courses, taking new actions, meeting new people, and building new habits, you can begin the process of learning how to better manage your reactions to thoughts, feelings and emotions. Eventually, you are able to become mindful of triggers in specific situations, thoughts and emotions and thoughtfully respond to them instead.


Journaling and self-reflection are useful tools for becoming more self-aware. When you find yourself replaying an event over and over in your head, it is helpful to journal to get your thoughts out of your head. While or after you have written it out, take a few minutes to reflect on the situation. Be careful not to go back to replaying the event in your head, but instead consider using curiosity by asking yourself some generative questions. Some examples include:

  • What happened right before this event occurred?

  • How was I feeling when I reacted the way I did?

    • What was going on in my body?

    • Was I breathing?

    • Where I holding tension in my body?

    • Were there changes in my vision?

    • Were there changes in my brain processing?

  • Were there other factors that contributed to my reaction?

    • Was I already having a bad day or feeling vulnerable about something unrelated to the situation?

  • How can I remember to pause and take some deep breaths in the future?

  • What can I do to move forward?

    • Show myself some compassion?

    • Practice self-care?

    • Allow myself forgiveness?

    • Talk to a trusted friend, coach, or therapist?

 Recognizing Triggers

Self-awareness is really the first step in the process of change. Some reactions and triggers when I begin to feel vulnerable are tingling in my armpits, holding my breath, getting tunnel vision, balling my fists or my toes. I am unable to hear because the voice in my head gets so loud, and I start to feel very confused.

Upon reflecting and noticing that these things happen as my reactions escalate, I can now recognize them and thoughtfully respond and stop or reduce the escalation. If my armpits begin to tingle or I get tunnel vision, I notice it, which is often enough to bring me back to the present. When I find my thoughts circling, I will repeat that phrase in my head, “I can, I am, I can, I am…” six or seven times to bring me back to being present. I consistently remind myself to take deep breaths. Once we stop breathing, all bets are off. Our brain function becomes impaired and our body stiffens as we hold our breath.

As you journal and reflect, try to understand what you can use to identify your reactions and bring you back to the present. It may take some practice and more reflection before we see results, but we don’t have to let our reactions to thoughts and feelings cause us to react in ways we don’t recognize or confuse and cause shame. We can grow our self-awareness, identify our triggers, and take new actions to respond thoughtfully.