My letters are typically published via email to your inbox, and I select a few every now and again to feature on the blog. Letter XIII was originally published by email on 24th July 2019, and was re-published on the blog on 13th December 2019. Subscribe at chrismarr.co.uk
Self-awareness is the key to being a better person. At home: a better parent, a better sibling, and a better friend. At work: a better teacher, a better coach, a better consultant and a better leader.
However, it’s not easy to obtain. You can’t just snap your fingers and suddenly become ‘self-aware’. At least that’s not my experience.
When you don’t have it, you don’t know you need it. When you know you need it, you find out you’ve got a lot of work to do on it. When you begin to dial in your self-awareness, you start to realise that almost everyone is living their life without it. And to top it off, you can’t give it to people that don’t know they need it.
Self-awareness is a daily practice of observing others and your own behaviour. You make small corrections each day – sometimes you do well, and other times you have to learn from your mistakes.
There’s a question in The Five Minute Journal that I believe to be the most important question to ask yourself at the end of the day – “How could I have made today even better?”
Some people find this question uncomfortable – why end the day on a low point? But that’s not why we ask this question of ourselves. We ask it so we can understand how we can learn from the past, and be better in the future. What could I have done differently today, that I can learn from and apply to tomorrow?
For me, that’s what self-awareness is all about. The ability to correct your thinking, behaviour and actions a little each day so you can be a better person.
To those around you, it might not seem like there’s a lot happening day-to-day, but after a year, 5 years, 20 years, people will see the change in you.
I have an analogy to share with you today (ugh, here we go…) that has helped me to understand and see the world more clearly and help me to develop my own self-awareness.
I call it ‘being the mirror’ and it will help you to observe and learn from others behaviour, shape your own behaviour and, even though it’s a tough thing to achieve, help you to give the gift of self-awareness to those that you care about the most.
I have 5 examples of how ‘the mirror’ works in situations that crop up for us all daily.
Let’s get into it.
1/ No one likes being told what to do…even if they ask for help!
As humans we are wired to give advice, it’s what we do. When someone asks for help or looks as if they are in need of help, our automatic reaction is to try and help or ‘rescue’ them. If you know the answer or the solution, you’re even more compelled to give them advice and take action.
It comes from a good place, often times though, it’s not the best response.
If you always give people the answer, how much learning is taking place? If we always provide the solution, are we truly helping people change their behaviour?
By ‘holding up the mirror’ we can help people see the problem more clearly and help change their behaviour.
We do that by abstaining from giving advice, and instead, we use questions.
At the weekend a friend told me he was struggling at work because he suddenly becomes very nervous when speaking to a group of people (public speaking).
I’ve got a lot of experience and training in public speaking, so naturally, I’m drawn to give as much advice as I can.
I opted for the mirror instead.
I asked a lot of questions not only so I could understand the problem better, but so he could, too.
After a long discussion, we came to a natural conclusion – he doesn’t feel like he has a place in the room, because he doesn’t have a strong relationship with the people he’s talking to. The nerves aren’t from having a lack of knowledge, they come from having a lack of feeling of influence in the room.
With a better understanding of the problem, we were able to talk about how to develop the relationship he has with the people in the room before he speaks to them in a group.
2/ You don’t need to know the answer to help people
Often times, when someone presents us with a problem or a life challenge, we think that because we don’t know the answer that we can’t help them.
The risk with this is that because you don’t know the answer, you dismiss the person and the problem and sweep it under the carpet. You pay it lip service, at most
However, not knowing the answer places you in a stronger position to ‘hold up the mirror’ – you aren’t even remotely tempted to give advice.
Imagine a friend approaches you and it’s clear from what they are saying that they are having difficulty with relationships and finding a great partner.
You aren’t an expert in relationships and dating, so instead of giving them advice, what questions could you ask that helps them to see their problem from a different perspective?
As a friend, how can you hold a mirror up for them?
- When was the last time that you were truly happy in a relationship? Tell me about it…
- Other than being a relationship, what would say brings you joy?
- What is upsetting you the most about not finding a partner?
- What are you finding difficult or frustrating about the process?
- Is there anything you think you could do differently?
The mirror becomes real when we ask great questions.
3/ Don’t make assumptions
One of the biggest errors we make when we try to help people is that we make assumptions. We think we know what they are talking about, we think they know how they feel, we get the gist of it, so we go ahead and jump into our default mode of giving advice.
We then wonder why they didn’t take our advice, or change their behaviour. We then blame them and say “Well, I’m never going to give them advice again…”
Most people don’t realise that it’s them that’s the problem. In other words, the reason we struggle with communication is that we blame others instead of looking at ourselves and challenging how we can be better.
What if we were more curious?
By ‘becoming the mirror’ for others you automatically put yourself in a position where asking questions becomes your default.
I’m having some difficulty with Paddy right now. He’s 10 years old, I’m his stepdad, and we’re both learning.
Instead of blaming it all on him, or taking it out on him, what questions can I ask paddy that might help us to improve our relationship?
- Paddy, as a stepdad, how would you say I’m doing at the moment?
- What do you think I’m doing well as a stepdad?
- What do you feel I could do better as a stepdad?
- What makes you happy about us living together?
- What makes you sad about living together?
Paddy is the mirror for me, and I am the mirror for him.
By asking questions we can save ourselves from assumptions.
4/ You can’t tell people to be ’self-aware’
As I mentioned earlier, self-awareness is something we learn, if we choose to. We have to work at it daily, and it develops over a lifetime. It takes deliberate practice.
However, most people are wandering through their lives completely ignorant about how their behaviour affects other people. They have no self-awareness.
You can’t tell people to be more self-aware, and you can’t teach it to someone if they aren’t open to it. In fact, if you try to they might push you away.
One of the best options you have is the mirror.
You hold up the mirror in front of them and help them to see their behaviour for themselves. Help them to be more self-aware without them truly appreciating what’s happening.
Look, some people just want to complain. They don’t want help, they just want offload on you.
You can be direct with them – “would you like to talk about it?”, “Would you like me to help you work on this?”
You have to discern the right moment for bringing the mirror out. Sometimes, when emotions are high it simply isn’t the right time.
However, because you are more self-aware, you don’t take it personally, you just listen, let them air their thoughts, and you can go to work on thinking about what questions you want to ask that will help that person see their behaviour.
This week we had a problem at school. Paddy was speaking in class when he shouldn’t be – when his teacher was giving the class instructions.
The teacher has been getting increasingly frustrated with Paddy because he is not showing respect in the classroom – for both the teacher and for his peers.
So, I had a think about what questions I would ask. Instead of telling him off, shouting or getting angry, here are the questions I came up with:
- In your life just now, who are the people you respect the most?
- How do you behave when you are in their company?
- How would they feel if you behaved in a way that disrespected them?
- How do you think they would react to that?
- Now, I want you to imagine that these people are sitting your classroom with you every day…
Can you see what’s happening here?
These questions help him to slowly see his own behaviour for himself.
It’s not going to work every single time, and it’s not always the right thing to do. But when you find the right moment, you can take the time to approach the challenge or the situation with the mirror. It allows you to help someone else be more self-aware, and hopefully change their behaviour as a result.
5/ Everyone around you is a mirror
You can take this analogy one step further and see everyone around you as mirroring your own behaviour.
When you are sitting in the park, walking in the street, driving home from work, eating in a restaurant…you can learn from everyone around you.
You don’t judge people, you observe and think about how their behaviour reflects yours.
Carry a small notepad with you and take some notes:
- When have I behaved like that?
- What can I do differently to make sure I don’t behave like that in the future?
- I like how they said that. I’ll use that in the future.
- That’s a great question, I’ll use that next time I’m speaking to my Mum.
- How do people look and behave when they are angry?
- How do people look and behave when they are in love?
- How do people behave when they are defensive or when they get caught?
- Why is he behaving like that?
Recently I noticed that a good friend always has to have the last word and has to be right.
There’s so much to learn from everyone around you. Don’t judge them, but observe them.
They become the mirror for you. The mirror is your self-awareness. The mirror helps you to be a better person.
Before I sign off, I’d like to share with you a few guidelines on putting the mirror into practice.
- When communicating like this never make it about you. Don’t take it personally and don’t make assumptions.
- When asking questions make sure to listen deeply. If you’re too busy thinking about what to say, you’ll miss out on what’s being said, and that’s more important. Trust yourself. You’ll know what to say in the moment if you listen carefully and care about the person.
- Be curious and don’t stop at the first question. It’s going to take more than one question to get to the root cause of the problem. It’s going to take more than one question to help someone see their own behaviour. It’s going to take more than one question to help someone to become more self-aware.
- It’s like a muscle, you have to train it. Challenge yourself to not give advice. I know it’s tough, but try your best and push it as far as you can.
There are many opportunities each day to hold up the mirror and to be the mirror for the people you care about the most.
My hope is that this letter will help you to spot those opportunities, and help you to react and behave differently in everyday situations that we find challenging.
Try it, report back with your stories and experiences. I’d love to hear how you get on, what works and where you find it difficult.