We’re Not as Self-Aware or as Emotionally Intelligent as We Think
How well do you think you know yourself? If you’re like most people, your answer is most likely, “pretty well.” True, there may be some close friends who figuratively, perhaps literally know you better than you know yourself – but for most of the part, we like to assume that we are quite familiar with the person looking back at us in the mirror. Yet, some recent psychological research – especially those on cognitive biases, suggest that we have a tendency to overlook our flaws, limitations, and errors in judgment. Why, for instance, does it seem much easier to pick out an error in reasoning in others than it is in ourselves? Cognitive psychologists refer to this as the blind spot bias – the glaring errors in logic shown by others is much more obvious than it is from us. It’s almost as if we have blinkers on – a point also highlighted in Tasha Eurich’s recent book Insight. How we judge ourselves – our motivations, values, and traits are almost always more favourable and flattering than if others were judging us on those very criteria.
The same can be said of personality dimensions that relate to our emotional experience. For instance, how self-aware of your emotions do you think you are? Pretty much all of us would like to think of ourselves as being high on self-awareness – we are smart enough to know what we are feeling and mindful enough to also know when our emotions are getting the better of us. At least one study, however, has shown that some of us have psychological blinkers on, limiting us from being aware of our deficiencies in this important skill. Researchers Oliver Sheldon and colleagues found that individuals who scored lowest on self-awareness were also the least likely to want to take steps towards improving this ability. They were more likely to question and be sceptical towards feedback informing them of their low self-awareness scores, arguing that they were either irrelevant or inaccurate reflections of who they (really) are. These individuals were also less likely to take steps towards improving themselves – they expressed greater reluctant to buy a book to help improve their emotional intelligence, and were less willing to pay a professional coach to help them improve this essential emotional intelligence ability .
Self-Awareness is an Important Part of Emotional Intelligence
Self-awareness forms the fundamental skill on which all subsequent emotional intelligence skills are based on. The skill relates to the ability to understand, recognize and be mindful of one’s emotions – and how they are influencing one’s thoughts and actions. An important part of this self-awareness, however, is dependent on your unique personality – patterns of thought, behaviour and obviously, emotional experience that define who you are. As we’ve discussed in a related article, individuals who are extraverted are more likely to sensitive towards, and thus more likely to experience positive affect than are individuals who are neurotic . But there are too, more emotion-specific personality characteristics that can help you better understand who you are – what your ‘hot buttons’ are, which emotions you are most susceptible to, and whether say, you have a high need for emotions in your day-to-day life. Here are three to get you thinking, and hopefully, reflecting on your emotional personality.
Susceptibility to emotions: Do strong emotions overwhelm you? Are you easily moved by the emotions of others? If so, you may be susceptible to emotions. Note that this trait is not a flaw – individuals who are susceptible to emotions are also likely to be more empathetic and often rank higher in terms of social functioning . When we interact with others, we exchange more than just verbal information emotions come to influence such interactions too. If you are susceptible to emotions, you take on those emotions a greater degree than your less-susceptible counterparts. Just be mindful, though – catching on too much of others’ emotions can be exhausting, leading to empathetic, or compassion fatigue.
Need for affect: How much do you approach, or avoid emotion-inducing situations in your life? Are you drawn to drama (figuratively, or literally)? If so, then you may be someone who scores high on the need for affect. Individuals high on the need for affect are also more likely to react strongly (and emotionally) towards a wide range of stimuli, involve themselves in emotion-inducing events, and even enjoy more emotion-inducing forms of entertainment. The need for affect also appears related to another personality difference – sensation-seeking, which is the need to seek out and experience novel, exciting and intense situations. If these don’t quite relate to you, then perhaps you have a higher need for cognition, as opposed to affect instead.
Head or heart? How much do you think emotions influence your thoughts and say, decisions? Colloquially, we may categorize the two opposite ends of this decision-making habit as being the ‘head’ on one end and ‘heart’ on the other. This personality characteristics shares links with the need for affect/cognition described earlier – but in the context of decision-making, also encompasses how much we rely on rational deliberation or gut feel to arrive at a decision. The next time you are tasked to make a decision, consider more broadly how much of your intentions are being swayed by the tug of your heartstrings, or by a systematic assessment of the factors within that situation. Recall also the times in which you’ve made important decisions – how much did you seek, or allow for emotion to influence your final course of action?
Know Thyself… Better
Constant self-reflecting can be beneficial to helping you better understand your thought, emotion and behavioural tendencies (Just don’t overdo it – be mindful of when such introspection becomes excessive or debilitating). If you haven’t take some time to reflect on your past experiences, why not start today? Remember – the goal isn’t to achieve a full or precise understanding of who you are (if that’s even possible). Rather casting just that bit more light on your personality can ultimately help you be more mindful, appreciative, and reflective towards how emotions influence your daily life.