I recently realized I have an annoying habit: I interrupt people when they’re talking. It’s not because I don’t care what they have to say, or that I think my thoughts are more important, it’s that my brain moves quickly and I get so excited that stuff flies out of my mouth before the other person is finished. Somehow, I’ve been blissfully unaware of this flaw for the entirety of my 35 years on the planet, and I shudder to think how many people have discussed it behind my back.
My “ah-ha!” moment came when I was caught off-guard by a friend’s reaction while we were speaking. I had interrupted her for about the third time in 10 minutes, and I saw a wave of frustration wash over her face. I had a similar experience with a different friend a few days later. And then another a day after that. I vowed, from that day forward, to stop interrupting people.
It’s tough to know what’s wrong with ourselves. We tend to think we are awesome unless we're explicitly told otherwise, and most of our friends are too polite to broach the subject. Becoming more self-aware is important for personal growth, but it can be hard to know where to begin. Luckily, in my experience, these five practices can boost your self-IQ.
1. Pay Attention To Non-Verbal Cues
Is your friend shifting in her seat while you’re gabbing about your sex life at brunch? You may be sharing beyond her personal comfort level (or a reasonable noise level). Does your colleague stiffen when you’re giving feedback on her work? Your approach could be abrasive. Understanding body language and making the effort to observe it can give you important clues about your behavior and how your actions are being perceived. Slow down and really see the people with whom you interact; you’ll inevitably learn something.
2. Ask For Feedback
Of course, body language can be misinterpreted (your brunch friend may have just had to pee). A more direct approach will avoid misunderstandings.
Ask a few trusted friends what your worst habit is, if they see patterns in your mistakes, or when was the last time you really pissed them off was. Be open to their honesty and avoid acting defensive — remember, you asked, and your friends are just trying to help. Don’t take it too hard if they have more complaints about you than you anticipated; we all have a stockpile of gripes about our nearest and dearest that usually go unsaid. Asking for feedback is a no-nonsense way to learn of your shortcomings and put yourself on the path toward personal growth.
3. Keep A Journal
You don’t have to write in it every day, or even super regularly. But when you feel something big, and you’re emotionally charged, write that sh*t down! Not only is it cathartic (and cheaper than therapy), it creates a road map of your emotional life that you can later reflect on.
Maybe you journal for two months and upon re-reading realize that you’re fixated on what your boss thinks of you. Maybe mental tornadoes always happen after you interact with your partner and you realize you’re in a toxic relationship. Keeping a record helps identify patterns that are holding you back, as well show you areas in which you have grown.
4. Spend More Time Alone
You can’t be fully aware of someone you never hang out with, so make sure you get a healthy amount of “you” time. Work, relationships, family obligations, and the demands of friendship can all crowd our mental space to the point where we lose our sense of self and our certainty about what we want. Alone time helps you tune out the expectations of others and tune into your own needs and desires. Log out of Netflix, put down your phone, and plug into what’s happening on the inside. Not sure how? Here's a list of dates you can take yourself on to get you started.
5. Challenge Your Own Assumptions
It’s easy to think of our own worldview as an absolute truth, but listening to another person’s point of view obviously illuminates your prejudices, morals, and misgivings. Broaden your horizons by talking to people, reading everything you can get your hands on, seeking out world news, and engaging in healthy debates. Not only will it make you a more interesting dinner guest, but a little critical thinking will empower you to decide what’s useful and let go of the rest.
You don’t necessarily have to change your mind about anything, but realizing where your point of view comes from (a position of white privilege? A philosophy or religion you were raised in?) can give you a greater sense of your place in the world and a deeper appreciation for the experiences of others.
Self-awareness is the first step in becoming a better (and less irritating) version of you. It’s not always pretty, but taking an honest look at who you are, how you think, and how you behave will move you toward better relationships and away from destructive life patterns. Like any self-improvement process, becoming more self-aware takes time and tenacity, but the most challenging and rewarding journey is always the journey within.
And yes, because I'm now more self-aware, I realize that sounds cheesy. But it's also true.