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The Skill of Self-Observation

TIGNUM Thoughts

January 11th, 2020
By Scott Peltin and Jogi Rippel

In the high performers I have coached and nearly every leader I've studied or followed, one trait has always been omnipresent: self-awareness. Interestingly enough, when I inquire about where they gained this self-awareness, their answers often lack clarity or conciseness. This led me to ask the question: what is the mindset skill that best builds self-awareness? This question always led back to one answer: self-observation.

When I think of myself and most of the people I know, I've observed how easy it is to observe others. We watch the way they come into a meeting, the way they deal with conflict, the way they parent, the way they treat their friends, the way they love and hate, and even the way they share their opinions and beliefs. As we do this, we often do it through the lens of our own beliefs and prejudices as if we're constantly comparing ourselves to them. Sometimes, we do this with the lens to help them improve; other times, we do this through the lens of deciding if they are a friend or foe; many times, we do it to confirm we're as good as they are (or maybe if we're even good enough).

The challenge is that so much of this is full of judgment. How can we judge someone else if we don't even fully understand the lens from which we are judging? How can we pretend to know someone else so well when we truly don't know ourselves? As I ask myself these questions, it confirms just how important it is to develop the skill of self-observation.

At TIGNUM, we define this advanced mindset skill of self-observation as the ability to evaluate and learn from our own attitudes, actions, and thought processes without bias or blind spots. Although this might seem easy to do, it's actually a difficult skill to develop. It requires many other mindset skills like courage, vulnerability, the ability to challenge bias, curiosity, openness to learning and growth, honesty, detachment, reflection, a strong will to want to be better, and more.

So, how do we build our self-observation skills? The simple answer is to follow the same method you would while developing any skill: repetition, practice, and consistency. The more complicated and more useful answer is by creating a mental model for yourself to follow and use. Here is one we find particularly helpful:

  1. Schedule time for yourself to regularly unload from the demands you're under where you can quietly sit in solitude and think.
  2. Start asking yourself critical questions like the ones below that require you to look at yourself from different angles. These questions may change depending on where you are in your life, but all of them help you think about giving energy to others, developing mental agility to become better problem solvers, and building resilience to overcome your obstacles and setbacks while maximizing opportunities.

    _What do I do that gives energy to others?

    _What do I do that takes energy away from others? How does this make me feel?

    _What do I do to prepare my brain to be as clear, uncluttered, fueled, and unbiased as possible to objectively make great decisions?

    _How do I deal with disruptions and distractions?

    _How do I deal with setbacks? Do I allow them to crush me or inspire me?

    _What do I do for fun, fulfillment, and pure joy?

    _How do I react to compliments?

    _How do I react to critical feedback?

    _How do I evaluate my thoughts to avoid blindspots and prejudice?

    _Am I clear about who I want to be at my best?

    _How do I assess whether I am being who I want to be? What do I do when I am not?

    _What sucks my own energy?

    _What gives me energy?
  3. As you write down these answers, you may uncover additional questions that help you peel back a layer in another direction. Don't get frustrated - just ask these questions as they come up and write down what comes into your mind. No judgment, no emotion - only information. An interesting additional awareness exercise is to compare your self-observations to any feedback you have asked for or received.
  4. When you're done, simply write yourself a note as if you were coaching yourself.

Dear Scott,

Over the past few months, I have been observing you and suggest you do the following three things to become who you said you wanted to be: [insert some of the takeaways that came up while answering your critical questions].

With affection, belief, and no judgment, Scott.

Building the mindset skill of self-observation is simple, but it isn't easy. These questions are not the only questions to ask yourself, but they're a start. As you practice this model, we would love to hear your thoughts, your findings, and the benefits of building this powerful mindset skill.

Other Thoughts

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