Episode 43: Feel Better with Self Awareness

In this episode we look at the magic of self-awareness. Even top business leaders are putting a spotlight on self-awareness these days, and we should too as parents. We chat about understanding our own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, observing them without judgment, and recognizing our bodies as emotional indicators. We share tips on nurturing emotional intelligence and the role of mindful awareness in helping us and our kiddos thrive emotionally. From enhancing emotional literacy to the simple yet profound act of jotting down our thoughts, we discuss the invaluable tool of self awareness that help us feel better and build  emotional resilience.

What you will learn on this episode:

– How leaders in the business world are now prioritizing self-awareness, and how this principle is crucial for effective parenting.

– The significance of understanding our behaviors, feelings, and thoughts to navigate motherhood challenges with resilience and direction.

– Observing without judgment and how it helps us

-How to teach our children to be self-aware

-The importance of developing emotional vocabulary for ourselves and our children.

– Practical methods to nurture emotional intelligence, including writing out thoughts and feelings

– How to practice the exercise of Heart Centered self awareness


*This transcription below was provided for you or your convenience; please excuse any mistakes that the automated service made in translation.

Today, we’re talking about why self-awareness is a game changer for moms, helping us thrive, connect and find balance in chaos. This is Leadership Parenting, episode number 43, how to use self-awareness to feel better. Did you know that resilience is the key to confidence and joy? As moms, it’s what we want for our kids, but it’s also what we need for ourselves. My name is Leigh Germann, I’m a therapist and I’m a mom. Join me as we explore the skills you need to know to be confident and joyful. Then get ready to teach these skills to your kids. This is Leadership Parenting, where you learn how to lead your family by showing them the way. Hi, friends, and welcome to Leadership Parenting. 

Today I want to talk about a very basic principle that I think all of us are probably what we’ve heard of before, and it may be something that we’re familiar with, but I just don’t know how much we take time to think about this topic, so I thought that we would spend a little time today talking about self-awareness. Now, if you’re in the business space, you have probably heard a lot lately in the last couple of years, especially about leaders increasing their self-awareness. Self-awareness is actually one of the key principles. That is, a metric that leaders now are looking at their ability to check in with themselves and really have an awareness of who they are, how they are leading and basically putting those two things together, which is really different in the business world. For so many years we kind of kept psychology out of business, like it was in another realm and you just had these business skills and personal stuff really wasn’t something that was focused on. But there’s been a rise in understanding that in order to lead whether that’s organizations or our audience in this podcast is families knowing how to lead families means that you really need to have that skill of being in tune and aware of what’s going on within your inner world so you can effectively show up and be the leader that you want to be. 

So this self-awareness is considered insight, and the word insight? It’s being able to have sight on the inside, and sight is something that we take for granted. Particularly, we expect that we’re going to be able to see very, very clearly the things that are around us with our eyes, with our vision. But if you can imagine trying to drive, let’s say, blindfolded, without that vision, not knowing where you are, where you’re going, it doesn’t take much to imagine how difficult or even frightening that situation would be. You know, I found myself experiencing that kind of fear the other day while I was driving to work. I was going full speed, just regular speed limit, when all of a sudden I found my car surrounded by a thick fog and 40 miles an hour which was when I was going suddenly felt like 100 miles an hour, because I was just headed straight into nothing, it felt like, and I panicked a little, trying to decide whether I should continue to drive or whether I should hit the brakes or try to find a place to pull over, because if I couldn’t see in front of me, then neither could the car that had been following a little too closely behind me. So, white knuckled, I tried to stay calm and I decided to slow way down and search for the white line on the right side of the road. And soon, finally, I saw the faint red brake lights of the car in front of me and I just was so relieved knowing that I had some indicator of where I was going. 

Now, I didn’t know where they were going. I hoped they knew where they were going, but at least it felt like there was some other reference point. It was so soupy outside I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that and it just kind of is so disorienting and it was like hours past as I inch forward at a crawl. I’m sure it was only like 10 or 15 minutes. But finally the road kind of climbed and we got above that fog and I eventually got where I was going and I was really kind of shaken by that whole experience. Well, as I met with clients throughout the day, my driving experience really was very helpful to me and kind of instructive and it really gave me this backdrop as I was working with people, because all of the women I was working with that day seemed to be in a fog of sorts. They were experiencing the same fear I’d experienced a few hours earlier, that being out of control, unable to see the way forward, and all of them were seeking answers and understanding, looking for kind of the proverbial tail lights to lead them through the darkness, and I really felt humbled that day that I was kind of that leader for them. Similar to driving into an overpowering fog. 

When we lose visibility into our own behaviors and the feelings and thoughts that motivate them, that can be just as scary. As a therapist, people often ask me questions like why am I so sad? Why do I lose my temper? Why do I always end up in relationships where I get taken advantage of? Why am I so critical of myself and why don’t I feel worthy of being loved? Sometimes I’ll ask their question back to them why do you think you feel that way? And most of the time their response is I don’t know. And that’s a normal response when we’re looking to understand ourselves better. But all too often we start with I don’t know and we end with I don’t know, and as a result, we’re just left with the fear that comes from not being able to understand or see the way forward and so, just like driving fast into a dark fog, we can’t move forward in our relationships with others, or especially in our relationship with ourselves, when we’re paralyzed by that sense of not knowing. So together, when I work with people, we dig deeper, working to find answers, looking at possibilities, looking for patterns, noting what the underlying needs might be that aren’t being met, and at the end of the day, I’m hoping that we’re going to get from I don’t know to I know and, more importantly too, I think I understand. 

We get the word self-awareness from early 1970s research where the concept that individuals can actually choose to focus on their internal experience of what was going on around them. And you know, it kind of surprises me that it hasn’t been that long ago, just the 1970s, when in the world of psychology we really started looking at self-awareness as a concept. This looking inward leads to a self-evaluation where people notice what they’re doing, they notice what they’re thinking, they notice what they’re feeling and they start to compare those to the expectations that they have and kind of what their values are. So it’s this big introspection the prior to the 1970s wasn’t talked about, especially the concept of taking responsibility for how you’re feeling on the inside, those thoughts and those feelings and your reactions to situations. Hence the importance of this concept. 

Moving into places outside of psychological study and even therapy, looking at how does this apply to people in the business world, how does it apply to mothers who are raising their children? It shouldn’t be a brand new concept but as far as being studied and taught and experienced, it kind of is, and it makes sense, because who knows you better than you? But we are just really used to going to other people to get information about ourselves, to experts that are supposed to know more about us than we know about ourselves, and I think that we see that in the medical world, where a lot of times we’re disconnected from our own bodies. We go to a doctor to kind of get readouts on how we’re doing and compare it to markers that we’re supposed to be reaching, and I am not against that. I think that’s actually great data. But what I think is even more powerful is that the more we become connected to ourselves and we have a sense of how our body is working, we have a sense of how we’re feeling and particularly what we need. That elevates our physical health, we become advocates for our own health, and this is no different in the world of wellness emotional and mental wellness. 

We need to be able to have that glass bottom boat into our minds, where we can see down below the surface of what’s going on and start to get a better sense of knowing what’s happening within us. Because we’re not used to paying close attention to our thoughts and feelings, most of us go through our day highly and aware of our internal states. In fact, these brains of ours work against us in that department, because the brain is rewarded for automating things our breathing, digestion, body temperature, circulatory system all function in this automated state below our conscious awareness, and that’s for our ease, so that we’re not constantly monitoring everything. So when you pull into your driveway and realize you don’t remember making all the turns on the streets leading to your house, that’s your brain in automation mode and that’s super helpful to us because there’s so many details to pay attention to. But it can also have this sharp side that can hinder us, because patterns of emotion get triggered by the thoughts or the actions that we’re experiencing and that can take over without us understanding why. 

And if you’ve ever found yourself in an emotional meltdown, you’ll know just what I mean. I was working with a client the other day who was talking about this kind of meltdown and she was saying I don’t remember what put me over the edge, but all I know is there I was in front of my two kids feeling like a volcano and I couldn’t stop myself. I set them up to their rooms in tears and afterwards I felt like a huge failure. And what kind of mom screams at her kids like that? And I hate myself for acting that way. It’s happened so many times and I know it’s gonna happen again. I don’t know how to stop it. And she was just absolutely beside herself and what she was actually describing was an automated emotional response that ramped up and took over without her consciously choosing to do those things, and it seemed to her like it came out of the blue. But actually there were a series of steps that occurred that led her to that place, steps that slipped by her awareness until she just exploded in full anger and emotion because she was driving blind, kind of like I was in that fog as far as having visibility into her emotions. She acted in a way that wasn’t aligned with what she valued. It kind of snuck up on her. 

So when we talk about self-awareness, we’re talking about getting in touch with you on the inside so you know what’s going on internally, where those thoughts and feelings are, so that you can show up in the way that you want and in this case, as my client, as a mom, the way that she wanted to show up. The more we can know ourselves, especially the things that we’re hurting inside or the struggles we’re feeling, the more we can bridge that distance between where we are in that automated process and where we want to go. With being more intentional, self-awareness is actually the key to that, and it begins with observing. I like to compare it to standing in the middle of a storm, and we’ve talked about being safe in the middle of emotional storms early on in the podcast. You can go back to those very first episodes and listen to the steps of the safe process. 

When you’re in a storm, the wind is blowing, you’re getting pelted by hail all you can think about is surviving. You might not be able to think about how you missed the clues that the sky was starting to darken, or think through the risks of seeking shelter under a tree that could be hit by lightning. If you could take a step out of the storm and sit behind the window in your home, where it’s safe and dry, you’d be able to notice things more. You’d be able to see those options more clearly. You might even be able to avoid getting caught in that storm. 

This is called objectivity. It’s the ability to distance yourself from the situation you’re in and see it from a little bit of a different vantage point. And this is really important, because when we’re in the middle of stress or high emotion, we often lose our willful control over our feelings and behavior. We just get stuck. We get stuck in that kind of roller coaster of emotion and maybe give up too quickly when we’re working on something because we’re feeling frustrated or we feel like we’re at failure or we might mindlessly eat an entire bag of chips or sometimes lose our temper in situations when we know it would be better to stay calm. 

The women I’m working with describe it as getting trapped in situations where they’re doing the same things over and over again. That don’t serve them well, but they can’t see a way out of the pattern. So this awareness we’re talking about allows you to start to understand and better see your pattern, see your inner world, and it’s taking off that blindfold and shining a light on all of those automatic thoughts and feelings that sometimes trip us up and that can feel a little bit odd, maybe even a little bit scary to take that blindfold off. Most of the time we don’t even realize we have a blindfold on what I find is. Most women will say to me this is just how I am. I just don’t have it together. I just am stuck in this pattern and I think that’s because I’m broken. I think it’s because there’s not another way and I’m just not meant to do this stuff whether that’s to be a CEO of a company or to run a household or take care of children it can feel like something’s seriously wrong with you, but my experience tells me, of course, there’s nothing wrong with you. There’s never anything seriously wrong with who we are. 

Deep inside, we are just experiencing roadblocks to that sense of connection and power and confidence and clarity to be able to show up in the ways that we most desire. We have those automated processes that are working underneath our radar, and this is why we need self-awareness to be able to help us identify those things so that we can do something about them. So when you practice self-awareness, you learn to better understand yourself, handle those emotions and act in the ways you want. And also because you are able to kind of see these things coming together, I really think you learn to be kinder to yourself. You’re able to answer that question why am I doing this or why am I acting this way? And you’re able to give yourself an answer and actually come up with a process that’s going to help you do something you’d rather do instead. These are the reasons why I put self-awareness in the resiliency system as our first step. 

I think it’s important to remember that not one of us was born self-aware, and you can see this with your children. They do not take time to look deeply inside the inner workings of their mind and their body and their thoughts and their feelings. They just let it all hang out. Well, we are still dealing with that developmental place where we’re unaware of those feelings, but we have better equipment now. We have a higher maturity in our brain that allows us to do this metacognition, this ability to think about our thinking and to look inward at the processes that we have. It’s a skill. That’s what I want you to remember. Self-awareness is actually a skill. You don’t have to be born with it, you don’t have to naturally be good at it. It’s something that you can practice. 

Over my years of mothering and counseling, I’ve developed some steps, some exercises, some approaches to help anyone, including you and me, start building self-awareness muscles. The steps are simple but powerful, and I’d like to review a couple of them here just as a quick summary, so you can kind of get in your mind what that might look like as you endeavor to go deeper into your own self-awareness. My first tip on increasing self-awareness is to create a daily habit of self-reflection. You know we live in a really busy and fast-paced world where almost every moment of our day is filled with tasks. And building quiet time into your day to notice what you are thinking and feeling and allowing yourself time to process those thoughts and feelings, well, that just rarely happens. So it’s at the top of our list. To develop self-awareness is to learn to set aside a little bit of time that is completely unstructured and quiet, just for you to spend being with yourself. In this time we want you to become an observer, because when you’re self-aware you’re in discovery mode rather than judgment or action mode. 

Do you notice that that’s a little bit different than what we normally do? Because when I notice something about myself, I’m usually very quick to judge it. It’s usually because I’m solving a problem or I’m recognizing, trying to deconstruct what went wrong, and then I’m looking at ah, I made this misstep, I shouldn’t have said that, I overreacted here. And there’s so much judgment layered in there that the only thing my mind and body can kind of do when that judgment comes is to get defensive. And when I get defensive I’m not learning. I don’t know about you, but when I get defensive I kind of shutter the windows and I close the doors and I stop considering alternatives. I just get down on myself and that negativity that I have toward myself doesn’t kind of get better as I experience it and just take my lumps, it just kind of festers and it gets worse. And so defensiveness isn’t helpful to us. It locks us down, and defensiveness comes when we’re judgmental. 

So the power that comes in being an observer is doing it in a way that has a curiosity instead of judgment, where you slow down and you just notice what it is that you’re experiencing. This is going to allow you to choose your next step rather than react in the moment, and when you do it without judgment, it just opens up understanding and knowledge. You know, this is what I do. If you come and work with me, we’re sitting together and you’re telling me what’s going on that you don’t like, that’s not working for you, and I’m observing it. And I promise you not in any moment am I sitting there thinking oh well, she’s just really messing this up, she’s just blowing this, she’s just not equipped, she’s just a terrible mom, she’s just broken. I never have those thoughts. Can you imagine how stuck those thoughts would make me in being able to help you come to some kind of conclusion, get a plan together, have an idea of what might be going wrong. Instead, what I’m looking at is I wonder what’s happening here. That’s interesting. How interesting that this is happening every time. I wonder what she’s thinking. I wonder what she’s feeling, because my default is for you that there’s always a reason. There’s always a reason why you’re acting in a way that doesn’t align with your values, and it’s not because you’re broken and it’s not because you’re bad. It’s because something is not aligned, something’s not connected. You’re overwhelmed, you’re tired, you’re dealing with some thoughts that are absolutely terrifying you and, of course, you’re going to act that way. So this benevolence my favorite word again this trusting with goodness that there is a reason and if we can just see this pattern, we’re going to be able to work with it. 

The next step in self-awareness is to pay attention to your body. Now. We’ve spent a little bit of time today talking about our thoughts and our feelings and our actions. The body is your vehicle. You feel it in your body. Your feelings really don’t have a place to express themselves except for in your body. Your actions, they come from the feelings that are happening in your body. So we want you to use your body to find clues to what you’re thinking and feeling. If you’re worried about something, your body might express it in the tightness of your shoulders or in your stomach. If you’re angry or upset, your chest might get tight or your head might throb. 

Every person experiences emotions in their own unique way, but I’m interested in how emotions feel in your body and I’ll ask you, if you’re with me, where are you feeling that right now? When you put your hand on it, what is it telling you? The emotional body scan is a great way to practice this. You can check in with that body of yours. It is going to give you information. It’s the most valuable information and you want to know it. Even though sometimes you think you don’t want to know it, you do, you want to know it and from there you want to be able to put some words to what it is you’re feeling Now, words about feelings. 

That vocabulary we have about our emotions. Some of us don’t have a big, deep vocabulary. We have only a few words for the emotions that we feel. One of the problems that our brain has is that when we have an emotion, we have a thought about something and then we have an emotion that comes up. If we don’t have a big enough selection, we can just often go to our one tried and true emotion. So if I just get angry, even when I’m frustrated, even when I’m irritated, even when I’m annoyed, it’s like I’m going from zero to ten because I don’t even know that there are any other stops along the way. The same thing happens with anxiety. I have so many clients that come and say I’m just so anxious today, I’m just so anxious today, and so we put words to that. If you couldn’t use the word anxious, what word would you use? Afraid, nervous, scared, bored, sad. 


It’s really interesting that when you put a list of feelings in front of us, we will sometimes surprise ourselves by seeing words that represent a feeling that we have that we didn’t even realize it. And this is part of how you modulate feelings. Remember, if you only have a 10 on the scale of anger and you’re feeling a big emotion, then it’s probably gonna be a 10. Whereas what we’re trying to do is help you see that there’s a zero, one, two, three, four, five, all the way up to 10. And sometimes we can even work with our bodies to downgrade the intensity of a very painful emotion and get it to a place that actually is more tolerable, that we can work with in the body. 


Now let’s just pause here for a second. How can you do this with your children? I think it’s just so powerful when we have our little children and they’re having the experiences, that they’re having those emotions, and we’re able to start to help them find the words to express what it is that they’re feeling. So you don’t wanna tell your child you’re feeling this, but you can say, wow, it looks like you’re feeling really angry or really frustrated, or maybe you’re just a little irritated at this. I would be. I could see why you can’t get that puzzle piece to fit. You’ve been trying for a few minutes and it’s just not fitting. That’s really frustrating, right. When I get frustrated like that, I feel it. I feel it in my chest. It kind of is like this urr feeling, and you’ll notice that kids will just kinda nod. Sometimes they’ll respond to you and talk about it, but a lot of times they’ll just keep playing as if they hadn’t heard you. But they do hear you, they are listening to you. 


Give them options of some of the things that you might be observing that they’re feeling and this isn’t like one lesson. You sit down with them and you teach them this. This is something you do with them all day and remember we can do it around things that are kind of those positive feelings. Wow, you look like you’re really relaxed right now. You know we don’t always have to use the word happy, it could be relaxed. Or you look like you feel really peaceful. Do you know what peaceful feels like in your body? I feel really peaceful right now. It’s like my chest just feels super calm. I put my hand on my chest. Sometimes I’ll have a little child put their hand on their chest and say can you feel it? Hmm, can you feel my peacefulness? And I’ll let them put their hand on my chest. You know if that’s appropriate. If it’s my child, I feel okay about doing that. But just to be able to say what does that feel like to you? Hmm, you’re starting to help them find the words in their vocabulary. You know we have a lot of research on this. 


People generally have a hard time discerning between negative emotions. Instead, we tend to lump them all together, which inevitably makes them feel overwhelming and much more negative. So, as much as possible. We’re trying to separate and name our individual feelings and emotions by breaking them down or creating kind of our own feelings wheel. Okay, next step, as you’re training your emotional brain in other words, you’re actually opening it up and saying I’m willing to look at you and listen to you and pay closer attention to what you’re feeling One of the things you can do that will really help is to write things down, because when you write down the things that you’re thinking and feeling, it engages a different part of your brain and as you incorporate another part of your brain, it helps you use both those feelings that you’re having and the thinking parts of your brain to get better at connecting your inner world than your writing. 


So you’re doing something kinetic, you’re actually using the physical process of your body to do that, and it’s easy to just start where you are and not worry about being sure about what’s going on inside your head. You could even just write I think I might be feeling dot, dot, dot. That’s a great start and use your feeling list to help you match what it is you’re experiencing to a word that best resonates with you. Give yourself permission to write, without editing, the thoughts and the feelings so that you can get in touch with your internal world. You guys, I do this. 


I’m a therapist with lots of experience. You would think that I have my mind just wrapped up really tight, like it’s in perfect condition, and the human mind doesn’t do that. Instead, I understand what to do when I get stuck. So I routinely sit down with a piece of paper. When I’m having lots of concern or anxiety or fear or sadness, I’ll sit down and just write out what I’m feeling, just freehand. It doesn’t take me long, it helps me dump it out and I get that objectivity I can start to see oh my goodness, no wonder I feel this way. Look at what I’m thinking. And then we can go on to the next things, and of course we’re not talking about that right here how to evaluate those thoughts. That’s what we go into much deeper when we study this deeper and we move into how to work with those thoughts and how to even have a different relationship with those thoughts. We’ve done some podcast episodes on that and we’re working on that together, as we’re working through our resilience training. 


But the first step is just recognizing that they’re there and I’ll tell you what’s so powerful about that your mind when it gets an objective view of what’s going on, it often just self-corrects. Because when you start seeing that what you’re writing about, what you’re feeling, what you’re experiencing, with that objectivity, you’re able to see wow, I am worrying about something that’s not happened yet, this is in the future, or I think I’ve written this out five days in a row about that thing. I said to my friend that I thought I messed up and, wow, I’m really ruminating on that, aren’t I? Like you start to get a different version of your experience instead of all my thoughts are telling me the truth and I’ve got to respond to them. So the practice is powerful, even if you do nothing else but just identify and have that self-awareness. So people often ask me how do I remember to do this? Because when the automated process occurs, I am zero to 10 and I don’t have, I don’t feel like I can slow down, it’s over before I notice that it’s happened, and I think that’s part of the practice. Of course it sneaks up on us. It happens to all of us, happens to me, it happens to the people that I work with that are training in this. 


So the first thing we need to do is not be judgmental. Self-awareness is a process you are going to be practicing your entire life. Let’s just own it, let’s get excited about it, let’s recognize that it is going to ebb and flow, and so what we’re looking for is tiny little movements toward a better and clearer self-awareness. So one of the things that you can do when you notice that your body is starting to get tense or you’re falling into a pattern maybe you just fell into a pattern and now you’re noticing it it doesn’t matter where you intervene Maybe what you can do is just start to recognize. Oh, I need to kind of slow things down and figure out what’s going on. 


I love the practice of centering. We talk a lot about being child focused and parent centered, and that centering means you’re connected to yourself. So to think I need to connect to myself. One of the ways that we can center is to put a hand over our heart. You can close your eyes, you can leave them open if you need to, but you put a hand over your heart and you notice that connection that you’ve made with yourself. You can feel your body beneath your hand and the warmth of your hand on your chest and you start to focus on that feeling, that feeling where your hand is connecting to the shirt or the skin on your body and just paying attention to that is starting to trigger your awareness. You’ve connected to your body, you are making some motion toward yourself and that’s going to give you some insight. Remember that sight inward and just sitting with that connection for a second, two seconds, you may feel like taking a deep breath. 


When I do this, sometimes I feel tears come to my eyes because it’s like, instead of running from my emotions, instead of shutting them down or kind of judging them and trying to push them away, I’m actually moving toward them and I’m putting a hand on them and I’m saying it’s okay, I’m here, I’m listening, I’m interested, and that is just really tender sometimes. So I’ll just warn you, if you do this, you might find a surge of emotion come up and it may be a little bit more of the intensity that you’re normally used to, trying to shut down and just notice that it also might be a tenderness. You might find that beneath your anger, beneath your irritation, beneath your frustration, is a real desire that things go differently and that you’re really sad about it and that you have some deep feelings about it. That’s actually good, that’s okay. Now we’re starting to get to the whole person that you are beneath these behaviors or experiences that were usually so quick to judge. This is self-awareness in action. You may not have time to sit down and write it out. I understand that your life is like a hurricane around you, but in that little moment you’ve put your hand on your chest and you’ve connected to you. So try that when you’re in the middle of something difficult and see if you can’t feel that settling and that awareness is going to open up. 


I guess, finally, finally, it’s useful to be able to just carve a little bit of that time alone that we talked about in step number one. Do a little bit of this every day, where you just sit quietly with yourself and I know this sounds woo-woo, but I want you to sit in love because you deserve to be loved. There is nothing wrong with you. You need love just as much as your children do, and you know how much they need your love. You need your love just as much, if not more, because really only you can give yourself that deep, deep kind of self-acceptance and love that you’re craving. So don’t be worried if you feel like you’re driving blind and foggy life. Sometimes we all get there, but know that there’s a way to get grounded and connected and centered and increase the self-awareness in your life. Go through these steps so that you can start to get good at being self-aware Once again. Love spending time with you guys today. Please take good care of yourselves and I will talk to you next week. 


The Leadership Parenting Podcast is for general information purposes only. It is not therapy and should not take the place of meeting with a qualified mental health professional. The information on this podcast is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition, illness or disease. It’s also not intended to be legal, medical or therapeutic advice. Please consult your doctor or mental health professional for your individual circumstances. Thanks again and take care.

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