The Most Important Characteristic?

Often, people come to our office and ask what they can do to improve their lives, to fix their relationship, or to make the work experience more rewarding? It is not an easy question and there certain are no easy answers. Everyone has their own unique experience that we explore in the counseling process.

Still, over the last several weeks, there has been an idea that has been surfacing for me around some of the things that I have been reading and listening to. One book even said that it was the most important characteristic for people looking to develop their leadership skills. I'd argue that it's probably true for anyone trying to make changes in any part of their lives. 

That characteristic? Self-awareness.

So much of our lives are lived by reflex. We respond harshly when our partner asks us a question or uses a certain tone of voice. It's not something that we are aware of – it just kind of happens. If we make a mistake, why is that that we can be so hard on ourselves? Many people – myself included – have to fight a real sense of shame when that happens. We can think things about ourselves that we would never say about other people. 

In the space between every experience we have in the world and the way that we choose to react, I like to think about a space. It's really a window of opportunity. When we react in a reflexive way, that window is very small; it's almost non-existent. But what happens when we start to look inward and figure out what the real motivations are behind the things we do? How do things change when we start to open up that window of opportunity so that there's more space to think and to act in a more self-controlled way?

When we work towards our own sense of self-awareness, we can change the way that we respond to our loved ones. When we understand our emotional space and motivations, we can have a more compassionate stance towards ourselves.

When we increase our level of self-awareness, everything can change.

Desmond Smith is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist Associate. He and his wife, Kristy Yetman, run Yetman Counseling Services and provide therapy for individuals, couples, and families.

Photo Credit: "Home" by Kevin Doncaster is licensed by CC BY 2.0.