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Nurturing Self-Awareness

Tapping into your hidden potential


In a pinch, most of us can describe ourselves reasonably well, including our strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. However, we may not know ourselves as well as we think we do, and that means we’re missing out. A recent Harvard Health study concluded that only 10 to 15 percent of their research group knew themselves as well as they believed they did, based on criteria measuring how folks see themselves and how they think others see them. Let’s see what we can do to shift that, and tap into your hidden potential!


What is self-awareness?

Self-awareness can be described as the ability to be self-reflective. This involves the ability to

  • observe your sensations, thoughts, feelings, and behaviour
  • discern patterns and themes
  • recognize your impact, both actual and potential

Elfi Dillon-Shaw, a seasoned bodyworker, educator, and group leader, sums it up beautifully as “being exquisitely present to my inner and outer experience and being present to [others] heart-centred respectful curiosity.”


What are the benefits?

Increased self-awareness can mean

  • better understanding of your reactions
  • increased attunement to physical and emotional health
  • improved ability to see choices and make decisions
  • increased ability to maximize your energy and time


Where to begin

Self-awareness can begin with noting sensations—the experience of walking barefoot, a subtle yet persistent headache, a breeze brushing your skin, the taste of a sour fruit. Our bodies are continuously offering information about our physical and emotional state. The more attuned you are to this information, the better able you are to attend to your health at many levels.



Our bodies work gallantly to keep us alive. One way they do this is by breathing continuously from birth to death. There is a difference between this “survival” breath and a more intentional breath. Dillon-Shaw recommends we nurture “the art of conscious breathing ... through willingness to accept sensations and information from inside and outside ourselves.”

There are countless breathing techniques available with which you can experiment. Find what works for you with respect to grounding, ease, increased awareness, and sustainability. The bonus is that all of these approaches can reduce physical symptoms of stress and anxiety, increase relaxation, and strengthen immune system response. The main thing is to consciously breathe, and notice what you experience.



Reflection means the conscious observation of your life, all the way from the meaning of existence to the discomfort of a hangnail. However, once we become aware of something, especially if it’s concerning, we humans tend to leap to apology, blaming, or fixing, without actually reflecting. For true reflection, it’s most helpful to hold off on action and first really take in what you’re observing. Breathe, more than once! From this place, you can be responsive rather than reactive.



Shadow is any aspect of ourselves that we do not know or acknowledge. Consider something you dislike in others, something you’ve been criticized for, or something you’re shy to talk about. These can all shed light on aspects of your Shadow. Dillon-Shaw describes this as “having the courage to learn about one’s own nature, both light and dark, and the willingness to notice the impact we make on those around us.” Acknowledging your Shadow parts can be freeing.


Meditation and prayer

You can explore numerous spiritual paths and wisdom traditions to support this journey. They tend to share common foundations—self-knowledge, compassionate inquiry, kindness, and self-responsibility. Whether you explore Buddhist meditation, Indigenous creation spirituality, the Jewish Talmud, or any other practice, you will find directives to centre yourself and be in harmony with humanity and spirit. This type of practice can enhance your awareness of being part of something greater or beyond your individual being.



Regardless of how rigourously we attempt to understand ourselves, there will always be aspects we do not see. This is where feedback can help us, so long as we’re game to hear what folks have to say.

We all have blind spots, and those around us may have observations that can shed light on them. A tip is to receive feedback as information to consider, rather than criticisms or compliments. There may be some hidden gems!


Summing up

Nurturing self-awareness is possible and useful. It can help improve your quality of life as well as how you show up in the world. Some of the ways you can learn to nurture your self-awareness include

  • breath
  • reflection
  • shadow
  • meditation and prayer
  • feedback

Come home to yourself and your life through nurturing your self-awareness. It all begins with taking a breath. And then another one.

Lending a hand

To support someone else, keep the following in mind:

  • Explain why you think self-awareness is worth investigating.
  • Share what you’ve learned so far.
  • Suggest consciously breathing, observing sensations, emotions, or thoughts

Big payoffs

Research shows that seeing yourself clearly can pay off both professionally and personally:

  • increased creativity and confidence
  • more effective communication
  • better decision making
  • strengthened relationships
  • more effective leadership



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Leah PayneLeah Payne