Home » Increase Your Self-Awareness With One Simple Fix: Tasha Eurich (Transcript)

Increase Your Self-Awareness With One Simple Fix: Tasha Eurich (Transcript)

Tasha Eurich at TEDxMileHigh

Following is the full transcript of psychologist and author Tasha Eurich’s TEDx Talk titled “Increase Your Self-Awareness With One Simple Fix” at TEDxMileHigh conference.


Listen to the MP3 audio while reading the transcript: Increase your self-awareness with one simple fix by Tasha Eurich @TEDxMileHigh

Tasha Eurich – Psychologist and author

Tennessee Williams once told us, “There comes a time when you look into the mirror and you realize that what you see is all you’ll ever be, and then you accept it or you kill yourself, or you stop looking in mirrors.”

And speaking of mirrors, someone else once said, “If we spend too much time scrutinizing what’s in our rearview mirror, we’re certain to crash into a light post.”

I’ve spent the last four years of my life studying people who look in mirrors, rearview and otherwise in their search for self-awareness. I wanted to know what self-awareness really is, where it comes from, why we need it, and how to get more of it.

My research team surveyed quantitatively thousands of people. We analyzed nearly 800 scientific studies. And we conducted dozens of in-depth interviews with people who made dramatic improvements in their self-awareness.

Now, initially, we were actually so worried that we wouldn’t find any of these people that we called them self-awareness unicorns. True.

But thank goodness, we did find them. Because what these unicorns taught me would create a ground-breaking revelation for how all of us can find genuine self-awareness. And that’s what I want to share with you.

Today, I want you to reflect on how you’re reflecting. I know that’s a mouthful. And to get there, we’re going to need to shatter one of the most widely held beliefs about finding self-awareness. But first things first.

What is this thing we call self-awareness anyway?

It’s the ability to see ourselves clearly, to understand who we are, how others see us and how we fit into the world. Self-awareness gives us power.

We might not always like what we see, but there’s a comfort in knowing ourselves. And there’s actually a ton of research showing that people who are self-aware are more fulfilled. They have stronger relationships. They’re more creative. They’re more confident and better communicators.

They are less likely to lie, cheat, and steal. They perform better at work and are more promotable. And they’re more effective leaders with more profitable companies.

In the world of self-awareness, there are two types of people: those who think they’re self-aware, and those who actually are. It’s true.

My team has found that 95% of people think they’re self-aware, but the real number is closer to 10% to 15%. You know what this means, don’t you?

It means that on a good day – on a good day – 80% of us are lying to ourselves about whether we’re lying to ourselves. Pretty scary, right?

So you can imagine the challenge we had in figuring out who was truly self-aware. What do you think would’ve happened if I had said, “Hey! How self-aware are you?” Exactly.

So to be part of our research, our unicorns had to clear four hurdles. They had to believe they were self-aware as measured by an assessment my team developed and validated. Using that same assessment, someone who knew them well had to agree. They had to believe that they’d increased their self-awareness in their life, and the person rating them had to agree.

We found 50 people out of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds who met our criteria. They were professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, students, stay-at-home parents. And we didn’t find any patterns by industry, age, gender or any other demographic characteristic.

These unicorns helped my team discover a most surprising truth. That approach you’re using to examine your thoughts, your feelings, and your motives, you know, introspection. Well, you’re probably doing it – there’s no easy way to say this – you’re probably doing it totally wrong.

Yes, there is a reason so few of us are self-aware. So let me tell you about the evening that I first discovered the ugly truth about introspection.

It was about 10 p.m. on a beautiful Colorado spring evening. And I was in my office, hopped up on Diet Coke and Smartfood popcorn.

And I just analyzed a set of data, and to say that I was surprised would be an understatement. My team and I had just run a simple study looking at the relationship between introspection and things like happiness, stress and job satisfaction.

Naturally, the people who introspected would be better off. Wouldn’t you think so? Our data told the exact opposite story.

People who introspected were more stressed and depressed, less satisfied with their jobs and their relationships, less in control of their lives. I had no idea what was going on. And it got worse.

These negative consequences increased the more they introspected. So I was quite confused.

Later that week, I ended up coming across a 20-year-old study that looked at how widowers adjusted to life without their partners. The researchers found that those who tried to understand the meaning of their loss were happier, less depressed one month later, but one year later, were more depressed. They were fixated on what happened instead of moving forward. Have you been there? I have.

Self-analysis can trap us in a mental hell of our own making. So things were starting to make sense.

Now, you Die-Hard self-awareness fans and particularly introspection fans in the audience might be thinking, “Sure, introspection may be depressing, but it’s worth it because of the insight it produces.” And you’re right.

I’m not here today to tell you that the pursuit of self-awareness is a waste of time. Not at all.

I am here to tell you that the way you’re pursuing it doesn’t work. Here is the surprising reality: Thinking about ourselves isn’t related to knowing ourselves.

So to understand this, let’s look at the most common introspective question: “Why?”

We might be searching for the cause of a bad mood. Why am I so upset after that fight with my friend?

Or we might be questioning our beliefs. Why don’t I believe in the death penalty? Or we might be trying to understand a negative outcome. “Why did I choke in that meeting?”

Unfortunately, when we ask “Why?” it doesn’t lead us towards the truth about ourselves. It leads us away from it.

There are so many reasons this is the case. Today I’ll give you two.

Here is the first reason we shouldn’t ask why: Researchers have found that no matter how hard we try, we can’t excavate our unconscious thoughts, feelings and motives. And because so much is hidden from our conscious awareness, we end up inventing answers that feel true but are often very wrong.

Let me give you an example. Psychologists Timothy Wilson and Richard Nisbett set up a card table outside their local Meijers thrifty store in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And on that card table, they laid out four identical pairs of pantyhose. And they asked the people walking by to pick their favorite.

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