Don’t Let a Lack of Self-Awareness Hold You Back

Getting around those blocks isn’t easy, but it’s achievable and well worth the effort: People with high self-awareness have stronger relationships, perform better at work and are more creative. All it takes is some genuine, realistic introspection and self-examination — but only if you do it right.

The secret? When you’re looking inward, don’t ask yourself “Why?” Ask yourself “What?”

This little word-swap is a concept explored by the organizational psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich, who found that the most self-aware people are those whose introspective thinking centers on questions of what rather than why. But, uh, why is that?

Studies have shown that asking ourselves why when introspecting can cause us to ruminate on negative feelings and emotions to the point where we fill in blanks with reasoning that can lead us away from true insight. But when we ask ourselves those what questions, we can better “stay objective, future-focused and empowered to act on our new insights,” Eurich writes.

For example, when you’re thinking of a situation that caused you to feel bad at work, you might ask yourself, Why do I feel so terrible?

A better way to approach that situation would be to ask yourself, What are the situations that make me feel terrible, and what do they have in common?

So the next time you’re trying to figure out your “thing,” don’t ask why, ask what. (Or just ask a brutally honest friend. You’ll both be better for it.)

What’s your “thing”? I want to know! Let me know at tim@nytimes.com or on Twitter @timherrera.

Have a great week!

— Tim

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