Self-awareness is the first of 10 essential traits of personal change. Before we can make any change to ourselves, we must first be aware that there is something we’d like to change. There are numerous levels of awareness, from a vague feeling of unease to a sharp recognition of the problem. In psychology, the Stages of Change model (initially developed in application to health behavior and decisions) notes five steps in a process for making change:
- Precontemplation – Not yet acknowledging that there is a problem behavior that needs to be changed
- Contemplation – Acknowledging that there is a problem but not yet ready or sure of wanting to make a change
- Preparation/Determination – Getting ready to change
- Action/Willpower – Changing behavior
- Maintenance – Maintaining the behavior change
Stage 1, precontemplation, is denial, an internal suppression of knowledge and awareness, which though destructive, has its source in enabling survival at some stage of the person’s life. For example, an alcoholic who drinks to “fit in” and feel he or she belongs, but fails to recognize the destructive effect over time. Or a woman who agrees to marry a man she has fooled herself into thinking she loves but really clings to just for security (my own story). Or a teenager who bullies other kids to feel superior, not realizing his or her own insecurities.
Awareness appears between stages 1 and 2. In contemplation, the awareness of the problem is there, but as yet there is no commitment to take action and make change.
I was in denial for the first two years of my relationship with the man I almost married. From almost the beginning, I had a vague uneasiness about being with him. It did not feel right, more that I was forcing it, but I was not fully conscious of this. I remember traveling to Europe with him just three months after we started dating. We visited a coworker in her native country and watched while she subtly rejected her fiancé in favor of another colleague who was also traveling with us. I had an inkling then that this would happen to me with my boyfriend. It took years for awareness to dawn on me, seven years in fact, until the day I could finally say in my head and heart, and to my fiancé, the painful truth of “I don’t love you enough.”
Where are you in acknowledging the issue, concern, problem – the thing you want to change? Is it just a vague feeling? Or is it clear to you what needs to change?
Stay tuned for more on the 10 traits of personal change:
- Desire to feel better
- Belief that it is possible to feel better
- Rigorous self-honesty
- Detachment from others
- Personal responsibility