Have you ever stared in a mirror and asked yourself ‘who am I?’, or ‘What is my purpose?’. These are important questions that most of the wrestle with at some point in our life. Complicating things self-reflection is no easy task, and when you do take time, it can hurt your brain. However, here is what is ironic, if asked how you rate your self-awareness, you will most likely say high. But, how do you know if you are high or low? In conducting research for “90 Executives of Authentic Leadership”, I would often ask, ‘[w]hat advice would you give your 25-year-old self?’. The responses varied, from being more kind to others and myself, to have more patience in my career, and everything in between. All sage advice worth taking onboard if you are in the beginning or middle of your career. Let introduce you to Mark Crowley. I interviewed Mark almost two years ago and found him to be highly self-aware.

Mark is a leadership expert, and below is an excerpt from his interview on my podcast (you can listen to the full interview here: Full Mark Crowley Interview)

ME: You obviously you come from this traumatic and stressful upbringing, how do you think that you went one direction [in life], but your twin brother went the other?

“That’s an amazing question. I don’t know the answer. I’ll tell you what I think. What happened was that I, when I was particularly in my last couple years of school, and I started to see kids that I was going to school with, not the financial advantages, although they certainly had that. They just had people that had their back. They had parents sitting down, talking to them, what classes they were taking. I remember going in to see a professor. I was a literature major. I sat down with my professor, and he goes, “Where do you think you are?” I said, “Well, I think I’m starting my junior year.” He goes, “No man, you’re not. You’re going to need another year.” I’m like, “I need five years to go to school here?” He goes, “Yeah, because you’ve been taking classes that just don’t add up.” I was thinking I was taking classes that, I just wasn’t being guided, you know?

It was just those kinds of things. I used to think about, “What if I’d been more thoughtfully directed? What if I’d had a place to go to on the holidays? What if I’d have somebody encouraging me and just believing in me and all those kinds of things?” I had plenty of time to have that fantasy, but what happened was, when I started to manage people … I graduated. I got my first job. I started managing people. Unconsciously, I started to say, “What if I just gave people what I always wanted and see what the effect would be? I know it would have had a profound impact on my success, so I’m kind of thinking it would have an effect on everyone’s success.” That’s exactly what happened, except I wasn’t rational. It was completely unconscious, for a long, long time.

I was in my 40s when a woman had been working for me for about 15 years, said to me, “You realize you manage people very differently, right? You know you approach this unlike anyone else?” I started to say, “What does that mean and what does that look like?” So I started asking people to flush that out for me. I started to get a real understanding that, again, I think I was 43 years old when I started having these conversations. I started to realize that everything that I had been doing was in response to how I grew up. I said, “Okay, now that I understand what this is, I want to master this. I want to really refine this, because if this really has this amazing effect on people,” which it did. Incredible engagement, incredible loyalty. People beating a path to work for me. Doing unbelievable work. Scaling mountains for me, consistently. It didn’t matter what business I was running or what job they were doing, I had enough evidence that this was really working.”

Mark had the ability to look at his past, make an evaluation as to what worked, what didn’t and bridge the gap to be different, better if you will. The reason that I chose Mark here is that when you hear the full story you realize that he had to take time and unpack who he is, and who he wants to be. That takes high self-awareness.

Mark’s example is one of many, but what also took me by surprise was when I asked ‘[What] advice would you give your 25-year-old-self?’, and their response would be ‘Ah, I don’t know, maybe, you know, try to smile more or buy that ‘toy,’ or my favorite, nothing. I got this last response a couple of times. My first thought was ‘What the fuck!!!!!’ I didn’t say that, but that is what I was thinking. How does someone get to be a CEO, and not take a minute and reflect on their journey? Maybe I am too harsh, but it does seem like something that we should do…Right?

Self-awareness is a chapter in my forthcoming book, “90 Executives on Authentic Leadership,” and a skill I found essential for leaders personal and professional growth. When you start to work on your self-awareness, you will only then realize if you are high or low and if low hopefully work towards increasing your self-awareness.

My great friend and colleague, Dr. Seth Gillihan, practicing clinical psychologist in Philadelphia. Dr. Gillihan helped me create and a list of activities an individual can do to increase their self-awareness. Try one or all of these suggestions out and let me know if you feel your self-awareness grow.

1. Body scan (e.g., https://soundcloud.com/hachetteaudiouk/meditation-two-the-body-scan). Use it to increase bodily awareness, which you can practice in any situation. For example, notice what happens in your body when someone irritates you. Learn to recognize what’s happening with you mentally and emotionally by being more connected with your bodily awareness.

2. Start to study your thoughts. When do you feel a shift in your emotions—sadness, jealousy, envy, anger, fear—what went through your mind just before? Chances are there’s a thought that leads from an event to an emotion.

3. Write a brief eulogy that you would like someone to deliver at your funeral. What would you want people to say about you when all is said and done? Now think about your life. To what extent are you living the values you want to have embodied? If you find a discrepancy, what can you do today to more closer to the version you want to be?

4. Awareness of how you spend your precious time: Log your activities for every day for three days. For each activity note on a 1-10 scale how much you enjoyed the activity and how important the activity was. For example, TV might be an 8 for enjoyment and a 3 for importance, while doing the dishes might be a 3 and a 10. After the three days, take stock of how much of your time you’re spending doing things that bring some sense of reward into your life.

5. Bonus: Ask for feedback. In many work environments, there is a culture of 360-degree feedback. Getting feedback is not always easy and can be painful when it feels like an attack on your character. However, when provided in a healthy supportive manner, feedback will help you align your self-perception with reality.

All up, these are simple, easy tools that you can be used to help assess your strengths and weaknesses and become a better leader in your organization, but more importantly in life.