How to be more self aware

Jim Balsillie, the CEO of Research-In-Motion (creators of the Blackberry), told me that he looks for people who are “intensely self-aware”. They must be aware of what’s going on around them and inside of them. His or her mental radar must be highly developed in order to move at the kind

of speed that’s mandatory for anyone who wants to thrive in the current environment. How aware are you of what’s going on inside your cranium? Would you pass Balsillie’s test? Without self-awareness, very little else happens.

Try this simple technique for enhancing self-awareness. I call it MCTV — Mental Circuit Television. Wherever you are, and whomever you are with, pretend that there is a video camera mounted on a surface just above your head. Imagine that this camera is filming you as you interact with the people around you. Then, imagine that this camera feeds into a screen in your skull. Watch yourself. Watch your thoughts. Watch your responses while they’re happening. Listen to the words that you’re using. Ask yourself whether you’re enhancing or decreasing both your wellbeing and the wellbeing of the people around you. Then reinforce or change your behaviour. Do whatever it takes. Don’t be inhibited by your past behaviour or conditioning. Have the guts to do what you know you have to do, even if it feels awkward. It will, until you do it often enough for it to become natural.

Let me ask you this question: what kind of words do you use to communicate with yourself, especially when you make a mistake? Do you insult yourself? Do you beat yourself up with phrases like:

You idiot! You fool! I can’t believe you could be so stupid. Isn’t that just typical? How could you be so dumb? You’ll never be able to do it. You’re out of the game. What a loser! You’re hopeless. They’ll never accept that. It’ll never work. I’m at the end of my rope. It’s just a matter of time before they find out I’m stupid. I’m just a fraud.

Just saying those words to yourself will drain you of all motivation and optimism. Instead, the “Thrivers” have learnt to consciously talk to themselves in a way that sustains their spirit, especially in the tough moments. They’re on a permanent mental diet. Whenever they’re tempted to use abusive mental vocabulary, they replace it with words like:

You’re only human. Even Einstein wasn’t right all of the time. You gave it your best shot. Ten out of ten for hanging in there. It’s just the first innings in a long life. What a great lesson! It’s only a matter of time before you succeed. The most you can do is the most you can do. No-one always bats a thousand. You’re still in the game. I’m proud of you. You learned a lot today. It can only get better. Find a way or make a way. This is just a test. Now you really get to stretch yourself. You’ve got the right stuff, show it. I didn’t fail; I just got results I didn’t expect. Let’s go again. Bring it on!

So, if you catch yourself insulting yourself, stop. I’m not saying that you should go soft on yourself. You and I need to hold ourselves to the highest internal standards. But above all else, we need to respect ourselves. The person who doesn’t respect himself cannot respect anyone else. The person who abuses himself abuses others and gets abused by others in return. What goes on inside you determines what goes on around you. So begin building your own internal vocabulary of honour, respect and forgiveness.

Mike Lipkin would be delighted to share your points of view. So please e-mail them to me at

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