Cultivate Self-Awareness With One Simple Strategy

By: Shekeitha L. Jeffries, Assistant Director

In 2017, organizational psychologist, researcher, and New York Times best-selling author, Dr. Tasha Eurich presented a Tedx Talk, on how to increase your awareness using one simple strategy. In the talk, she discusses her research on self-awareness and her surprising discovery about human perception as well as introspective thinking. Through the findings of her research, she has been able to identify how people can truly become more self-aware.  

According to Dr. Eurich, self-awareness is the ability to see ourselves clearly, to understand who we are, how others see us and how we fit into the world. She believes that although we might not like what we see in ourselves, there’s comfort in knowing who we truly are. Self-awareness gives us power. Research shows that people who are more self-aware are more fulfilled, they have stronger relationships, they are more creative and better communicators. According to a 2019 article published on, self-awareness is a vital skill to develop that could help individuals lead a more fulfilled life.

Photo by Natasha Fernandez from Pexels.

However, Dr. Eurich’s research found that people who did more introspection were more stressed, depressed, less satisfied with their jobs, their relationships, and that they were less in control of their lives. These negative consequences increased the more they introspected. While the pursuit of self-awareness/ introspection may seem like as waste of time or depressing, it could be rewarding, because of the insight that it produces. She believes that the pursuit of self-awareness is not a waste of time, however, the way it’s being done is. 

According to Dr. Eurich, people often self-reflect because, they may be trying to figure out why they are in a bad mood, they may be questioning their beliefs or trying to figure out the why behind a negative outcome. She found that, when we ask WHY, it doesn’t lead us toward the truth about ourselves, instead, it leads us away from it.  When we ask why, we end up inventing answers that feel true but are often very wrong.  

As graduate students you may encounter negative experiences in which you question why. Outlined below are a few examples to help you understand the negative impact of why questions:

  • You might have received a low score on a recent exam or paper and may have questioned, why you did so poorly. Instead asking why, re-frame your question to, “What could I have done differently, to earn a better grade?” and “What can I do differently for the next assignment?”
  • You receive notification you weren’t chosen for a position you applied for. You are upset and wondering why the award committee didn’t choose you. Instead of asking why, re-frame your question to, “What could I have done differently to stand out to the committee?” and “What can I do differently in the next interview?”

Dr. Eurich’s research indicates that it may be best to change our why questions to what questions, because why questions tend to trap us in a negative mindset and may cause us to become stuck. On the other hand, what questions helps to shift our mindset from the red zone to blue zone and move us forward toward our future. The next time you experience a negative situation, consider looking at questions such as, what could I have done differently, what can I do to keep moving forward, or what are my resources for support. To cultivate true self-awareness and live a more fulfilled life, try a few of the strategies outlined in this article.