May 26


Developing Self-Awareness for Personal Success at Midlife

“Know thyself.” – Socrates

Knowing yourself, that is understanding your strengths your weaknesses and your personality traits, is one of the most important factors in being able to succeed in life.

The Problem of Self-Awareness

We all know somebody who thinks their current skills are better than what they really are. We also probably know somebody who has a lot of talent but either doesn’t see it or doesn’t believe in themselves. Some people may have a realistic sense of themselves but are totally oblivious to how other people perceive them. Lastly, there are people who are so focused on how other people perceive them that they forget how to be themselves. All of these scenarios have a common thread, and that thread is a lack of self-awareness.

The problem with self-awareness is that we don’t know what we don’t know. We can develop self-awareness by first, listening to what other people tell us. This usually comes in the form of constructive (or not so constructive) feedback from bosses, family members or close friends. Often times, the feedback is difficult to hear. We may initially be defensive and/or may dismiss it as being not true. However, with time and reflection, we can become more self-aware from what others share with us.

The second way to develop self-awareness is through self-reflection. After a significant event or experience, if we will take time to reflect on what went well, what could have gone better, and how could we have acted differently, we will learn a lot about ourselves. After a number of these post-event reflections, thought and behavior patterns will emerge. Understanding these emotions, thoughts, and behavior tendencies is the heart of self-awareness.

Creating personal success is about creating change in our life. To change our outcomes, we need to change our thinking. To permanently change our thinking, we need to also change who we believe we are (self-identity). Change requires a starting point and an end point, and self-awareness is the starting point of all change.

The purpose of this success skill is to help provide you with a better understanding of what self-awareness is, how to develop better self-awareness, and how it can lead to greater personal success.

Questions and Answers About Self-Awareness

What does it mean to be self-aware?

Self-awareness is more than just understanding your strengths and weaknesses. It’s also understanding your personality traits, motivation factors, and beliefs.

Why is self-awareness important for personal success?

Where you are in life is based upon the thoughts and actions you have taken so far. If you want to improve your life, you have to change the way you think and the things that you do. And very simply, you can’t make effective changes if you don’t understand yourself.

How do you develop self-awareness?

You can develop self-awareness by listening to the feedback of others and reflecting upon past thoughts, feelings, and actions. The practice of self-awareness also includes mindfulness which is the habit of being mentally present and not distracted in important situations.

What is the biggest challenges in developing self-awareness?

There are two challenges in developing self-awareness. First, the best lessons often come from painful experiences. Someone who plays an important role in our life, tells us how an unpleasant truth about ourselves. The second challenge is that developing awareness requires self-reflection. Self-reflection takes quiet time in a busy and distracted world. And, it can be unpleasant to think about what we did wrong and how we can learn from it.

Do I need to continue developing self-awareness going forward?

As a person you are always changing and evolving. For this reason alone, you can never become fully self-aware. Self-awareness is both a skill and a habit. With practice, self-awareness will naturally improve. However, taking time to reflect on events and learning stay mindful during important moments are habits that must be continually practiced.

The Psychology of Self-Awareness


Psychologists have developed what they call the Big Five personality traits. These personality traits do not explain all behavior, but are an essential starting point for people to understand their tendencies and the tendencies of others:



The definition of an extrovert is someone who gains energy by being around other people. Introverts, on the other hand, lose energy by being around other people. This doesn’t mean that all introverts are shy. It simply means they need time away from people to recharge their batteries. It is neither right nor wrong to be in extrovert or introvert. Being socially outgoing is not the same as an extrovert. Many people who are introverts actually are quite sociable. The difference is that they need time alone to recharge their batteries. On the other hand, extroverts are not only social but they also gain energy by being around other people. They lose energy by being by themselves.

Did you know that many motivational speakers and coaches are introverts? They have overcome any fears of public speaking and enjoy helping people. However, being with others drains their energy. They require quiet time to re-charge their batteries which makes them an introvert.


To what extent are you agreeable with others. Agreeableness is not always a good thing. Taken to an extreme, people who are very agreeable tend to lose their identity around other people. On the other hand, people with a low amount of agreeableness can often be contrary and difficult to get along with.


People who are conscientious are organized, detail focused, and goal directed. Some people are more naturally conscientious than others. Conscientiousness is also a skill. Skills can be learned. For those who are less naturally conscientious, they can learn the skill of becoming more conscientious. Conscientiousness is an important skill to have for becoming successful in any area of life.


People who have a high amount of neuroticism are easily upset. They have hey Lowe ability to be resilient in difficult situations or when suffering setbacks.  People with low neuroticism can withstand hi amounts of stress and are very resilient.


People who are open are willing to experience new situations and are open to new ideas and creative solutions.  This is similar to someone being considered open minded. Lack of openness are people who are close minded and unwilling to try new adventures or put themselves in new situations.


One very important success factor is developing a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. Do you have a basic belief that your intelligence and skills are relatively fixed? Or do you believe that intelligence and skills can be grown and acquired through new and challenging experiences? When something doesn’t go the way you planned, do you view it as a failure or as a learning experience? A fixed mindset is a belief. People with a fixed mindset can still be successful. However, research shows that they are less happy, less psychologically well-adjusted, and often stagnate.

Understanding your personality type, mindset, and psychological needs impacting your motivation. Helps you to understand what drives your own behavior. When you understand yourself, it is easier to choose things that you will be successful at. It is easier to choose things that you will have greater passion and enjoyment in doing. In knowing yourself, you can develop greater life balance. You knowing yourself you can help to reduce stress and manage energy more effectively.

Action Steps

  1. Complete the Big Five Personality Inventory to assess your personality tendencies. There are no right, or wrong answers and one tendency is not better than another. For example, it is not better to be an extrovert than an introvert. Both extroversion and introversion can be a strength or weakness depending upon the situation.

The Big Five Inventory is a free, 60 question survey that usually takes 5 minutes to complete. Your results are confidential.

  1. Test your mindset to see if you have a growth or fixed mindset. Again, there are no right or wrong answers. This survey is only 16 questions long and takes 2 to 3 minutes to complete.

  1. Based on the results of your surveys, think about a recent situation that you weren’t happy with the outcome. What insight does the knowledge of your personality traits and mindset give you? What can you learn about yourself from this situation that will help you in the future?

Success Skill Summary

All successful people have developed self-awareness that has allowed them grow as a person and become more effective in managing their careers and personal lives. Self-awareness can be developed by listening to the feedback of others and taking time for self-reflection. Using tools like The Big Five Inventory and Growth Mindset Assessments can provide additional insight. Taking time to reflect and become aware of our strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, emotions and action tendencies is an important step in the personal success journey.



Dweck, C. (2017). Mindset-updated edition: Changing the way you think to fulfill your potential. Hachette UK.

McClelland, D. C. (2005). Achievement motivation theory. In Miner, J.B. (Ed) Organizational behavior I. Essential Theories of Motivation and Leadership. M.E. Sharpe: Armonk, NY.

Olson, D. A. (2017). Success the psychology of achievement. New York, NY: DK Publishing. Retrieved from


Bruce Fleck, PhD

About the Bruce Fleck, PhD

I help professionals overcome a health, career, or relationship crisis and make it a turning point for building a better life.

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