Increase your self-awareness with one simple fix | Tasha Eurich | TEDxMileHigh


Translator: Silvija Mazurenko
Reviewer: Cihan Ekmekçi Tennessee Williams once told us, “There comes a time
when you look into the mirror and you realize that what you see
is all you’ll ever be, and then you accept it
or you kill yourself, (Laughter) or you stop looking in mirrors.” (Laughter) And speaking of mirrors,
someone else once said, “If we spend too much time scrutinizing
what’s in our rearview mirror, we’re certain to crash
into a light post.” I’ve spent the last four years of my life
studying people who look in mirrors, rearview and otherwise
in their search for self-awareness. I wanted to know
what self-awareness really is, where it comes from, why we need it, and how to get more of it. My research team surveyed
quantitatively thousands of people. We analyzed nearly 800 scientific studies. And we conducted dozens
of in-depth interviews with people who made dramatic
improvements in their self-awareness. Now, initially, we were actually so worried
that we wouldn’t find any of these people that we called them
self-awareness unicorns. (Laughter) True. But thank goodness, we did find them. Because what these unicorns taught me would create a ground-breaking revelation for how all of us can find
genuine self-awareness. And that’s what I want to share with you. Today, I want you to reflect
on how you’re reflecting. I know that’s a mouthful. And to get there,
we’re going to need to shatter one of the most widely held beliefs
about finding self-awareness. But first things first. What is this thing we call
self-awareness anyway? It’s the ability to see ourselves clearly, to understand who we are,
how others see us and how we fit into the world. Self-awareness gives us power. We might not always like what we see, but there’s a comfort
in knowing ourselves. And there’s actually a ton of research showing that people who are self-aware
are more fulfilled. They have stronger relationships. They’re more creative. They’re more confident
and better communicators. They are less likely to lie,
cheat, and steal. They perform better at work
and are more promotable. And they’re more effective leaders
with more profitable companies. In the world of self-awareness,
there are two types of people: those who think they’re self-aware, (Laughter) and those who actually are. It’s true. My team has found that 95% of people
think they’re self-aware, (Laughter) but the real number
is closer to 10 to 15%. You know what this means, don’t you? (Laughter) It means that on a good day –
on a good day – 80% of us are lying to ourselves (Laughter) about whether we’re lying to ourselves. (Laughter) Pretty scary, right? So you can imagine the challenge we had
in figuring out who was truly self-aware. What do you think
would’ve happened if I had said, “Hey! How self-aware are you?” Exactly. So to be part of our research,
our unicorns had to clear four hurdles. They had to believe they were self-aware as measured by an assessment
my team developed and validated. Using that same assessment,
someone who knew them well had to agree. They had to believe that they’d increased
their self-awareness in their life, and the person rating them had to agree. We found 50 people out of hundreds and hundreds
and hundreds who met our criteria. They were professionals, entrepreneurs,
artists, students, stay-at-home parents. And we didn’t find any patterns
by industry, age, gender or any other demographic characteristic. These unicorns helped my team
discover a most surprising truth. That approach you’re using to examine your thoughts, your feelings,
and your motives, you know, introspection. Well, you’re probably doing it – there’s no easy way to say this – you’re probably doing it totally wrong. Yes, there is a reason
so few of us are self-aware. So let me tell you about the evening that I first discovered the ugly truth
about introspection. It was about 10 p.m. on a beautiful
Colorado spring evening. And I was in my office, hopped up on Diet Coke
and Smartfood popcorn. (Laughter) And I just analyzed a set of data, and to say that I was surprised
would be an understatement. My team and I had just run a simple study looking at the relationship
between introspection and things like happiness,
stress and job satisfaction. Naturally, the people who introspected
would be better off. Wouldn’t you think so? Our data told the exact opposite story. People who introspected
were more stressed and depressed, less satisfied with their jobs
and their relationships, less in control of their lives. I had no idea what was going on. And it got worse. These negative consequences increased
the more they introspected. (Laughter) So I was quite confused. Later that week, I ended up
coming across a 20-year-old study that looked at how widowers
adjusted to life without their partners. The researchers found that those who try to understand
the meaning of their loss were happier, less depressed
one month later, but one year later,
were more depressed. They were fixated on what happened
instead of moving forward. Have you been there? I have. Self-analysis can trap us
in a mental hell of our own making. So things were starting to make sense. Now, you Die Hard self-awareness fans and particularly introspection fans
in the audience might be thinking, “Sure, introspection may be depressing, but it’s worth it because of the insight it produces.” And you’re right. I’m not here today to tell you that the pursuit of self-awareness
is a waste of time. Not at all. I am here to tell you that the way
you’re pursuing it doesn’t work. Here is the surprising reality: Thinking about ourselves
isn’t related to knowing ourselves. So to understand this, let’s look at the most common
introspective question: “Why?” We might be searching
for the cause of a bad mood. Why am I so upset
after that fight with my friend? Or we might be questioning our beliefs. Why don’t I believe in the death penalty? Or we might be trying
to understand a negative outcome. “Why did I choke in that meeting?” Unfortunately, when we ask “Why?” it doesn’t lead us towards the truth
about ourselves. It leads us away from it. There are so many reasons
this is the case. Today I’ll give you two. Here is the first reason
we shouldn’t ask why: Researchers have found that no matter how hard we try, we can’t excavate our unconscious
thoughts, feelings and motives. And because so much is hidden
from our conscious awareness, we end up inventing answers
that feel true but are often very wrong. Let me give you an example. Psychologists Timothy Wilson
and Richard Nisbett set up a card table outside their local Meijers thrifty store
in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And on that card table, they laid out
four identical pairs of pantyhose. And they asked the people
walking by to pick their favorite. (Laughter) Now, consumer research shows that people
tend to prefer products on the right. And that’s exactly what happened. Even though every pair was identical, people chose pair D
at a rate of four to one. And when asked why they have chosen
the pair they had, they confidently declared
that pair D was just better. (Laughter) And even – get this – even when the researchers told them
about the effect of positioning, they refused to believe it. The second reason
asking “Why?” is a bad idea is that it leads us away
from our true nature. We like to think of our brains
as supercomputers rationally analyzing information
and arriving at accurate conclusions. Unfortunately, that’s not what happens. Let’s do a quick exercise that’s based
on another classic psychology study. So if I were to ask you to make a list of all the reasons your romantic
relationship was going the way it was, what would you say? Let’s say that in general
your relationship is pretty awesome. But let’s just pretend that yesterday you happened to get in a huge fight about the proper way
to load the dishwasher. (Laughter) Really bad. Now, because of something
called “the recency effect,” this is going to carry
an unfair amount of weight. You might start thinking of things like,
“I am so sick of his mansplaining!” (Laughter) Or you might think, “Why the hell does it matter so much
how I load the dishwasher?” And before you know it, you’re thinking your relationship
isn’t going so well. (Laughter) Asking “Why?” created “alternative facts.” (Laughter) And over time, this leads us
away from who we really are. It clouds our self-perceptions. So you might be wondering if asking “Why?” makes us depressed,
over-confident and wrong; it’s probably not going
to increase our self-awareness. But don’t worry. I’m not here today to tell you
to stop thinking about yourselves. I am here to tell you to start doing it
just a little bit differently. So if we shouldn’t ask “Why?”
then, what should we ask? Do you remember
our self-awareness unicorns? When we looked at how they approached
introspection, we found the answer. We analyzed literally hundreds
of pages of transcripts, and we saw a very clear pattern. Although the word “why”
appeared less than 150 times, the word “what” appeared
more than 1000 times. Let me give you a few examples. Nathan, a brand manager, got a terrible performance review
from his new boss. Instead of asking,
“Why are we like oil and water?” he asked, “What can I do to show her
I’m the best person for this job?” It changed everything. People now point to Nathan and his boss as proof that polar opposites
can work together. Sarah, an education leader, was diagnosed
with breast cancer in her late 40s. And when she asked, “Why me?” she said it felt like a death sentence. So then she asked, “What’s most important to me?” This helped her define what she wanted her life to look like
in whatever time she had left. She’s now cancer free and more focused on the relationships
that mean the most to her. Jose, an entertainment
industry veteran, hated his job. And instead of getting stuck,
what most of us would do, and ask, “Why do I feel so terrible?” he asked, “What are the situations
that make me feel terrible, and what do they have in common?” He quickly realized that he would
never be happy in this job, and it gave him the courage to pursue a new and far more fulfilling
career path as a wealth manager. So these are just three examples of dozens of unicorns that asked
“What?” instead of “Why?” Do I have any Nathans or Sarahs,
or Joses in the room? I’ll add one more: Tasha. So earlier this year, I published
a book about all of this, which I am so proud of. But one day, for some unknown reason, I did what every author
is never supposed to do. I read my Amazon reviews. (Laughter) And, you guys, it was devastating. I asked, “Why are people
being so mean to me about a book that I spent
thousands of hours researching and wrote to make their lives better?” Right? I fell into a spiral of self-loathing. It was honestly one
of the low points of my life. A couple of weeks went by, and it dawned on me that maybe I should take
my own advice. (Laughter) So I tried a different question. I asked, “What about all those people who were telling me that my book
has helped them change their lives.” What a different outcome. So no, I wasn’t doing it right either. This is not an easy world, is it? Not at all. (Laughter) She knows, we all know. But I have seen so much evidence that self-awareness
gives us a much better shot at finding happiness and success
in this crazy world. To start, we just need
to change one simple word. Change “why” to “what.” Why-questions trap us
in that rearview mirror. What-questions move us
forward to our future. As human beings, we are blessed
with the ability to understand who we are, what we want to contribute,
and the kind of life we want to lead. Remember, our self-awareness unicorns
had nothing in common except a belief in the importance
of self-awareness and a daily commitment to developing it. That means we can all be unicorns. The search for self-awareness
never ever stops. Life goes on. It’s up to us to choose to learn and grow from our mistakes and our tragedies,
and our successes. One of the best quotes I’ve ever heard
on this subject is from Rumi. He said, “Yesterday I was clever,
so I wanted to change the world. Today I’m wise, so I am changing myself.” Thank you very much. (Applause)