Mindfulness — paying attention to one’s current experience
in a non-judgemental way — might help us to learn more about our own
personalities, according to a new article published in the March 2013 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, a
journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Recent research has highlighted the fact that we have many
blind spots when it comes to understanding our patterns of thinking, feeling,
and behaving. Despite our intuition that we know ourselves the best, other
people have a more accurate view of some traits (e.g., intellect) than we do.
In some cases, blind spots in self-knowledge can have negative consequences,
such as poor decision-making, poor academic achievement, emotional and
interpersonal problems, and lower life satisfaction.
In this new article, psychological scientist Erika Carlson
of Washington University in St. Louis explores one potential strategy for
improving self-knowledge: mindfulness.
Mindfulness — a technique often recognised for its positive
effects on mental health — involves paying attention to your current experience
(e.g., thoughts, feelings) and observing it in a non-judgemental manner.
According to Carlson, these two components of mindfulness,
attention and non-judgemental observation, can overcome the major barriers to
knowing ourselves. She argues that the motivation to see ourselves in a
desirable way is one of the main obstacles to self-knowledge. For instance,
people may overestimate their virtuous qualities to ward off negative feelings
or boost self-esteem. However, non-judgemental observation of one’s thoughts,
feelings, and behaviour, might reduce emotional reactivity — such as feelings
of inadequacy or low self-esteem — that typically interferes with people seeing
the truth about themselves.
Lack of information is another barrier to self-knowledge —
in some situations, people might not have the information they would need to
accurately assess themselves. For instance, we have a hard time observing much
of our nonverbal behaviour, so we may not know that we’re grimacing or
fidgeting during a serious conversation. Mindfulness could also help in this
domain, as research has shown that mindfulness training is associated with
greater bodily awareness.
Drawing from cognitive, clinical, and social psychology,
Carlson outlines a theoretical link between mindfulness and self-knowledge that
suggests focusing our attention on our current experiences in a non-judgemental
way could be an effective tool for getting to know ourselves better.
This research was supported by National Science Foundation
Grant BCS-1025330 awarded to Simine Vazire.