Marty Nemko Ph.D.

How To Do Life

Increasing Your Self-Awareness

Distractions, triggers, habits, and blind spots.

Posted November 20, 2021 |  Reviewed by Abigail Fagan


  • Becoming aware of thoughts or experiences that often distract you can increase your self-awareness.
  • Reflecting on your triggers, habits, and blind spots can help you become aware of any problematic distractions.
  • Becoming aware of your distractions can help change the underlying patterns that contribute to them.
John Hain, Pixabay, Public Domain

Source: John Hain, Pixabay, Public Domain

Self-awareness is a prerequisite to growth, professional and personal. Previous installments in this series offered specific activities to help increase your self-awareness: The Museum of YouWhat Have Been Your Life’s Best and Worst Decisions, and The Half-Hour Autobiography,

This installment takes a different approach. It invites you to self-assess in each of five areas.


Everyone knows that it helps to stay focused, yet all of us get distracted at times, and sometimes that’s fine. For example, let’s say that in the middle of working, you get an idea for something to buy or to post on social media. As long as you’re able to get back to work after that quick diversion, it’s no problem. It is a problem when distractions tend to send you off on a tangent from which you too often can’t retrieve yourself. A few examples:

  • A worrisome issue. Once you start thinking about, for example, your grandparent’s illness, you start pondering detail after detail, perhaps catastrophizing, and before you know it, a half-hour has passed . . . or longer.
  • You just love that video game. And while you tell yourself that you’ll play it only during a few-minute break, the few minutes also too often turns to 30.
  • You’re working on something important but another more pleasant but less important work task pops to mind. You promise yourself to spend just a few minutes on that before getting back to Job One but, again, a few minutes turns to much longer.

So, here, list any distractions that you want to gird yourself against.

Your triggers

We all have triggers, hot buttons. Perhaps your boss reminds you of your bad parent. Or you see that blonde and it reminds you of that vicious person you used to date. Or someone questions your intelligence, which is your sore spot. Of course, some triggers are mild enough to not worry about, but list any triggers that risk your overreacting.

What you trigger in other people

If you’re being honest with yourself, do you have a characteristic that too often turns people off? A few examples: being a know-it-all, saccharine sweet, too aggressive, or a broken record, spouting your view on something again and again. So, do you have a characteristic that tends to annoy other people that you’d like to commit to changing?article continues after advertisement

Your habits

Most of our habits are good ones, honed from years of living and that make life easier. But occasionally, a habit hurts you. Most obvious is a substance abuse problem, but there are others, for example, lingering too long in the morning before getting started on your day, routinely buying a calorie-dense food even though you tend to eat too much of it, or being unduly impatient with your parent, child, or romantic partner. Is there a habit that you’d like to change?

Blind spots

It’s easy to be blind to a personal weakness. After all, it’s more pleasant to ignore or try to rationalize it away. A few examples:

  • Unhealthy weight: “I’m not that overweight and I deserve the pleasure of eating calorific stuff.”
  • “Yes, I’m passive but I don’t like people who are too willful.”
  • Poor work ethic: “There are plenty of people who are worse than me.”

Now that you’re thinking about it, do you see a blind spot you’d like to address?

The takeaway

So, do any of the foregoing unearth or remind you of things about yourself? Any that motivate you to try to change something?

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