Conceptual vs. Embodied Self-Awareness


If you’re like us, you like to think of yourself as someone who is pretty self-aware 💅

You know what you like 😍
You know what you don’t like 🙅‍♂️
You might have even taken the time to explore your personal values, strengths and areas of development 🤓

But did you know that there are two categories of self-awareness?

The first kind of self-awareness is “conceptual self-awareness”.

This is self-awareness at a cognitive level 🧠 - like the “likes'' and “dislikes” above.

When we have conceptual self-awareness, we know our values, interests, likes/dislikes, aspirations, goals, purpose, etc.

Jonathan has a lot of conceptual self-awareness. He knows that his top values are connection and personal growth. He knows that he’s interested in social impact, leadership, and environmental stewardship. He is very aware that he likes coffee and dislikes olives (yuk! 🤮). He has designed his life to align his business to his values. It acts as a vehicle for his own personal growth while allowing him to practice alongside a vibrant community of flourishing social impact leaders. He is in tune with his life’s goals which were created to work towards his greater mission to contribute to a world that works for everyone.

✅ He continues to regularly check in with himself, develop his thoughts, and create action plans to move his life in alignment with those ideas.

This is a great example of what it means to be a conceptually self-aware leader. Taking the time to discover these things for ourselves is critical to our success as leaders in our businesses and our lives.

🌗 But conceptual self-awareness is only half the picture 🌓

The second kind of self-awareness is “embodied self-awareness” 🕺

First highlighted to us by Amanda Blake in her book Your Body is Your Brain (highly recommended read!), embodied self-awareness has less to do with what we think about ourselves and more to do with how we experience ourselves.

🤨 Wait, what? 🤨

Let us clarify 🤓: embodied self-awareness is the experience of being consciously aware of what's going on inside your body (i.e., underneath our skin ) AND what our body is sensing in our external environment 💆‍♀️ (i.e., being aware of ourselves as our body occupying a 3D space).

Having embodied self-awareness means being aware not just of what we’re seeing 👀, hearing👂, smelling👃, etc., but ALSO being cognizant of the quality and tone of the sensations going on inside of us - many of which are closely associated with our emotions.

🤓The sciency term for these sensations is “interoceptive sensations” 🤓

The interoceptive sensations people experience in relation to emotions differ from person to person.

To develop an understanding of what your innards feel like for you, what’s required is a deliberate practice of tuning in to observe what the body is doing from time to time 🧘‍♂️

Laura has a lot of embodied self-awareness. When she’s holding back anger she senses heat in her ears and a set jaw. Tuning into this sensation reminds her to breathe and calm down before responding to a difficult situation. When she’s sad, she feels her throat closing up and a twisting in the stomach. This acts as a cue to engage in positive self-talk and to create space for self-care. When she’s experiencing expansive joy, she feels a lightness and lift in the chest and she knows which activities create that sense of joy (dance💃, gratitude🙏 visualization🦹‍♀️, being present in nature🌿, etc.) so she can more easily call on them and intentionally shift her state when in need.

Like Laura’s experience shows (alongside many other wisdom traditions and leading neuroscientists state), our interoceptive sensations give us clues and cues to help us meet our needs 🧐

🚨 This is important because our bodies often indicate to us when something feels “off” before our brains can put our finger on it 🚨

Do you ever get hangry (i.e. irritable as a result of hunger) before even noticing you were hungry? With developed embodied self-awareness, you’d notice your irritability or hunger before the habit of doing or saying something you’d regret wreaks havoc 😫

Embodied awareness helps us create more peace by setting the foundation for self regulation, shortening the amount of time we’re feeling “off” and/or minimizing reactions that cause dramas with others or our inner critic.

👋 Gone are the days of saying or doing reactive things only to regret your decision later! 👋 #bye #noregrets

Developing embodied self-awareness, sensing into our emotions and being able to communicate what’s going on internally is important for leaders because this process allows us to respond to life vs. react to it.

Body-awareness can help us:

🗣 Process, integrate and decide how we want to communicate frustration.
😬 Recognise worry and determine how much of that worry is helpful to keep us safe.
🤸‍♀️Fully embody celebration and joy for the things we’re most grateful for.

Both conceptual and embodied self-awareness are important factors in developing ourselves as highly conscious leaders.

To level up your self-awareness, we challenge you to find balance and tap into all three of your “neuronal centres” - the head🧠, the heart ❤️ and the gut🔥 - to make your next decision.

✨ We call this kind of thinking “holographic thinking” - thinking from all sides ✨

To have a crack at this, ask yourself:

What seems logical here? (head-centred 🧠)
What is my heart yearning for? (heart-centred ❤️)
If I had to make a split-second decision, what would immediately come up for me? (gut-centred / intuition 🔥)

For more tips on how to develop both conceptual and embodied self-awareness, listen to the latest episode of our podcast the Leadership Gap. This is the first episode in our multi-part series on developing one’s emotional intelligence:

Energetically yours,

Laura & Jonathan


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