It's confusing. All we hear about these days is self-awareness this and self-awareness that. Everywhere we turn there’s another self-help article on the importance of getting in touch with our thoughts and feelings.
And yet, research shows that heightened self-focused attention plays a huge role in social anxiety.
It turns out both are, but the devil is in the details. Let me explain.
Self-Focused Attention and Social Anxiety
First, the down-low on self-focused attention and social anxiety. Research has found that when a person suffers from social anxiety, they direct too much attention on themselves during (or in anticipation of ) social interactions or performance situations. They pay too much attention to their emotions, their self-thoughts, behaviors, their physical appearance, nervous system arousal, etc. and pay too little attention to what they’re doing, to the other people they might be with, and their environment. With social anxiety, a person becomes acutely and overly aware of themselves.
It’s like a giant spotlight has been turned on and focused right. On. Them.
Can you relate? I know I can. There are many times in the past when I became so self-obsessed, so self-focused that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees! Miserable. And anxiety provoking.
Scientists have also found that when we become so acutely self-focused, we often do worse at the things we‘re anxious about doing in the first place! Add to that, because we aren’t focusing on the other people and things around us, we end up relying solely on our own negative impressions, thereby confirming… we’re a loser.
It is a vicious cycle and it totally reinforces our anxiety.
Breaking the Anxious Cycle
But once you realize it’s a cycle you can break it. The way to get out of this loop is to disrupt it. And the best way to disrupt it is to start turning your attention away from yourself. It’s the opposite of self-focused.
Yep, I know this also flies in the face of what we think of as being self-aware.
So to help with this, let me be a bit more clear about what self-awareness actually means.
Self-awareness is just that, being more aware. That’s it.
Like, “Oh, I’m aware that there’s a lot of traffic today” or “Oh, that felt really crappy” or “Oh, I feel my body starting to feel anxious.” Self-awareness is merely noticing and noting what is happening or what you are feeling. And it can end there. No need to figure it out or dwell on.
Contrary to popular belief, the major benefit to self-awareness isn’t an increased ‘feeling of our feelings’ or ‘thinking of our thoughts’. Actually, that’s often totally counterproductive.
The major wisdom of increased self-awareness is to notice our feelings and thoughts and not get pulled in by them.
A great way of not getting pulled in by them, after we notice them, is to turn our attention onto whatever we’re doing.
Instead of being totally self-focused, we become totally task-focused.
We turn our attention outward onto the specific task we’re doing. By doing this one little strategy, we release our tendency to become overly self-focused thereby releasing our anxiety… all while being self-aware!
Boom! Mic drop.