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Are you looking to improve?

Let’s say you’re trying to manage your time better.  What’s stopping you?  Is it your manager?  Your colleagues?  Your workload?  Where you work?  Is it noisy and drafty, too hot in summer and cold in winter, in a work corridor where everyone walks past you?

If you think that it’s the external environment that is stopping you manage your time, you’re probably right.  But only half right.  And you probably have got the smaller half.  The major component to any personal development initiative is YOU!

Yes, environmental factors have an impact.  But those people who manage themselves well seem to be able to shut out or minimise those external, environmental factors.  You ask, “How do they do it?  Why can’t I?”

Time management is a popular focus for personal development.  But, it’s just one of many areas that people work to improve.  Add to this the skills of communication, assertiveness, relationship building, leading, developing trust, listening, developing trust, negotiating, working harmoniously in a group, having emotional intelligence, presenting ideas coherently, and so on.

The starting point for any personal development activity involves establishing where you are now.  But, that’s not easy.  I call it, your SA-Factor.


“How well do I know myself?”

Ask yourself, “How good am I as a time manager / communicator / listener / leader and so on?”  A succinct answer is difficult, and that makes it hard to assess your progress as you start to work on developing that area of skill.

Underpinning any development effort is the question, “How well do I know myself?”  It’s a question I ask when I am coaching and when I am in front of a training course.  It’s a question that is at the heart of all personal development efforts.  It’s a question that is made more difficult by a range of emotional and psychological factors that interfere with coming up with an accurate response.

Factors that Inhibit Self-Awareness

There are a number of factors that inhibit our ability to be totally self-aware.  For example, we find it difficult to assess our ability to manage our time as:

we think (introspect) that there are good reasons we don’t manage our time well, and these become (in our minds) justifications for not managing our time – the Introspection illusion.

we consider that our time management intentions are solid, and we are not poor time managers, but are faced with items that are beyond our control – the Intention and Execution Gap

we decide that we are being unfairly pushed by our manager to take on more work because that’s what managers do– Our Thoughts are Facts Fallacy

we are told that time management is a problem, but the feedback we have received on our time management abilities has not been presented well and in a way that it’s well received (it tough to give good feedback!) – Lack of Feedback

we feel we aren’t too bad at time management, others are worse – Superiority Illusion

we don’t remember when time management was raised as an issue, or what was said– Our Memory Distorts Reality

Let’s explore these further.

Introspection Illusion: “I am because I think.”

You’ve just said the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person, and upset them. “Oh, why did I say that? I didn’t mean to upset anyone!” When we think about ourselves and what we’ve done, or said, we are being introspective.

As a rule, the activity of being introspective makes us believe that we have uncovered our true intentions – “I just was trying to make a joke!  I didn’t think that I would hurt her”.

In reality, when we are being introspective, we are making educated guesses about our intentions, many of which are unconscious, some of which are wrong.

The Intention and Execution Gap:

Generally speaking, most people have good intentions.  Few people would say otherwise. And so, when we assess a situation we are biased into believing our intentions are always good.

What we don’t appreciate is that there is a gap between our intentions and what we can realistically do. We may have 100% of good intentions and only 50% effectiveness in carrying out our intentions.

So, for example, someone might say, “I am a good father, and I intend to be the best father possible. That means being home to help my children as they grow.” However, work circumstances, and the tyranny of the distance from home to work, do not allow me to be there as much as I would like. But I still see myself as being a really good father. That’s because I don’t see the gap between my intentions and reality.

Our Thoughts are Facts Fallacy:

We rarely have all the information we need to make good decisions.  Still, decisions need to be made, and we make do with whatever information we have, and fill in the rest.  Let’s say, you’ve been called to a meeting in the boss’s office. You don’t know why. You (may) think the worst, based on what you seen happen to other people in other businesses.

We are affected by the information that fills in the gaps, information that sits deeply inside us as beliefs.  Rarely do we question our beliefs.  Let’s consider how you feel about being called into your manager’s office, when you believe that the role of management today, is to ‘do more with less”.

Often, our thoughts become fact, without considering their truth.

Lack of feedback:

It is uncomfortable for people to ask for feedback about ourselves, or our performance.  And, it’s just as hard to give good, unbiased feedback, in a time that the person receiving the feedback wants to receive it. So, we don’t ask, and we don’t learn.

“Does my backside look large in these slacks?”

Superiority illusion:

We overestimate our strengths.  We think we are more successful, interesting, attractive, and friendly than the average person.

  • How many people believe that they are in the top 30% of drivers? “I’m not a bad driver, I’ve just been unlucky.”
  • There are statistics showing that 70% of leaders rank themselves in the top 50%.
  • When we make budget it’s because we worked hard and smart. When we fail to make budget, it’s because of any number of external factors. We’re still smart and hardworking!

Our memory distorts reality:

Our memory isn’t perfect. And it distorts to help us cope and avoid stressful events. It’s not unusual for our memory to create untrue stories and facts of a situation.

Our memories are highly complex, malleable, and extremely fallible. Through effective suggestion, we can be made to remember things that never happened, or in less extreme cases, change the details of things that really did happen. How much of what you remember is real, and how much is illusion?


Let’s say, you sit down with your manager and she says, “You’ve really got to improve your communication skills”.  Or worse, she says, “You have really poor communication skills”. How would you feel?  How would you assess your communication skills unemotionally, seeing the situation from your manager’s point of view?

Yet, if you want to develop as a manager, leader salesperson, worker or mere human being, your communication skill level is just one area about which you need to be aware.  You would also need to be aware of how trustworthy are you?  How systematic?  How decisive? How practical? So, the bigger issue is Self-Awareness.  How ‘Self-Aware’ are you? What’s your SA-Factor?

This is the first in a short series of discussions on improving your self-awareness – Your SA-Factor.  One way of improving your SA-Factor is to attend our Personal Development course running in Sydney November 21-22, Melbourne February 19-20.