Self-awareness on toast.

Self-awareness, as a component of emotional intelligence, is defined to be the ability to recognize and understand one’s own moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others.

A younger me had a tendency to skip breakfast altogether. It was a bad habit I developed to let myself sleep just a bit longer. (Like most creative types1, I prefer to stay up late thinking.) This doesn’t come with too much of a cost (other than overall health) for the early parts of the day. However, over the last few years, I’ve had some folks kindly approach me and point out that in the afternoon, I become more than a shade snarky if I haven’t eaten properly.

At first, I was more than a little unwilling to change. (Frankly I find the thought of eating much before 10am nauseating and change can be terrifying, too.) But then, I did in fact take some time to critically listen to myself in the afternoon. I’ll be honest. I didn’t particularly care for what I was hearing.

After I paid closer attention to me, I also didn’t particularly care for what I was feeling.

I now make it a point to either pack a lunch (which makes my doctor much happier) or I order take out. Either way, I think my afternoon meetings are friendlier (and a quick poll of some colleagues on campus lends support to that assessment).

It seemed to me that self-awareness, when I first read about it, was some sort of grand thing. I wasn’t convinced it could be achieved without years of dedicated practice – much like my craft and skill in mathematics took perhaps a decade to develop to its present form. Then, of course, I realised I was being silly. Because, of course, my mathematical journey, while it took patient years, also happened overnight. Or rather, over many nights of thinking and practice, I got a bit further on my quest to understand more of mathematics one step at a time.

Maybe eating a pre-afternoon snack or some local take-out might not feel very emotionally aware to most folks. I must admit, if I imagine some grand, universal scale, I suspect one might need a very fine microscope to properly visualise my progress.

All the same, if my colleagues’ cheerier miens are anything to go by, the effort is quite worth it. Personally, I find all of you a great motivator. I’ve been reading a lot about how to build outstanding work environments. Of course, one of the big essentials is that pre-school cliché of “Plays well with others.” I read this quote from Gallup:

Many people, when asked to work with someone new for the first time, will ask the question, “Are we compatible?” There will be times where that question is relevant. But, in most cases, a better and more productive question is, “How could we become compatible?” or, “How could we work or live together in a more harmonious, agreeable and congenial manner?”

Personally, I’ve never really understood how to ask someone to change if I wasn’t willing to try new things myself. I’d like to change the Gallup questions to something a bit more actionable and requiring some this self-awareness business.

What can I do today to work together in a more harmonious, agreeable, and congenial manner?

I’ll be asking that question to myself, and I’ll gently encourage you to be asking it, too. Until next week, stay safe!

1              Piffer, D., Ponzi, D., Sapienza, P., Zingales, L., & Maestripieri, D. (2014). Morningness–eveningness and intelligence among high-achieving US students: Night owls have higher GMAT scores than early morning types in a top-ranked MBA program. Intelligence, 47107-112. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2014.09.009



Matt Wiley is a tenured, associate professor of mathematics with awards in both mathematics education and honour student engagement. He earned an assortment of degrees in computer science, business, and pure mathematics from the University of California and Texas A&M systems. He is the director of quality enhancement at Victoria College, assisting in the development and implementation of a comprehensive assessment program to enhance institutional performance outcomes. A programmer, a published author, a mathematician, and a transformational leader, Matt has always melded his passion for writing with his joy of logical problem solving and data science. From the boardroom to the classroom, he enjoys finding dynamic ways to partner with interdisciplinary and diverse teams to make complex ideas and projects understandable and solvable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s