The Best Self-Awareness Quotes From the World’s Greatest Minds Throughout History

Self-awareness is one of the most important factors to living a truly fulfilled life—a life worth living. We often spend so much time trying to make our way in the world around us, when the truth path we need to wander is really within us: getting to know ourselves. Truly becoming self-aware.

Many great minds have spoken and written on this subject, and in this post, you’ll find some of of the best self-awareness quotes.

“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

― C.G. Jung

It’s so easy to look at others, look at the world, and pass judgment, see their flaws. What’s hard is to see ourselves for who we really are, to explore what hides in our blind spots, to get to our true motivations, feelings, and thoughts, much of which are hidden to our conscious mind as the largest part of an iceberg is hidden from sight.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

― Carl Gustav Jung

This has been a constant source of learning and increased self-awareness for me. Sometimes someone else does something that irritates or upsets me—and irrespective of whether what they do was right or wrong, good or bad, fair or unfair—there’s a hidden reason why it triggers such an intense emotional response within myself.

Next time you find yourself irritated by something someone else did, ask yourself: Why is this so irritating to me? Where does my irritation stem from, and what does it point to?

Oftentimes it takes some deep reflection, and eating a good amount of humblepie, before you get to the actual answer—but eventually, the insights you gain are some of the most impactful ones.

“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?”

― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Very similar to the preceding quote by Carl Jung, this one too describes what I personally call “the inner mirror of unpleasant truths”.

So you must observe, become aware how your own thought, how your own feelings are functioning, without wanting to guide them in any particular direction. First of all, before you guide them, find out how they are functioning. Before you try to change and alter thought and feeling, find out the manner of their working, and you will see that they are continually adjusting themselves within the limitations established by that point fixed by desire and the fulfillment of that desire. In awareness there is no discipline.

— Krishnamurti, Total Freedom

Too often we try to act, without first seeing the situation clearly. We try to change something, without first understanding. What we do is driven by what we desire, but not by what is. We can spend a lot of effort and energy on this kind of action, without it ever leading to the desired outcome—on the other hand, with awareness, a much more effortless way of acting might yield much greater results.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

― C.G. Jung

So much of how we live our lives driven by unconscious processes, many of which formed in the early childhood. Once we realize what these hidden forces within us are, and how they propell us to fall into the same patterns again and again, we’re able to live a more conscious and self-aware life.

“Through the constant process of learning, Bruce evolved a personal philosophy, the central theme of which was the liberation of the spirit through greater self-knowledge. To free one’s self from preconceived notions, prejudices, and conditioned responses is essential to understanding truth and reality.”

― Linda Lee Cadwell

Could it be true that it’s primarily our conditioned responses, preconceived notions, and prejudices that are in the way of the libration of the spirit? If so, then greater self-knowledge will indeed lead to more freedom.

“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”

― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

So much of us is in the realm of the unconscious: so many of our thoughts and feelings that we experience on any given day bypass our conscious awareness. The more we understand ourselves, the more we see ourselves for who we really are, the more we discover our own self, the more freedom we gain.

So much of what happens in our day-to-day are thoughts or feelings which we are barely aware of, and yet, they are often what propell us to act or think a certain way, without ever realizing what truly caused us to act or think this way.

“Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.”

― G.I. Gurdjieff

Again: self-awareness is the key to liberty. Only when we truly know the inner forces that govern us, can we govern ourselves consciously.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

– Socrates

It’s never been easier to go through life without ever taking some time for introspection. We’re living in the age of abundant distraction: our mobile phones provide an endless supply of entertaining, education, distraction, and possibilities to keep our minds occupied. Never have this ancient Greek’s words been more important than in the times we live in.

“I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.”

― Hermann Hesse, Demian: Die Geschichte von Emil Sinclairs Jugend

We’re tempted to seek answers to the questions that burn in our hearts—and naturally, we often think that those answers can be found on the outside: others, who possess these answers already, can bestow their wisdom upon us, whether through books, teachings, or experiences.

But the longer you go on this path to searching answers from elsewhere, from someone else, from some external teaching, the more you risk losing yourself: oftentimes, the answers to the most important questions are already contained within. It’s stripping our muddled minds of confusion and increasing self-awareness that leads to clarity.

“you can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.”

― Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

Moving away from a place can indeed be helpful when you seek transformation—getting out of the environment which has shaped you and keeps you in old patterns can help you change. But ultimately, you’ll find that the deepest, truest change can only happen in one place, and that place is always with you: It’s within yourself.

“At the center of your being
you have the answer;
you know who you are
and you know what you want.”

― Lao Tzu

The truth contained in these simple words is profound. And if you could live it fully, there wouldn’t be need for many more words. But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean that it’s easy; in fact, it’s probably one of the hardest things to do. Finding that center which contains the answer, and then fully seeing it and accepting it for what it is. Without judgment, without the distortion of wishful thinking, without the protective walls that fears build.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

― Carl R. Rogers, On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy

Accepting ourselves, with all our shadows, everything we want to hide from the world, everything we feel ashamed of, everything that makes us feel weak and unworthy, is a lifelong task for most of us. It is also what can be the greatest catalyst of change, and it happens repeatedly throughout live, in stages. Like layers of an onion, we discover parts of ourselves which we don’t accept, and eventually learn to accept and embrace—which then gives us the power and love and freedom that enables us to transcend this part of ourselves, no longer stay beholden by it.

The path to a healthier self-esteem is not to get rid of all your flaws, but to accept yourself the way you are first.

“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”

― Dolly Parton

A very powerful message in very simple words, spoken by a person who has done it.

“Each person you meet
is an aspect of yourself,
clamoring for love.”

― Eric Micha’el Leventhal

We’re all one. Every one of us contains all of humanity, although each one of us in our uniquely own configuration and expression. Ultimately, no matter what our differences, at our very core, we all wish to be loved. Even the most cynical person in the world, the most ardent misanthrope, still has, at their very core, this desire to be loved.

“It isn’t normal to know what we want. It is a rare and difficult psychological achievement.”

― Abraham Harold Maslow

We want so much during the course of any given day: whether that’s a craving for a certain snack, the accumulation of wealth, the gaining of power, the respect of our peers, a certain pair of shoes, a more luxurious car, nicer digs… but when we dig deeper and see what lies beneath these superficial wants, we will often find that there are layers upon layers of wants, and that the most superficial ones, the ones that are most clearly visible on the surface, are the most meaningless ones.

Self-awareness is not self-centeredness, and spirituality is not narcissism. ‘Know thyself’ is not a narcissistic pursuit.

— Marianne Williamson

Paradoxically, increasing your self-awareness is the most selfless act you can do. It means you’ll free yourself more from the urges that create self-centeredness.

“The most common ego identifications have to do with possessions, the work you do, social status and recognition, knowledge and education, physical appearance, special abilities, relationships, person and family history, belief systems, and often nationalistic, racial, religious, and other collective identifications. None of these is you.”

― Eckhart Tolle

Tolle points out the things that stand in the way of finding the answer to the question: Who are you?

If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.

—Daniel Goleman

Goleman popularized the concept of emotional intelligence, and here he makes a very important point: No matter what your IQ, if you don’t have a good EQ, being smarter might do more harm than good.

“I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion.”

– Billie Jean King

The kind of self-awareness Billie Jean King refers to here is specific self-awareness: self-awareness as it relates to the particular activity in which one seeks to truly excel. There are plenty of examples of champions, people who accomplished extraordinary feats, but lacked in general self-awareness, and ultimately made poor life choices.

“Self-awareness gives you the capacity to learn from your mistakes as well as your successes. It enables you to keep growing.” — Lawrence Bossidy.

We all make mistakes. What separates those who succeed in life from those who fail is that successful people are aware enough of their own mistakes, and what led to them—as well as their successes.

“Take the time to actually know who you are and why you’re here.”

— Oprah Winfrey

Oftentimes we seek distraction in the outside world because we want to avoid getting to know who we are and why we’re here. Sometimes this seeking distraction happens in destructive ways; we intoxicate ourselves, create unnecessary life drama, take thrilling risks, or even just go on a Tiktok watching marathon. But sometimes this seeking distraction happens in seemingly constructive ways; we learn, immerse ourselves in a subject matter, practice a sport.

As you become more clear about who you really are, you’ll be better able to decide what is best for you – the first time around.

— Oprah Winfrey

This too is part of life: with self-awareness, we get to know ourselves better over time. When we lack self-awareness, we might make poor choices, learn from them, and as our self-awareness grows, we make better choices. And “better” in this case simply means: choices that are more aligned with who we truly are.

“At 30 a man should know himself like the palm of his hand, know the exact number of his defects and qualities, know how far he can go, foretell his failures—be what he is. And, above all, accept these things.”

― Albert Camus

Why a man at 30? I wonder how old Camus was when he wrote these words. And I’m almost certain that he himself hasn’t attained what he laid out here—because self-awareness is not a journey with a final destination. It’s a never-ending trip.

Self-awareness is not just relaxation and not just meditation. It must combine relaxation with activity and dynamism.

— Deepak Chopra

What Chopra points to here is that you need to be relaxed enough to let go of your attachments to certain ideas and judgments about yourself, while at the same time actively exploring and seeking out recognition.

Self-awareness is the ability to take an honest look at your life without any attachment to it being right or wrong, good or bad.

— Debbie Ford

Seeing your own truth, free from judgment, really seeing it clearly is at the core of self-awareness.

“The biggest obstacle to increasing your self-awareness is the tendency to avoid the discomfort that comes from seeing yourself as you really are.”

— Travis Bradberry

There’s something very true in this: Seeing ourselves as we really are is unsettling. There’s a reason why we lack self-awareness, why we have blind spots, why we don’t fully see ourselves. Our distorted self-image protects us, just like a mask protects the person who wears it from being fully seen. Maybe the biggest part of increasing self-awareness is to learn to accept and embrace the discomfort that comes from seeing our true selves. The good thing is that the discomfort is only at that transition from avoidance to acceptance. Once you see and accept yourself the way you really are, the discomfort is no more. In this way, the discomfort is simply a gate, albeit one admittedly hard to step through.

“No matter how much we ask after the truth, self-awareness is often unpleasant. We do not feel kindly toward the Truthsayer.”

— Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune

There’s a reason why we lack self-awareness: Choosing not to see certain truths makes life easier. Yes, we want the truth, but also, not really. This is a paradox we all wrestle with: we all sometimes prefer a convenient lie to an inconvenient truth. And if you think that doesn’t apply to you, then that’s a pretty good indicator that you lack self-awareness. 😇

Which of these self-awareness quotes is your favorite? Do you have one that’s missing in here? Share them in the comments!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.