Self-awareness, the #1 secret of highly successful individuals

The 5 primary drivers of career progress

We are exposed to hundreds if not thousands of sensory inputs on a daily basis. And every input is processed through a complex set of personal filters to deliver an output or response. While the cycle of inputs, processing and outputs is natural, inevitable and far beyond our control, the actual outputs we deliver are ordinarily within our control. Highly successful individuals are not only aware of this fact, but use it to actively fast-track their pursuit to greatness and, the good news is that, you can too.

The secret to improving your outputs starts with developing a keen sense of self-awareness. Self-awareness begins with understanding that there will always be inputs, and these inputs are mostly out of our control. Next, it is knowing that the inputs will always be processed through an internal set of filters, and that an understanding and development of these filters is largely within our control. And finally, utilising this awareness of what is going on internally every time we are exposed to an input, to choose our response rather than being controlled by our reaction. This is a skill which highly successful people continuously strive to master and one which will undoubtedly deliver positive outcomes in your life too.

Since an understanding of this internal process creates a strong foundation for self-awareness, let’s develop your understanding in order to get you started on your path of heightened self-awareness.

What are inputs?

Inputs are the many daily experiences you are exposed to and could be anything from being cut of in traffic to a beep on your cell phone indicating a message received. Inputs are received via the five senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Every input you’re exposed to triggers a process through your internal filters and leads to an instantaneous reaction. For example, have you noticed that simply the sight of a certain colleague triggers a look of repulsiveness all over your face or the appearance of the red circle on your Facebook app makes you stop anything you’re doing to see who has liked or commented on your status update? Being bombarded with inputs is the reality of life, but taking back control of the outputs starts with understanding how they are processed through your personal internal filters.

Understanding your internal filters

Have you noticed how more than one person could be exposed to the same experience but each of them would react differently? Even though the inputs are identical, their personal filters colour the way the information is processed to deliver differing outputs.

For example two people are having a conversation over dinner and mi-sentence, both of their smart phones ping (input) with a new message. Person A instantly reaches for and checks their phone (output) while Person B ignores the phone and remains focused (output) on the conversation.  Same inputs, completely different outputs; the difference is how they have been processed through these five primary filters:

  1. Personal drivers: While we are all driven by the same basic human needs of Certainty, Variety, Significance, Connection, Growth and Service; the order of importance and weighting given to each driver is completely different. In the example above, Person A may be driven by Certainty and Significance (where they need to know who messaged and need to acknowledge their presence through a response) while Person B may hold Connection to people as their number 1 driver.
  2. Personal values and beliefs: Values and beliefs are not fact based but rather generalizations that either serve or hurt us and others. They impact your decisions, behaviours and actions. Person A may believe that it is important to check and reply to messages immediately while Person B may value people over technology.
  3. Personality traits: The mix of personality traits are unique to each of you and define your likes and dislikes and your strengths and weaknesses. Are you the planner who defines every detail or do you just take it as it comes? Are you naturally drawn to people and connect with ease or is it easier for you to sit behind a computer and just get the job done? Understanding your personality, knowing your natural strengths and weaknesses, and understanding the same about the people you work with, refines this important filter and improves the outputs you are delivering.
  4. Past experiences and anxieties for the future: Memory is a tricky thing. Your mind plays tricks on you and records events based on your perception and your emotional experience of the event and like lenses, makes you view current experiences through the emotions of the past, thereby impacting your decisions and actions and ultimately your future experiences. Your past brought you to where you are today. If you have memories that are negatively impacting your present experiences or your outlook of the future, it’s time to replace those past painful experiences with positive ones and enable your past to influence your future in the best way possible.
  5. Stress or excitement of the present: One of the biggest de-railers in relationships, both working and personal, is the highly emotive response. In moments of high stress or excitement, the primitive emotional center of your brain lights up and shifts all energy away from the rational mind to the emotional mind leading to the often damaging emotional outburst. Understanding and shifting back to the rational mind is an essential step in delivering more positive outputs.


It may be tough to see how within split seconds, inputs are sent through this many filters, but the brain is a powerful processor and is working non-stop and at immense speed to convert your inputs into outputs.  By becoming aware of this cycle and working on improving it, you will notice improvements in managing your time, improving relationships, achieving goals, delivering higher quality outputs and generally being happier in all areas of your life.

Self-awareness is defining, refining and shining your knowledge of the inputs-processing-outputs cycle and constantly developing and improving your internal filters to deliver outputs that inspire and motivate not only yourself but those around you too. This is the #1 secret of highly successful individuals and should be yours too!


Author bio:

Usha Maharaj CA(SA), certified brain-based coach, life-long learner and corporate veteran with 16 years+ field experience in a global ‘Big 4’ audit firm unveils the most common career pitfalls, and shines a light on the tips and tools that differentiate the ordinary from the extraordinary, in order to help you achieve the success that you already want and to help you be a better you.