Humans have been trying to understand ourselves and how we tick for as long as we've had the ability to. What makes us different? we wonder. Why are we each the way we are?

The many benefits of self-awareness

In recent decades, scientists have found that this is more than an interesting intellectual exercise. High levels of self-awareness have been linked with personal development, healthy relationships, and effective leadership.

According to Daniel Goleman, internationally renowned psychologist and author of the bestselling Emotional Intelligence: Why It Matters More than IQ, "emotional self-awareness is a leadership competency that shows up in model after model. These are the leaders attuned to their inner signals, recognizing how their feelings affect them and their job performance."

Fortunately, we have many self-assessment tools and personality indicators at our disposal these days. From Myers-Briggs to StrengthsFinders, from the Enneagram to DISC--many of which can be accessed online--we have more ways than ever to try to understand ourselves.

Why leaders and entrepreneurs need to understand themselves

Dr. Les Parrott, a well-known psychologist, author, and a co-founder of eHarmony, says that entrepreneurs in particular can benefit from taking a close look at their own thought patterns, emotions, and behaviors.

"In the entrepreneurial life, you get very focused. You get tunnel vision," he told me in a recent interview. "Self-awareness is at the pinnacle of psychological health. An organization can only be as healthy as its leaders. Lack of self-awareness can be toxic."

In contrast, leaders with a good grasp of their strengths, weaknesses, blind spots, and biases are better equipped to improve upon themselves and their organizations.

According to an American Management Association study of 72 senior executives, "a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success." Why? "Executives who are aware of their weaknesses are often better able to hire subordinates who perform well in areas in which the leader lacks acumen," explained researcher Dr. Becky Winkler.

What self-awareness helps unlock new possibilities

For entrepreneurs who like to think of themselves as rule-breakers or visionaries, the idea of being labeled as a certain type might be off-putting. Parrott, who has developed assessments for both married couples and singles, offers the assurance that "we're not putting anyone in a box. It's as much a discussion starter as diagnostic. This is just a starting place."

Individuals who see themselves clearly are more likely to be able to grow, or "move the dial on their personality as needed," according to Parrott.

And the benefits extend to relationships as well. At work, leaders can better support the development of their teams; colleagues can help one another be more effective. On the home front, couples who understand how their spouses are wired can empathize more with one another, which helps reduce conflict.

There's a good reason why we humans are so interested in understanding ourselves. As the old saying goes, "knowledge is power." The more self-aware we are, the more we'll be able to gain from our work and our relationships.