Stop following this common piece of career and life advice, says behavior expert: It's not 'the solution to everything'

Herminia Ibarra, a professor of organizational behavior at London Business School.
Herminia Ibarra

Plenty of experts — from Harvard University neuroscientists and Yale University psychologists to self-made millionaires and ex-Google executives — preach self-awareness as a crucial trait separating highly successful people from everyone else.

At least one researcher is over it.

"I got a little tired of hearing so much about introspection as the solution for everything when, in fact, the only way we learn new behavior is by doing it," Herminia Ibarra, a professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, tells CNBC Make It.

Self-awareness can be useful in some instances, she says. It certainly can't hurt to understand what you're good at and where you need to improve, whether that's at work or anywhere else in your life.

But to become more successful you need to study the bigger picture of what's happening in your company, industry or community — and train yourself through experimentation to fill in any gaps you spot, says Ibarra.

She refers to the practice as "outsight" — coining the term in her book "Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader," which was published in 2015 and re-released last week — as opposed to using "insight" to more deeply understand your own strengths and weaknesses.

"When you are focused introspectively, you are going to favor what you have past experience doing," Ibarra says. "But a lot of the stuff that we are being challenged to do [in our careers], we have no past experience doing. They are new."

A 3-step process to getting ahead

Take the workplace as an example. If you really want to excel at your job, you need to do three important things, says Ibarra.

First: Redefine your job. Figure out which of your responsibilities are important enough to deserve your full attention and which you can deemphasize or delegate to others. To do so, you need an accurate picture of your manager's priorities and company's goals — which requires looking outward instead of inward, Ibarra says.

Second: Once you have a new set of priorities, reshape your network — the people with whom you regularly come into contact — to match. If part of your job involves social media, and you want to make it a priority, you could start creating new relationships with other social media professionals and high-profile online voices.

Third: Determine whether you need to change how you present yourself to others. If you're leading a team of people for the first time, for example, you might find yourself prone to micromanaging. You're used to doing the job yourself, not necessarily helping others do it.

How to shift your behavior in a positive way

That third step can be the hardest part. When Ibarra coaches people to become better listeners, they often respond that they're passionate people who need to express their opinions, and it's not in their nature to be passive, she says.

Her typical response: "Try it out, lazily play with it, to see what happens." That's because your own experience is much more likely to convince you to shift your behavior than any advice someone gives you, says Ibarra.

Psychologists often refer to that concept as "behavioral activation," which can be used to help create new habits and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, experts say.

"Evidence shows that motivation actually follows behavior," Seattle-based psychologist Rachel Turrow told Make It in March. "It's really a 'just do it' kind of thing."

Most people might recognize it as something simpler: Fake it until you make it.

"The only thing that is going to get you on a more successful path is to just try it out and see what works, and what doesn't work, and then let your own experience change your mind," says Ibarra.

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