Socrates is known to have said that "the unexamined life is not worth living" and there comes a time in everyone's life where this statement will ring true and it will lead to a journey of self discovery to get to know yourself better. Often there is a catalyst that propels you into the journey of self knowledge whether it be a big life event or a personal turmoil that builds up until you find yourself looking for change. Not everyone takes the road to self discovery but some of you will and it will lead to a much more worthy and meaningful life experience.
Below I have listed several ways to go about getting to know yourself :)
What is the Meaning of Getting To Know Yourself?
Okay so in the beginning of this journey many of us, myself included, thought that we already know ourselves, like how could I not? Right? But in reality a lot of just never learned how to look inside ourselves and understand the working of our mind and soul. (doesn't that sound pretty?) So why does it matter to know the inner workings of ourselves?
Well for one, it's a major component of living in a civilized society. Let's face it, we all know someone that never learned how to control their anger or who can't stop themselves from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, maybe that person is you? (raises hand) Often, we say that that's just who we are, but is it? Typically people aren't angry all the time for absolutely no reason; there is usually some deep rooted issues behind their explosiveness. Learning what these issues are and working through them can help even the biggest hot head achieve a new level of calm.
Another reason why understanding ourselves is important is so that we can communicate and connect with others in a healthy manner. Personally, I struggle with saying "NO" to people and for a very long time this was a part that I hated (soo much) but I just brushed the negative feelings aside thinking that that's just who I am and swallowed the pain of making myself small to fit everyone else's desires for my life. I can't tell you what a liberation it is to learn that doesn't HAVE to be me, that I had just picked up that "belief" from my upbringing, my culture, and the society I was raised in, and that I could act on my own decisions and it would BE OKAY.
Working on my anger issues, my fear, my shyness, and my general unhappiness with life took time and a whole lots of inner work but I haven't felt the way that I feel now since I was like 5 years old!
That is really the gist of the importance of getting to know yourself, the earned quality of life and genuine happiness.
How to Start
"Your outer journey may contain a million steps; your inner journey only has one: the step you are taking right now." _ Eckhart Tolle
You have already taken step one by reading this article. There is no set plan for this journey other than the one you choose to take. There are millions of Self-Help and Personal Development books, courses, videos, and other material that will list their own versions of how to do this. (Here's mine!) But it really comes down to what you will and won't do.
I started this journey long ago. In highschool I read The 7 Steps to Highly Effective Teens and it opened my mind too so many things I was doing wrong. Now this journey shouldn't be about making you feel bad about who you are or the things you do but it should open your eyes to how your actions affect your life and the lives of those around you.
You may actively find yourself in a state of Cognitive Dissonance:
We are not always aware of the consequences of our behavior or even of our thoughts and emotions. We may not realize that certain negative thinking patterns are what are at the root of our moods each day. For people who understand this process, it is mindblowing to realize that not everyone else gets this. There are many things that you will learn about yourself and others that will challenge your ideas about life in general and I encourage you to keep an open mind and keep researching and learning. I have soo many books on these topics and while they all give tons of great information, they all teach something new, and they all have helped me see each topic or each aspect of myself in a new light.
So, rather than look for a perfect neat list of steps to take, focus on actively engaging with every new piece of information. Below are just a few ways that can help you start your inner journey.
This is a term you'd most likely learn in a psyche class and so if you haven't taken a psyche course you may mistake this word with "TEMPER" but they are not the same thing.
Your Temperament is:
"the fundamental groundwork of character, generally presumed to be biologically determined and existent early in life, inclusive of traits like emotional reactiveness, energy level, reaction tempo, and motivation to explore."
I am starting with this term first because it is sort of the base of who we are. This theory basically says that we have a specific temperament that we are born with and that guides us through our lives and is unchanging. It is not quite the same as personality, which can change throughout our life, but our personality can be and is most often influenced by our temperament. It is believed that our temperament can first be seen as infants and our personality and the way we react to our environment is then influenced by our temperament.
For Example you may notice that two kids that are both raised in a troubled home may both grow up to have very different personalities like one being calm and the other aggressive even though both of them may have seen aggressive behavior and violence
Since it is believed that our temperament doesn't change, then learning what it is, can help us with determining what changes or what specific behaviors we need to watch out for. For example if you are more reactive than others than you may find yourself in situations where you are more easily triggered by upsetting news and you react with with aggression. This may not be okay with your co-workers and may lead to conflict. But upon learning this, you can now take steps to be proactive in these situations like learning about anger management, conflict resolution, and avoiding triggers. Same process goes from someone who is too shy and is easily stompped on by others.
In order to learn more about this aspect of yourself you can take the myers briggs test.
The Id, Ego, and Superego
This is another psychological theory that states that there are 3 levels to our consciousness. By understanding each level we can learn what drives our thoughts, emotions, and behavior.
"According to Freud's structural theory of the mind, the id, the ego and the superego function in different levels of consciousness. There is a constant movement of memories and impulses from one level to another.
The ego operates mainly in conscious and preconscious levels, although it also contains unconscious elements because both the ego and the superego evolved from the id. Ruled by the reality principle, the ego takes care of the id urges as soon as the adequate circumstance is found. Inappropriate desires are not satisfied but repressed.
Only partially conscious, the superego serves as a censor on the ego functions and comprises the individual's ideals derived from the values of his family and society, being the source of guilty feelings and fear of punishment."
This can help with determining why we are driven to engage in behaviors that we may or may not want to engage in. It can help us with determining why we are led to follow certain paths in our lives and whether those urges stem from ourselves or things that we have learned from others.
OURselvesI think it is important to first recognize what parts of ourselves are actually part of and not every OTHER person that has been influencing us since we were born. While there is nothing wrong with agreeing with society and wanting to live lives similar to our parents and friends, there will be something wrong at some point of our lives if this isn't what we wanted. This is one of the hardest aspects of our own journeys of discovery because it is hard to seperate ourselves from others. It can feel lonely to think differently and to act differently than the status quo.
Values, Beliefs, and Attitudes
Values, beliefs, and attitudes are words that are sometimes used interchangeably but have very different meanings. Although, they are related, it is important to recognize the differences.
Our values are the things that we value in life. (read my article What Are Values? here.) They may be ideas, concepts, actions, principles, or behavior that we regard as better than others and everyone has different values. (Don't assume "good values" means the same to everyone).
Values are different from our beliefs in the sense that they are not abstract concepts but rather our individual experience with the concepts and what we believe to be true or false about them. Two people can value peace, but their belief about what peace is can be totally different.
Attitudes are the response to our believes about certain concepts. They tend to be how we react and respond towards certain ideas.
So in a way ... Our values are the terms we like for example LOVE and TRUST, our beliefs are how we determine what those terms means and should be acted upon. Our attitudes are how we relate to those terms.
For example if we value Fidelity. That means that we will choose fidelity over infidelity in our lives. Our belief system may be that fidelity means to not cheat nor have any type of romantic physical or non physical relationships outside of our marriage. To some people fidelity just means no physical relationships. And valuing fidelity in our lives doesn't mean that we will never encounter infidelity in our lives or in the people around us and our attitudes will determine how we relate to people that act against our belief system so you may unfriend someone that you know is cheating on their spouse. You might do this even though that person is your friend because you value fidelity over friendship. But if lets say you value Forgiveness above fidelity, then you may give that friend a pass .
As you can see our values, beliefs, and attitudes can be the deciding factor in many of our life decisions. This is also how other people relate to you and judge your character. If you are a person that sticks to his guns about their values and beliefs and always acts according to them, people may not agree with you but they'll most like still praise you for being a man of great character and integrity. If on the other hand you act outside of your values, you won't be seen as a person of integrity and you may even be called a hypocrite.
Many people don't know what their values are and may not be attuned to their beliefs or the attitudes they are showing. That's why it's so important to look inside and determine what they are. (Determine what your values are from this List of 100+ Values.)
I took a course on social conflict and resolution in college and our teacher kept preaching about mindfulness and how important it is and to be honest I just didn't get it, I felt like I was very aware of my surroundings (I have anxiety, i'm constantly aware!) but the part I guess I didn't focus enough on was the aspect of NOT JUDGING my awareness. Mindfulness is a big part of meditation and maybe you've heard of sayings like "clear your mind" or to "ground yourself" and they sound soo cheesy to me but now that I get what they mean I see why they're so important. So Mindfulness is:
To be mindful is to be aware of where you are, what you are doing, how you are feeling, what you are thinking, and just general awareness of yourself and your sorroundings. What I mean by not judging is that you don't add a judgement of good or bad to your thoughts or to the things that you notice.
For example you may become aware and think "i'm cold" , instead of jumping to " I should've brought a sweater, i'm so dumb why didn't I read the weather report, gosh I always forget everything, etc and so on and so on.", you just let yourself know that you are cold and move on to the next thing that you notice.
Why is this awareness important in the first place? Well it is part of understanding yourself. You may notice that everytime you enter a crowded room your heart beat increases , your palms get sweaty, and you fluster over what to say. Once you recognize what is going on, you can move on to why it's happening, or how to change it. And this works with all sorts of situations like during conflict and confrontations. It can help you understand why you avoid certain things or enjoy others.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Usually when people talk about getting to know yourself, the first thing people look at are their strengths and weaknesses. I didn't put this first because I think that our strengths and weaknesses need to be assessed in the context of the other factors contributing to who we are. Making a list of what you are good at and bad at is probably the easiest part of this journey. Understanding why we are good and why we are bad at these things is harder. Learning how to change or how to accept these things is even more difficult! But by determining and becoming aware of how our strengths and weaknesses are related to our core personality, to our societal pressures, to our urges and desires, and to our fears and attitudes, we can start to paint a bigger picture of who we are and how we became us.
Your Interests and Finding Your FLOW
Last but not least is to determine your interests. Now this may be super easy for some of you. And for some it may not. You may shrug your shoulders and think " I don't particularly like anything".
The reason, I believe, this happens is because the topic of "interest" is often washed over by what "people" think are fun activities. If every time we've heard people talk about their likes and interests, we've heard of things like sports, art, hiking, and etc and we don't care for those things, then we might think that we must not have interests. We sometimes thinks that the only interests that count are the "fun" activities and the fact that we enjoy spending hours cleaning or accounting, means we are either interest-less or boring. It doesn't really matter what you like to do, only that you like to do it! (quote me on that!)
A huge part of life is discovering what we like and doing it. This may take you some time and a whole lot of experimenting but soon you'll find that activity that you can do for hours and not even care how much time is passing. This is called being in a state of FLOW or having a FLOW activity. It basically means that we get into a flow and forget time, forget our problems, become hyper aware of just the activity itself, and feel great when we're done. This is a sort of meditation except you don't have to sit funny. It achieves the same purpose.
Alright so you learned about who you are at this moment and now you're wondering what to do with the information. Some of you may have realized that you're life doesn't match who you are on the inside and want to change that. Some of you may realize that you have been acting outside of who you really are and who you really want to be. So these are some of the ways that you can make your life more attune to who you now know you are:
"If you don't know what an extravert thinks, you haven't been listening. If you don't know what an introvert thinks, you haven't asked them!" Isabel Briggs Myers
Some us may learn through this process that we are not very effective at communicating with others. We may even realize that since we haven't ever truly understood ourselves, that we probably also haven't been understanding others. This is where it becomes important to study up on Emotional Intelligence and learn how to Empathize with others.
Determine What Stage You Are At?
There are many theories about human development and I mean a ton! And you may notice that some people never progresses past 5 years of age and if you're really honest, you may admit that you may be one of those people. So it may be helpful to study some of the theories out there to determine what you should have or have already experienced and what you'll probably need to go through in your life. My favorite theories are Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Erickson's Stages of Development.
Creating Our Life Vision and Goals
Once you've seen where your life has been, you can look into where your life has to go. The awesome part is that you get to choose this. Once you know yourself and you know what you do and don't want in life, armed with emotional intelligence and awareness, YOU CAN DO ANYTHING. I truly believe that. Most people who "can't" do what they want are stuck because they don't know who they are and they are either unwilling to do the inner work to get unstuck or they are fighting for a life that doesn't fit them. You have taken the first step and as long as you continue, you will create the life that you want. (Quote me on that!)
I really hope that this article is helpful and if it is please like and share it so others can find it helpful as well :) Remember to Get Your Free Copy of GROW INTO THE BEST YOU! :)