How well do you really know yourself? We are all aware of the things that society wants us to do, or the people our families want us to be. Sometimes, it's easy to get caught up in projections of who we are; losing touch with our core values, needs, and desires. And if you don't know yourself very well, it's difficult to choose a life path that makes you feel happy and fulfilled. You may also find yourself getting into relationships that don't really suit you, or you may feel lonely because no one really knows the “real” you.
We'll walk you through seven steps you can take if you want to get to know yourself better. Along the way, we'll look at why getting to know each aspect of yourself is so important, and we'll explore common difficulties. As you get to know yourself better, you should see your overall well-being increase in response.
As noted at the outset, increased self-awareness has wide-ranging positive ramifications. However, one of its most important consequences is increased emotional intelligence. When you're more emotionally intelligent, you're better able to identify and manage your feelings as they come up, neither repressing them nor being lost in them.
Emotionally intelligent people are also more at peace with who they really are, focusing more on meeting their own standards than the standards set by others. Self-awareness and high emotional intelligence are also correlated with greater levels of success. For example, recent psychological studies indicate that many top business leaders have both of these traits, and that plays a key role in their continued achievements.
So, whether you want to excel in your job, are looking to improve the most important relationships in your life or just want to feel more at peace with your own company, you have a lot to gain from working on self-awareness.
Before practicing any techniques to get to know yourself, it's important to be open to whatever you find. After all, you may be surprised by some aspects of who you are, especially if you find it difficult to disengage from the judgments of others.
However, once you're armed with an accepting, curious attitude, you should find the process of self-discovery enjoyable and exciting. Here are seven of the best ways to start getting to know a wide range of aspects of yourself, along with a few of the most prominent benefits you can expect to gain from taking each step.
Firstly, let's look at understanding your core personality. This is something you can do by reflection alone, but making notes and writing lists can help you make better sense of the information you have.
Ask yourself the following questions:
In addition, give some thought to the major decisions you've made in life, both good and regrettable.
Why did you make these choices? Which were authentic expressions of who you are? Which were made under pressure from others?
Consider how your past has shaped your future self, giving particular weight to your early life experiences. Often, what we go through as children plays a key role in creating patterns, preferences, and needs for the future.
On a related note, it's important to think not only about your traits but also about your values. In other words, what matters to you most?
Psychologists often suggest that most of us have around eight core values and that these play the biggest role in motivating our choices at work, at home, and in everyday life. Make a list of the eight values that you think guide you. In many cases, these will be moral commitments that you have.
For example, through honesty, compassion, open-mindedness and so on. However, others will reflect where you find the most joy in life (e.g. values like learning, fun, or having diverse experiences).
You can learn even more about yourself if you spend some time thinking about how and when these values developed.
Did your parents model them for you, or did your values evolve in opposition to what you saw when you were growing up?
When we think about self-knowledge, it's easy to focus on the psychological at the expense of the physical. However, getting to know your body is just as important as getting to know the intricacies of your mind. All too often, our bodies are treated as the enemy, or as a mere afterthought. Learning more about your body helps you to set realistic goals and know your own limits, as well as helping you feel more comfortable in your own skin.
As well as reflecting on your physical capabilities, be open to trying new things to see if they suit your body. Meanwhile, practice mindfulness meditations (such as body scanning exercises) in order to allow yourself to feel more in tune with your breathing and your movements. If you struggle with body image issues, challenge yourself to think of five things you love about what your body can do (or has done).
We've talked a lot about making various lists and notes, but a more general habit of journaling can also play a key role in boosting your self-knowledge. If you write in a journal every day, self-reflection becomes your default. You start to learn to look past your superficial reactions to see your underlying needs and emotions. Keeping a journal also helps you identify your own voice; distinguishing your inner voice from the voices of people whose approval you may be seeking.
You don't just have to follow the standard approach of writing a bit about each day, either. For example, you can journal about what you eat, what you see, what you dream or what you think. You can also draw instead of writing, or create collages.
If you're not sure what style works for you, alternate throughout the course of a week and consider mixing approaches. As long as you keep a journal, you'll be working towards greater self-knowledge in some way.
Getting to know yourself is all about developing a real picture of who you are, including the parts you are proud of and the parts that you struggle with from time to time. Conduct an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses, starting with your strengths. Think about what you like about yourself, and also which parts of yourself consistently elicit the most positive feedback. For example, perhaps you're often being told that you are extremely patient with others, or you know that you have a great imagination.
When it comes to identifying your weaknesses, ask yourself whether there are common themes in your failures or in disappointing episodes of your life. In addition, consider whether you are often asked to work on a specific aspect of your character. For example, perhaps your bosses regularly highlight that you don't speak up during meetings, indicating that a potential weakness is a lack of self-confidence.
While thinking about the past is vital for getting to know yourself, making plans for the future is just as important. Instead of just coasting through life and being reactive to the behaviors of others, ask yourself what you view as your life's mission.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? Where do you see yourself in 2 years, in 10, or in 20?
Keep in mind that a life's mission doesn't need to be something dramatic, or world-changing. Think of your mission as being defined by what makes you feel authentic, excited and passionate. Meanwhile, give some thought to how this mission might help others, even on a small scale.
It's also worth noting that you can have multiple missions. For example, you might have the goal of being a certain kind of parent to your children, while also having a separate mission related to your career.
Finally, many of us have a tendency to experience automatic thoughts that are pessimistic, self-undermining and irrational. If you don't know yourself very well, you may just accept these cognitive distortions at face value. Subsequently, you may then experience a low mood and feel bad about yourself.
In contrast, when you have higher levels of self-awareness you can “catch” these distortions as they come up, redirecting your mind to more realistic thoughts.
Whenever you notice yourself catastrophizing, making negative assumptions about your worth or discounting positive feedback, take a breath and challenge these thoughts.
For example, turn “I'll never get this project done” into “I'm struggling with this project right now, but after a rest I know I can finish it”. Meanwhile, spin “I'm not good enough to do X” into “I feel insecure about X, but it's worth trying to do it because this is something I really care about”.
In time, the more positive thoughts should become automatic.