This post about self-knowledge has been considerably revised and updated since it originally appeared on this blog in 2014. I’ve even included a 7th way to discover your truest self.
Self-Knowledge is considered a virtue in all the world’s great religions and philosophies. It is one of the four keys to unlocking your most #HeartspokenLife. Here are six ways to discover your truest self. In so doing, you will become more integrated, more authentic, and more content.
Introspection doesn’t always come naturally.
That never bothered me much until I began to explore the power of connection when I was already in my mid-fifties. I realize now that those who seem to be the most centered and happy have invariably done a great deal of inner excavation. They’ve learned to know themselves well and, for the most part, have come to love and accept themselves, warts and all. Stoic philosophers such as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius spoke of this often in their teachings over 2,000 years ago. It echoes through the ages to surface in contemporary research and writing from the social scientist Dr. Brenee Brown to the philosopher/theologian Richard Rohr.
I understand the importance of self-knowledge intellectually, but since it doesn’t come naturally, I’ve been researching how others have come to know themselves better (See also “Self Is Not A Dirty Word”). What began as reading popular self-help books has become a deeper dive into Christian mysticism and studying many of the Eastern traditions. Self-knowledge is truly a life-long journey, but every step holds the potential for exciting discoveries and valuable insights.
6 ways to get to know yourself better
1. Ask yourself a few key questions.
Consider the questions below. After you have an answer, keep digging. Pretend you’re getting to know someone you’ve just met and think about the follow-up questions you’d ask them. Remember the interviewer’s magic words: Who, What, When, Where, Why?
- What makes me happy?
- What’s my favorite color?
- What’s my favorite food?
- What kinds of people do I enjoy the most?
- Where would I go if I could go anywhere?
- Do I enjoy solitude or do I prefer being with others?
- What gets on my nerves?
- What work do I find most fulfilling?
- What’s my best personality trait?
- What’s my worst personality trait?
- What do people compliment me on?
- What do I most dislike about myself?
2. Keep a journal.
You’ll get more out of your inner excavation if you journal as you go along (Date your entries so you can track your journey over time). Not only does writing make you slow down and think about things more deeply, but it provides a record of what you were thinking and feeling at the time—a snapshot, if you will, that can be enormously illuminating later when you see how much you might have changed (or not). Marnie Pehrson—successful author and online businesswoman—says her journals have given her tremendous insight about herself and have even provided a wonderful resource for some of her books. If you’re a professional writer, your journal can be a gold mine of ideas and fodder for the characters in your books.
3. Get an objective assessment.
There are hundreds of self-assessment quizzes and evaluations available, as well as many that are professionally administered. Many of them are free or available through your workplace or professional organization. Remember that most of them are designed to measure just one aspect of your personality, so don’t expect to uncover everything about yourself in a single test. Many are most effective when you can review the results with a trained facilitator. Here are some excellent places to learn more about personality testing:
- Psychology Today offers a long list of self-evaluation tests: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/tests
- Gretchen Rubin’s “Four Tendencies” quiz is an excellent evaluation of how you respond to inner and outer expectations: Her book The Four Tendencies is excellent and offers in-depth coverage of her evaluation.
- Anne Bogel’s book Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything is a marvelous primer on some of the most trusted personality tests, including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Keirsey’s Temperaments, The Five Love Languages, and the Enneagram.
4. Examine how you spend your time.
This will help you identify your priorities. I occasionally keep a time log for 24 hours of what I am doing every 30 minutes. At first, I was horrified to realize how easily distracted I was and how often I failed to get the things done I had said were high priorities. But when I really paid attention to how I was feeling for each activity, I suddenly realized how energized I was when I was reaching out to encourage someone, even if it was on Twitter or Facebook. Determining whether your time expenditure is in or out of synch with your values can be enormously illuminating and can inform how you should prioritize your time in the future. Sometimes what might appear to be a waste of time could be enormously valuable if measured by lives touched or love shared.
5. Pay attention to your self-talk.
Getting to know yourself is part of the journey, but are you being judgmental towards the person you’re discovering? Being aware of the “monkey chatter” inside your head can help you break the bad habit of negative self-talk. The practice of meditation has helped me to become more aware of these thoughts and to minimize their destructive impact by treating them like clouds that just float by. Yes, there they are, but I don’t have to hold onto them or let them ruin my day. It can also be humbling to realize that sometimes there’s a disconnect between what you say out loud and what you think inside. These kinds of inconsistencies can lead to stress and unhappiness.
6. Pay attention to your strong emotions.
When you feel euphoric, despondent, paranoid, or outraged, don’t just bury those emotions deep because you don’t want to feel them. Allow yourself time to acknowledge emotion and think about why you feel that way and whether it is appropriate or not. Be honest with yourself and ask yourself how you might have contributed to the situation or might have mitigated it. Is there another way to interpret the action that caused the emotion? Just recently, I caught myself letting someone get on my nerves and was ashamed that I reacted with childlike anger instead of pausing to reflect and reframe the situation the way I teach others to do. A wild animal caught in a cage may certainly bite you, but if you step back and give yourself the space to consider the situation differently, you might feel great compassion for them instead of fear or anger.
7. Ask for guidance from God
Here’s a little lagniappe — something extra: I urge my faith-centered readers to ask God for guidance and invite Him along on your journey of self-discovery. Ask for the Holy Spirit to shine a spotlight on what you should notice and learn. Then trust that this guidance will come and be amazed at the books, movies, sights, sounds, and messages from others you’ll receive in answer to your request.
Self-knowledge vs. self-absorption
I used to confuse these two, but I’m now convinced that self-knowledge— the exercise of getting to know one’s self better—is not at all the same thing as self-absorption. There is ample evidence from psychology and counseling professionals that self-knowledge is an important component of mental health and emotional intelligence. Dr. Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability has clearly demonstrated that those who know and accept themselves are much more resilient when life throws them a curveball.
Have you found ways to know and like yourself?
If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Or join the conversation at my Facebook Page. Keep in mind that learning about yourself is a journey, not an event. Regardless of your age, it is a life-long process of excavation that can uncover many hidden gems.
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