One of my core beliefs is the importance of Self-Knowledge.
Self Knowledge is vital in order to discover how you should act in the future. Self awareness can help you to be more consistent and authentic in your decision making, to be realistic when goal setting, and to allow yourself make mistakes and build up your areas of weakness.
Sure, I know I’m not a morning person and I love comedies, but I’m referring much deeper information. I’m thinking more along the lines of what enduring traits do you bring with you to new situation? – or conversely – how do you manage to get in your own way?
Self-Knowledge may seem as easy as taking a moment to navel-gaze on a quiet weekend, but there are a couple reasons it’s harder than you might think.
One of the biggest obstacles to self knowledge? People are constantly on the lookout for items that reinforce what they think they already know. We have pre-conceived notions of ourselves that might have been formed in childhood by our parents or certain situations. As we move through life we are likely to selectively pay attention to the things that confirm those opinions. This is called confirmation bias. Just ask all those people out there who listened to their friends that told them they “couldn’t make art” and now they think they’re “bad at art.” (Personal belief: It’s impossible to be bad at art. Museum of Bad Art aside for a moment).
Here’s a story from my own life: In high school, I was told that I was a good student and smart. I also got good grades. But like I shared over at Connect Shore, I had terrible study skills, rarely looked for connections between subjects, and I just accepted what I read. I would never have thought to examine my belief that I was a good student when I was younger, because I got good grades.
Here are some ways I’ve used to discover who I really am over the years – you may find them useful as well.
1. Meet New People. People tend to stick with friends and others who share the same interests as them, unsurprisingly, but it’s also common to stick within your same age bracket when meeting others. Are all your friends the same age as you? Consider be-friending those who come from different backgrounds perhaps by volunteering. Meeting those who are older – perhaps at work, through book clubs or other meetups. Don’t forget to ask questions about what has made these people who they are – what are some of the defining moments of their lives?
2. Search for Different Ideas – Ideas and movements change over time. Conservatives of the past used to be some of the most ardent conservationists, desiring to see green spaces preserved for future generations. Now, much less so. While ideas from the past have changed the way life is today, they have also changed themselves in the process of changing the zeitgeist. I love the language and imagery that Peter Berger uses to describe societies which are built upon the sedimentation of past novel actions. Even as we perform our actions we are either harkening back to past times, or perhaps deviating a finite but meaningful amount – then creating a new story or role for future followers. Reading old books, particularly those before 1970, and books outside of your own discipline can give you these moments of insight into yourself and our collective history.
3. Take a Personality Test. While quizzes that reveal which Harry Potter character you are may be endlessly amusing those are hardly the type I’m talking about. Instead, both popular personality tests like Myers-Briggs and lesser known tests like the DiSC have helped me discover different facets of my personality, as well as providing context for the assessment. I’ve loved talking a variety of career tests over the years such as the Strengthsfinder and O*Net occupational assessment. Even serious psychology tests such as the Schema Therapy Test have been insightful, with a little help in interpretation.
4. Keep a Journal. Journals don’t have to be for recording the day to day humdrum. They can be for responding to prompts like “ At what point in my life was I the happiest?” “What is one lesson I want to learn from the last 3 months?” “What do I want to accomplish in the next year?” “How did my parents marriage (and/or divorce) affect the way I see relationships?” “Who was the biggest influence on the way I see myself.” Examine defining moments in your life, or perhaps write down things that bother you. I am continually surprised by how much I re-write my own past in discussion, and upon rereading my journals realize I wasn’t nearly as clever – or wronged – as I think I was.
5. Create a Council of Friends. As much as you can discover about yourself from objective personality tests or seeing how you differ from others, very little can stand in for trusted friends or experienced mentors. Although many times it’s tempting to relax with friends and move mindlessly from entertainment to entertainment – don’t neglect soul baring conversations. Ask tough questions, or analyze past decisions you’ve made in order to discover how you think and what you can improve in the future. Asking for others thoughts on your choices can reveal both strengths and weaknesses.
Hey if it was good enough for the Oracle at Delphi, it’s good enough for me.
//this post was updated from an earlier blog post of the same title.