One of the craziest realizations I’ve had in my adult life is that I will never fully know or understand myself. I believe we can only reach self actualization (oh hey Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) and thus fulfillment by seeking to understand ourselves. Since we are always changing, growing and evolving this search for understanding should be ongoing! There are so many benefits to “knowing yourself” and cultivating your best qualities, who doesn’t want to become everything they are capable of being?
Yet, understanding your own mind can seem daunting. I’ve been the girl who has burst into to tears without the ability to pinpoint what exactly upset me. I’ve been the girl who has stormed off in a jealous rage without fully articulating (even to myself) why my anger made sense. I’ve been the girl who only saw her weaknesses and failed to recognize her strengths. Over time I’ve invested energy into learning about myself and I can honestly say it’s paid off. I am more confident in who I am (and what I want) than ever before. I am more capable of logically expressing my emotions, better at admitting my faults and communicating with my peers. I’m nowhere near perfect (far from it) but getting to know myself has given me a new insight into addressing problems. At the end of the day I feel more energized and inspired because I’m doing my best to live a life that cultivates who I am and what I want to be.
If you are unsure how to “know yourself better” I have a few simple tips to get you started.
Don’t bend. Don’t water it down. Don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.
1. Start a Journal (& re-read it!)
One of the exercises I’ve found my useful on my journey toward self discovery is writing about my feelings and experiences frequently.I write on my blog 4-5 days a week but I know there are certain topics I won’t cover here (although I do get pretty personal), for those topics I prefer a physical journal. When I feel sad or anxious or angry I prefer the safety of a journal. I write without holding back or editing my thoughts-I am often over the top or dramatic, but it’s raw! I think it is incredibly important to capture the raw emotions you feel (even if they’re fleeting).
Many people journal but I don’t believe simply writing down important feelings and experiences is enough. You need to reread your thoughts! You’ve already gone to the trouble of articulating your thoughts, now it’s time to dedicate the time to study them. If you are able to reread your thoughts and further understand your emotions you not only start to discover trends and patterns but you realize the incidences that make you happy (or anxious) (or depressed). If you can get yourself into the habit of journaling (even if only when you feel overwhelmed with emotion) you will provide yourself with a irreplaceable resource. A journal is like a time capsule, it gives you the ability to “travel back in time” and rediscover your own thoughts. It’s a powerful tool!
2. Meditate Daily.
Personally, I’ve never taken a meditation class. I don’t sit cross-legged by candlelight, and I can’t clear my mind completely. Though I really love the idea of drinking green juice for every meal and covering my body in henna tattoos-I can’t fully saturate myself in the “Yogi Meditation” movement (don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about). I am sure that sort of mind clearing meditation is incredibly beneficial, but it’s not what I’m referring to. My version of meditation simply involves allowing yourself to decompress distraction free and spend some quality time with your thoughts (sans cell phone, background music or your bestie). I find it helpful to lay on the floor in a dark room (sounds emo, I know) and just let my mind wander. Another way I successfully meditate with my thoughts is in a hot bath or during a massage (the best way I say).
I give myself anywhere from 15-45 minutes to sit (or lay) silently with my thoughts. Though the process seems tedious and anti-climactic I think you’ll be surprised how much clarity you can gain! In a world that is constantly stimulating our senses and demanding our attention (Hello Instagram! Hello Group Text Messages! Hello the ability to shop online at any moment from the device in the palm of your hand!), it is a rare luxury to set aside one-on-one time with your thoughts. I need time with my thoughts daily (it’s my stress relief and problem solving time) but I know not everyone’s inner voice is so demanding. You might only need 15 minutes once a week to “talk with yourself” or you may need a solid 30 minutes daily (like me). You should listen to your internal voice and take the time you personally need to reflect. I guarantee giving yourself this time will help you to grow and learn about yourself!
3.Talk to a Therapist.
I hate that there is a stigma against talking with a counselor or therapist, the minute I am financially able I am going to speak with a therapist as much as I can! I honestly believe everyone can benefit from working with a therapist (whether you’re dealing with a traumatic event or living with a mental illness or not). Every living human has a history and thus every living human has their own set of issues! There is no shame in having hang-ups, you’re a human, it is human to have a back story. I believe it is only by reflection and discussion we can truly embrace our past and how it affects us.
I’ve worked with a therapist a handful of times for my anxiety and while I did benefit from the breathing exercises and anxiety reducing techniques I was taught; I benefitted exponentially more by pin pointing my triggers. I believe every reaction has a reasonable cause (even if it doesn’t appear reasonable at first glance).
For instance, every time I get an argument with a loved one I am dead set on solving the issue then and there. I don’t want to take a day to cool down, I don’t want even five minutes alone to take a deep breath, every moment I’m not talking with the other person about the issue I am growing more and more upset. I equate unresolved issues with abandonment. When a loved one needs time to his/herself to think about the problem I assume the person will leave me (forever)! Through therapy I was able to recognize the life experiences that have rooted these abandonment issues and thus empowered me to work toward a more reasonable approach to problem solving. Though it isn’t always feasible, I know therapy is always a beneficial journey toward understanding yourself.
4. Ask for Feedback or Critique.
There are certain qualities we won’t ever notice about ourselves until someone else tells us! Are you perpetually interrupting your friends in conversation? Do you radiate happiness in every room you enter? Do you scare off small children with your resting bitch face? It isn’t necessarily critical that we understand every piece of ourselves but the more we can understand the better equipped we are to handle whatever obstacles come our way.
Though it can be difficult it is important we ask for constructive criticism and feedback throughout our lives. In the workplace there is usually a structure for receiving feedback (a quarterly performance review), in school we receive grades, but in our personal lives we don’t get report cards. If you have a friend, significant other or family member you trust try asking them for an honest opinion. What do you do that is off putting? How are you making relationships more difficult? What impression do you give off when you meet someone new?
It can be sort of awkward to ask these questions but the feedback is often shocking! The perceptions we have of ourselves don’t often match the perceptions others have of us (because we know what’s going on “behind the scenes” while the audience is blind). Recently, I realized I was belittling the emotions of someone close to me. Every time this individual would express his/her emotions I would cut him/her off and interject how the behavior made me feel. Though my attempt was to harmonize and relate my behavior was actually pushing the person away. I am so glad I received the feedback and was open to it rather than becoming defensive. As someone who values emotions I never want to make those close to me feel as if their emotions are invalid, I want the people I love to feel heard and valued!
5.Take the Myer’s Briggs Personality Test
I’m a little hesitant to suggest the Myer’s Briggs test as a way to know yourself better (even though I love it) because I don’t believe any personality test or quiz can be all encompassing of a person. However, as a “narcissist” and introspectively focused individual I’ve taken so many personality tests and I’ve never found one I find more accurate than MBTI test. I have taken the test multiple times and consistently receive the same results despite my changing moods (which in my opinion do not affect your overlying personality). I have read articles and books on my personality type (INFJ if anyone is wondering) and have found myself astonished by how accurate I find the descriptions.
I like to think of the test (or any test) as a starting point to understanding a personality (your own or another’s). There is hands down more to a person than 4 letters that determine general strengths and weaknesses, however the test is a good start. By reading about my own type I realized a lot about myself that I’ve known subconsciously about me but never realized were not universal traits (for example I have a tendency to feel misunderstood & consistently seek meaning). By recognizing my own traits it has really helped me to communicate more harmoniously with others and thus improve my relationships.
I highly recommend checking out the Myer’s Briggs test as a jump start to understanding the way you think and operate. You might roll your eyes at the results, but for anyone interested in analyzing the way they act and think it’s worth the 10 minutes of your day it will consume (I make pretty much all of my family and friends take it).
Take the Myer’s Briggs Personality Test.
Understanding yourself is a lifelong journey, it is my understanding that you never stop learning about yourself. As long as you are growing and changing and learning you will be reflecting and evaluating on who you are and what that means living on this little blue planet. I believe the “self actualization” process requires constant questioning. It’s okay not to ever fully know who you are (in fact I would question anyone who claims to fully understand themselves). How can we achieve fulfillment without constantly questioning who we are, what we believe and what it all means for our path?
How do you get to know yourself? What do you believe is the key to self-actualization?