We’ve already talked about how the importance of self-knowledge in setting up a life that you love. But how do you learn about yourself?
Most of us have spent years conforming and compromising. We’ve been going along to get along. How do we figure out what really works for us? How do we coax long-buried dreams into the daylight?
Doesn’t happen on demand
Self-discovery is a delicate process that takes its own time.
It’s not something you can force or control. It has its own pace, and it goes in its own direction.
Every one in a while, you can ask yourself a straight-forward question like, “What do I really want from my career?” and all these deep, surprising insights come pouring out. But, usually, the initial responses are essentially your canned answers.
You’ve probably hidden most of the juicy stuff, even from yourself. You’ll need some patience and maybe some cleverness and creativity if you want the gritty, real, often disturbing, life-expanding answers.
So, how do you learn about yourself?
Okay, so truths bubble up when they’re good and ready to.
But you can encourage them to pay you a visit by:
- setting up a welcoming environment for them,
- using creative exercises to sneak up on them,
- watching yourself,
- asking specific questions and waiting for answers, and
- refraining from pouncing on answers you get.
In the rest of this article, we’ll look at each of these.
Setting up a welcoming environment
Inner truths reveal themselves more and more when they know they’ll be welcomed, appreciated, and respected.
Getting your inner self to reveal your secrets to you works the same way as getting a friend to share his secrets with you. If you’re welcoming, respectful, and non-judgmental, the friend gradually trusts you and shares more and more personal information. If you make fun of him, if you’re harsh or cruel, trust is destroyed, and your friend backs away from you.
As you go through your day, you’ll get bits of information about yourself. Things you do and don’t like. How you think and feel.
If you ignore or mock them, fewer come to you. If you pay attention to them, welcome them, and respect them, more come to you.
Example: the lawyer and the finger paint
A high-powered lawyer on her way to important meeting walks by a kindergarten and sees the kids finger painting on purple construction paper. Jealousy briefly flashes through her.
I want to finger paint on purple construction paper.
She can ignore the thought aside or make fun of it. Finger painting. Seriously? How old are you, five? You’ve got an important client meeting and you’re thinking about finger painting?
Or she can respect and welcome it. Honor it. Maybe even act on it. Finger painting. What fun! I wonder if there’s a place that I could buy finger paints and purple construction paper on the way home from work today.
The first approach closes her off to learning about herself. The second opens her up.
Asking yourself straight-forward questions may just net you canned answers, but you can often sneak up on the juicy stuff using exercises that are crafted with some ingenuity.
Martha Beck’s incredible (and, for me, life-changing) book, Finding Your Own North Star, is full of creative exercises to get to deep truths about yourself. She’ll have you mining your memory, observing your body’s reactions, interviewing your friends and family, and using other crafty approaches to get at the truth about yourself.
The Work by Bryon Katie is a process of questioning and turning around your beliefs that can help you let go of what you think you know about yourself.
One of the fastest paths to self-knowledge is just watching yourself.
I know of two excellent ways to do this:
- observing your physical reactions, and
- seeing what you do when you’re free to do whatever you want.
Observing your physical reactions
Marth Beck‘s work taught me about the rich knowledge we can get from paying attention to our physical reactions to the different people, situations, and even ideas that we encounter.
Our bodies tend to tighten up when we’re around the wrong people for us or in the wrong situations for us. Or we feel lethargic. Or we do and say awkward things.
When we’re around the right people for us and in the right situations for us, we open up and expand. We’re comfortable, graceful, and energetic. We flow.
So when you want to learn about what you do and don’t like, you can just observe your body’s responses. You may be surprised at what you learn. I certainly have been.
Seeing what you do when you have free time
When you want to understand someone else, you know that actions speak louder than words. A person can claim to care, but you can tell if he really does by the way he acts.
It turns out that the same thing is true about yourself.
When you have free time, you’ll gravitate towards what you really value, what you really enjoy. One way I help people get at the truth of their values and interests is by looking at how they spend their free time, including looking at what books they read, what TV shows they watch, what sites they surf.
Asking a question and waiting for answers
A clear question draws answers to it.
Your subconscious starts looking for an answer. You ask. You let the answers bubble up when they’re ready.
The trick is to stay in the question and not grab at easy answers. To be willing to wait. The good stuff tends to come when it’s good and ready — in its own time, in its own way. When you’re ready to receive it.
Refraining from pouncing on answers you get
When you get any sort of answer, a common reaction is to jump on it and turn it into an action plan. Generally speaking, the answers that bubble up don’t want to be mocked and disrespected, but they also don’t want to be taken too seriously. Pressure scares them off.
Answers that come to us often aren’t meant to be concrete, practical plans of action. They come to free our thinking. They spark ideas. They’re meant for playing, dreaming, experimenting. You may go through several rounds of ideas, plus take some time getting comfortable with your true choice, before you’re ready to turn it into reality.
Be warm, kind, welcoming to your ideas? Absolutely. But you probably want to give them room to breathe and evolve, to not take them too seriously at first or put pressure on them.
You may be wondering how a coach can help you unearth deep truths about yourself. If so, you may want to check out the article on clarity coaching.