Updated in June, 2022
Knowing yourself is one of the most powerful weapons one can use to live and grow. From significant and complete assessments about oneself to small, “I have had this reaction before” insights, self-knowledge might seem like a cheat sheet when well used.
The thing is: the more you know, the easiest it gets.
But still, many of us don’t focus on understanding themselves. Or, worse, tend to have an auto-image based solely on fractured third party opinions – this can be a terrible mislead.
I believe every human should invest a significant part of their time trying to understand themselves and find the best ways to deal with emotions, thoughts, and reactions,
With no intention to substitute a good therapist (really, you should see one), I can list a few areas and quick wins that you get by paying attention to yourself and investigating who you are.
There are many tests and assessments you can use to help on your self-knowledge journey. They can be valuable as a headstart, and maybe the fastest way to get some structured information about yourself (the true insights might happen later, on real-life feedback).
Psychological and behavioral tests such as MBTI (Myers-Briggs Typology) or DISC (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Consciousness) can bring up some quite useful insights.
There is a website called 16personalities that does MBTI tests for free (I’m a Debater-ENFP), and Clifton/Gallup has a Strengths Test that can also do well. I have recently used a tool named Crystal to assess myself and my co-workers based on these methodologies.
Hell, I have even read Jung’s Archetypes and made my own Astral Map;
Risk-taker, bold, extroverted, quick-thinker, spontaneous, and curious. Energized by entertaining, debating ideas, leading initiatives, and experiencing new things, and drained by repetitive tasks, following rules and rigid hierarchy and schedules. That’s me.
I didn’t find anything breathtakingly new on my assessments. Well, that’s a good thing – when speaking about self-knowledge, the less surprised you are, the better.
But then, you can act to mitigate one of your flaws or potentialize one strength. In my case, I trained myself to find some fun by researching data, just by making some questions and gamificating the process. With that, I started to gain energy doing this activity.
Along with a precious guideline to deal with yourself, when you put a whole group into the same framework, you can see how the members interact and the best and worse ways to do so.
Alert: despite being an interactive way to gain some insight, one should not rely entirely on third-party tests. Sometimes they are as accurate as a random Buzzfeed “What Game of Thrones character you are?” quiz. Be careful.
One of the best ways to gain insight into who you are and how you behave is merely asking others in a more structured way, or even in a quick chat, the way another person sees you might have some reality.
I love to get feedback (so yes, please give me some about this text).
First thing, ask. If you know how to ask the right questions, you probably will get good answers. To more trusted and trustworthy ones, ask more in-depth questions.
Give details about a situation you’re currently living, ask how you feel, what you should do, and how they can interpret your behavior.
Even those who have fragmented interactions and little to say about you can give powerful insight if you ask the right question and pay attention to what they are saying (and not saying, too). And to take and compare notes after.
One important thing to know is that every feedback is an interpretation of reality (from the person who gives it) and should not represent the whole truth. It is more like a piece of a puzzle that you need to triangle and get more parts to make sense of it (never interpret one’s vision of you as the whole thing).
Two of the best books I’ve read about it are “Radical Candor,” by Kim Scott, and “Principles,” by Ray Dalio, if you want to know more about both the strategy and the technique on how to give and receive feedback.
I have made and kept notes about structured performance reviews, as well as notes on 1-1’s and other feedback since 2018 or so. And that gives me many data points in order to help myself to be better, or to mitigate risks and downsides, or to learn and grow. I know what I’ve developed, or didn’t, from many perspectives. It’s like seeing a movie of your life, and not only a picture.
The best moment to give and receive feedback is every moment. (And keep it!)
Log and learn
You can also learn a lot about yourself by simply registering situations. We wildly underestimate the power of taking notes. What you did, how you felt, what made you tick. The journaling technique is built entirely on this premise. By getting thoughts and feelings out of your head, you pay attention to them and register them better (it’s scientifically proven).
I like to not only journal daily but to keep tabs on my progress throughout the year. It is much like a baby’s yearbook or a game log, but with your current age and life. Using Notion or any other app to keep everything in one place helps, as well.
There is another technique I used to follow (but since I had my first son, I embraced a little more of an ongoing approach instead of a fixed one). I have never made a New-Year promise during my adult life. Instead of doing it, I determine objectives, key results, and a plan.
Every month I stop and analyze what happened, how I felt, and how are things going in six areas: Self (mental health, time, and all-around feeling about myself), Professional (how I’m doing at work and on classes), Learning (what I’m learning and if I am making progress to become who I want to be), Physical (how is my body), Financial (both investments and cash flow), and Relationships (with my beloved ones).
I invented/remixed this sort of technique based on Intel and Google’s OKR (Objectives and Key Results), and I have learned that some (non-bullshitter) coaches have a tool called “Wheel of Life” that is also alike.
By doing this, I have an accurate picture of how that month was, but also I can see how much I grew and evolved since I started counting, what I had to deal with, and how I felt about everything (spoiler: it is incredible to see progress).
Meditation and deliberate introspection
Meditation is a powerful tool to use to self-knowledge and growth.
In mindfulness, you try to pay attention to your breathing and not into your thoughts. In this type of meditation, you focus on what you’re thinking and just put it out to later think about what that means.
With apps such as Headspace, Calm, Zen, and many others, you can guide yourself into a more mindful state of mind, calm down what you are feeling, and learn a lot about yourself.
Mindfulness does work a lot, and I speak from an absolute beginner’s perspective here: for myself, it is quite a challenge to control the speed of thoughts that overflow my mind – that’s why I can feel more at ease with thinking about thinking, or a technique called “philosophical meditation.” It would be best if you tried both.
Or, if you don’t want to go through any technique, do yourself a favor and reserve some time to wander in your thoughts. With smartphones, social media, and all the buzz we live in, it can be hard to be “alone” within your mind – and you always could use some thinking space. Allow yourself to some introverted and focused moments.
Know how to grow
These are some techniques that exist to help one know themselves and grow based on that learning. Another vital thing to say is that none of the above are bulletproof, or “the only solution you can go to”, and neither can substitute for a good psychologist.
There are many things you can only unveil with some professional help, and I have found out that frameworks such as Behaviour Therapy can shape how you act. Applying the Lean way can also be powerful, with short feedback cycles of building, measuring, and learning.
By knowing more about yourself, you can choose:
- Whatever work suits you better both in skills and work culture;
- Whatever hobby is designed to keep you interested;
- Your life partner, friend groups, and circle of interest;
- To optimize for what gives your energy instead of what drains it;
- And many, many more;
I have found out that knowing yourself is fun – and helps a lot in the pursuit of having a happy and purposeful life.
You should try 🙂 – and tell me more about how you do it