“Every person born in the world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique, and every man or woman’s foremost task is the actualization of his or her unique, unprecedented and never recurring possibilities.” – Philosopher Martin Buber
Your relationship to yourself will be the longest and most significant of your lifetime. Getting to know yourself seems like a no brainer—after all, you live with yourself every moment of every day—but the truth is, it can be difficult.
First, there are so many factors that make you you: your life experiences, personality, beliefs, values, even motivations. Second, it can be easy to live unconsciously, to do whatever you feel in each moment instead of looking for the larger patterns of your life or living according to the values and creeds that matter to you.
Living unconsciously might lead you to assume your actions are what any reasonable person would choose in a given situation, but that’s not true. You’re a one-of-a-kind individual whose actions and reactions are based on who you are and how your prior experiences have taught you to act and react.
If you want to live more consciously, to become more aware of why you do what you do, then you have to get to know yourself. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to give you some ways to explore your many facets. We’ll start with three basic tools.
Getting to Know Yourself Through Journaling
One of the best ways I know for getting to know yourself is journaling. A journal gives you a safe place to record thoughts you might not want to share with others, to ask yourself questions like “Why did I say that or do that?” after an event, or to note your beliefs.
I’m old school and prefer journaling with pen and paper but, if you’re worried about someone seeing or reading your journal, you could use something like MacJournal and Evernote, which can be password-protected.
Here are five journaling prompts to get you started:
- I believe…
- I remember…
- I don’t want to write about…
- I wish everyone knew…
- The most significant thing ever to happen to me was…
Write for 10 minutes, being as honest as you can. You can always destroy or delete what you wrote later, if it’s too personal. The act of writing it down, however, can give you tremendous insight into who you are.
Getting to Know Yourself Through Meditation
In its simplest form, meditation is simply sitting with your thoughts. Take a few minutes to close your eyes, sit quietly, and observe your mind. Your mind may initially freak out and that’s okay.
If your mind is obsessing over your to-do list, remind yourself that you’ll tend to your list soon. If your gremlins are talking to you—you’ll know because they’ll say things like “you’re wasting your time,” or “you can’t do this,” very negative responses intended to derail you from the activity—acknowledge them and note what they have to say. It may show you where some of your insecurities lie.
Where your mind goes and the tone of your inner monologue tell you a lot about how you think and what matters to you. We all have an inner critic and an inner mentor. The critic speaks harshly and loudly; the mentor speaks quietly and decidedly when you can let the gremlins go.
If you find your mind has gone blank, you can ask yourself questions:
- What has shaped me?
- What do I know for sure?
- How do I define myself?
- What do I wish?
Your answers to each of the above questions helps you delve into your psyche and explore what matters to you. Your past experiences and takeaways impact your daily choices; the words you choose to accept or reject as you define yourself can tell you a lot about what matters to you; and your wishes begin to hint at your motivations.
Getting to Know Yourself Through Pausing
We humans like to act and react. A lot. Pausing to reflect on our actions and observing our reactions can thus be quite powerful.
Take a few moments to pause during your day. Set aside distractions like your earbuds and crackberry and gaze out the window or drink a cup of tea. Think back to a recent event, maybe a disagreement with someone or a time you felt strong emotion. Ask yourself:
- What was I feeling in that moment?
- What was my role in that situation?
- What led me to react as I did?
- How else could I have reacted?
Pausing and observing isn’t about judging your behavior or assigning blame. It’s about being curious, about uncovering what drives you, and exploring how you can become more conscious in your future actions.
I encourage you to keep using these basic tools of journaling, meditation, and pausing as we progress over the next few weeks. I’ll be introducing several new methods of getting to know yourself and it will be helpful to return to these basic tools as you go. You may even want to dedicate a notebook (hard cover or Evernote) for capturing your thoughts and realizations throughout this process.
What is driving you to get to know yourself? How do you think it will help you?
For part two of the getting to know yourself series, click here.