“Know yourself. Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.”
“To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment.”
“I am what I am and that’s all that I am.”
How well do you know yourself?
How much do you like yourself?
These two questions are inexorably intertwined. The more we know ourselves, the more likely we will be to become people we would naturally like and admire.
But getting to know ourselves takes effort.
We need to spend time with ourselves – alone and with others. We can know ourselves better through spending time with other people, as long as we stay aware of our thoughts, our reactions, and our emotions.
Solitary time is important too, and we should make sure we have enough of it. It’s like the difference between spending time with our best friend among a group of friends, and spending time alone with our best friend. It’s important to have both.
Knowing ourselves well will provide a more developed sense of our place in the world. We know where we fit and what our role is. We can see where we are on the chessboard and we know our relationship to all the other pieces. This will allow us to more effectively and enjoyably interact with other people, and have a clearer picture of the dynamics of these interactions as they evolve.
Another benefit of knowing ourselves well is that it enhances our ability to handle difficult situations. A common metaphor for this is a still pond. A rock thrown in will cause ripples, but the water underneath will not be disturbed. The more we know ourselves, the more we can develop an inner peace. This will allow us to live lives that are intense, passionate, and exciting, while maintaining a deep and sustaining serenity beneath it.
Among other benefits, this will make us more resilient. When bad things happen, we have a strong foundation, and a depth of fortitude that allows us to endure when we are tested – and all of us are tested eventually.
Some people will try to fit us into boxes or categories and if we do anything that doesn’t fit in with those assumptions it makes them uncomfortable. Others make no assumptions and really try to get to know the real you. They are curious about our upbringing and our experiences and how this has made us who we are. They try to understand our motivations and values and through this, they have an evolving sense of who we are based on the evolving person that we actually are.
Most people we come across are not firmly in either one of these camps, but are probably somewhere in the middle. They may draw some conclusions about us, but are open-minded and even curious when we don’t behave the way they expect.
We go through a similar process with ourselves. We might think we are a certain type of person, but because we are all changing, some of those assumptions must also change. Some of us resist this – we try to live up to a specific ideal for who we are and try very hard to stick to it. Some will even take that further. They have a very strict notion about how they are, and if they have thoughts or desires that fall outside of that picture, it can make them anxious or distraught.
How do we combine our own desires, our needs, our dreams, and our fears into a self-perception?
There are a plethora of self assessment tools out there, all of which purport to provide insight into the kind of person we are, but do any of these really get to the heart of who we are and how we interact with the world around us?
In any moment of our lives, our attitude, confidence and actions are driven by how we perceive ourselves. A better understanding of that perception can provide the insights we need to move through life with a more focused direction.
One way to do this is by trying to describe our identity in writing. Try this:
- Write down an accurate, detailed description of yourself including any aspects that are important to understanding the kind of person you are. Be completely honest and do not hold anything back.
- Read it over and really get to know the person you are describing.
- Revise the description over the next days and weeks as appropriate, as you get to know yourself better, or if something you do doesn’t jibe with your description.
- Hold on to your description and revise it periodically.
Another interesting exercise is to see how well other peoples’ perception of us align with our own. Does it seem that people see us as we are characterized in our descriptions? Are there differences between our description and our public face? Are any of these differences intentional?
If we answer this question honestly and our descriptions are honest, the answer will almost certainly be yes. Each of us, to some degree, puts our “best” face forward and hides some of our less savory characteristics.
That being said, we shouldn’t hide who we really are – especially to those closest to us.
Embrace who you are, and other people will embrace you too.
“But wait,” you ask, “what if we get to know ourselves and it turns out we’re not that strong, brave, or serene?”
This gets back to the connection between knowing ourselves and making ourselves people we want to know. It doesn’t mean we are all going to transform into a sage or a hero, but it does mean we will understand our strengths and weaknesses, and can live our lives according to our values.
The more we know ourselves, the more confident we will be in our decisions, words, and actions. We will know that they are coming from a trusted place; a place we know well. We will know that they are based on a set of values that we understand well.
Finally having a better relationship with ourselves will result in a much more meaningful, happy and fulfilling life. We have to spend a lot of time with ourselves, so we might as well make the most of that relationship. Like any relationship, it takes time, energy and attention to keep it healthy. We have to make time for that, and make it a priority.
Self. Meet self. I know you guys will hit it off.