Getting to Know You!
Many people move through lives unaware and unconscious of their own values. As a result, they might act in frustrating, repetitive patterns or feel helpless when changing undesirable behaviors.
Self-exploration can be powerful when it comes to feeling happier and more confident. Knowing yourself offers a sense of clarity about what you stand for and how you intend to live your life. Here are some tips to get you started.
Get Clear On Your Values
What do you treasure most in life? How would you spend your free time if you didn’t have work or other necessary obligations? What can’t you live without?
People who know themselves live according to their values. They understand what’s important to them, and they orient their worlds to best accommodate meeting those critical needs.
While we often value many things, it can be helpful to really try to narrow down your top core values. You might consider completing a values assessment inventory or worksheet to better help you discover what these are.
Remember that no particular value is better than another. Instead, it’s more important that you understand your values and aim to realign your life to ensure you can place them front and center.
If you value leadership, but you feel stuck working for a micromanaging boss, you will likely feel stifled and resentful. Similarly, if you love physical activity but spend most of your evenings crashing in front of the TV, you will likely feel restless or depressed.
Consider Your Greatest Fears
Just like you need to know what’s most important in your life, you also need to know what worries you. At its core, all fear has an evolutionary function. Being scared helps us keep ourselves safe, and that reflex is necessary for our survival.
When you get clear on your fears, you get even more clear on your values and priorities. For example, if you fear being alone, it probably means that family and love are essential to your well-being. If you fear getting sick or dying, you likely value health and prosperity.
If you aren’t sure what scares you, consider reflecting on these questions:
- If today were the absolute worst day of my life, what would be happening to me?
- What could occur that would make me question if life was worth living?
- What brings me immense dread?
The goal isn’t to eradicate your fears. That’s unrealistic. Instead, the goal is to be aware of their role in your life. The more you can accept your anxieties, the less intense they tend to feel.
Start Your Mental Health Education.
Get instant access to free videos, and be the first to know about live classes and events.
Spend More Time Alone
We humans are social creatures, and our relationships are essential for feeling connected. But solitude forces you to be with yourself, even if this time feels uncomfortable.
When you’re alone, you have to rely on yourself to make decisions without external influences. Over time, this helps you cultivate more awareness.
To maximize this benefit, make sure that you optimize how you spend time alone. Try to avoid or limit distractions. Reduce your technology use, and aim to get quiet with yourself. This silence allows you to become better attuned to your thoughts and feelings.
Try to embrace having at least 5-10 minutes of quiet time each day. Consider sitting in silence and reflecting on your day during this time. Tune into how you feel and accept whatever thoughts arise.
Consider spending at least a half-day or full day alone about once a month. Doing so can recharge your emotional batteries and allow you to practice self-care without worrying about attending to the needs of others.
Reflect On Your Relationships
Have you ever heard of the saying, ‘You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with?
Whether or not that’s entirely true, there’s no doubt that our relationships with others affect our choices and motives. If, for instance, several of your friends are getting pregnant, you might start thinking about whether you want to start a family of your own. Or, if most of your friends play basketball, you’ll probably spend a great deal of time talking, watching, or playing basketball yourself.
Toxic relationships can also leave a lasting imprint. For example, do you tend to spend time with people who frequently complain? Does one of your friends mooch off you and expect you to pay for everything when you go out? Do you tolerate emotional abuse?
If so, it may be helpful to spend some time reflecting on your role in these relationships. What patterns do you notice? What hesitation do you have about setting boundaries? How might you feel if these people weren’t in your life?
Ask People for Feedback Regularly
We can absolutely develop blind spots when it comes to assessing our behavior and personality. Sometimes, we may be overly optimistic and think we’re better at something than we really are. Other times, we’re far too critical.
Asking people for feedback gives you the opportunity to better understand how others perceive you. While nobody has true authority about who you are, you may start to notice consistent themes in what people say.
For example, if several people tell you that they find you often seem uptight, it could mean that you struggle with anxiety or control issues. Or, if your mother and girlfriend say that you are compassionate, it probably means that loved ones feel safe sharing their feelings with you.
Most importantly, it’s important to be receptive when it comes to receiving feedback. If you come across as defensive or dismissive, others will likely withdraw or shut down altogether.
It’s up to you if you want to implement the feedback others give you. But, if you trust the people offering honest opinions, it’s certainly worth considering their suggestions. After all, they have your best interest at heart.
Embrace Your Evolution
The well-known saying, change is the only constant, also applies to how well you know yourself. We move through different phases in life, and it isn’t realistic for you to think or act the same way you did a decade ago.
Instead, be open to the possibility that you will grow and change as time unfolds. What once mattered strongly to you may no longer seem as important. Likewise, priorities that never once existed might take center stage.
Knowing yourself means welcoming and being curious about these changes. It also means accepting that you are not a static person.
That said, it’s certainly worth spending some time reflecting on how you’ve evolved over time. Change tends to happen slowly. Before we realize it, we feel entirely different. Here are some questions you might ask yourself:
- What did I once enjoy that I no longer enjoy?
- Is there a relationship, hobby, or obligation I’d now like to let go of?
- If my child self could see me now, what would surprise them the most?
- In ten years, how do I hope to be different from the person I am today?
If you feel like nothing has changed in several years, it could mean that you’re stuck in a rut. You might not be taking enough risks in life. In addition, you might be closed off to novelty or growth in your relationships. If that’s the case, that’s certainly something to reflect on.
Spend Time Journaling
Writing down your thoughts can help you build a stronger relationship with yourself and cultivate more self-awareness. You can either write freely or respond to specific journal prompts.
Here are some questions to consider answering:
- If I could give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be ____
- My biggest goal right now is to _____
- I worry that I might regret ____
- I feel most like myself when I _____
- I tend to feel the most insecure when _____
- One thing I really hope to improve is my ____
- A recent mistake I made was _____
- I really need to accept that ____
Focus on Being More Present
How often do you move through the day as if you’re on auto-pilot? When was the last time you really engaged with your five senses or stayed present with your emotions?
Mindfulness encourages you to build a better relationship with the world around you. When you can just accept what is, you spend less time ruminating on the past or obsessing about the future.
Subsequently, this process translates into getting to know yourself better. Being present requires you to slow down, be attentive, and observe your surroundings. With time, this can help you sharpen your self-awareness (i.e., you can become more attuned to basic signals like hunger or rest).
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Sometimes you need to step out of what’s familiar to really understand who you are. For instance, you don’t really know the full capacity of your strength until it’s tested to the maximum limit.
Of course, getting out of your comfort zone doesn’t need to be this extreme endeavor. It can be as simple as signing up for a new class or asking a new friend if they want to have lunch together.
But try to get into a regular habit of embracing novelty. The more you can expose yourself to trying new things, the more skills you’ll develop (and the more you will enhance your own insight and sense of courage!).
Maximize Your Flow
Flow refers to a psychological state where you feel completely immersed in a specific activity. When flow happens, it’s as if time has been suspended. You are present with what you’re doing, and there’s a sense of energized motivation and concentration.
You also know you’re in a state of flow when:
- The activity feels inherently rewarding
- You don’t mind feeling challenged
- You feel like you can’t think or focus on anything else
Now, think about the times when you experience flow. Maybe it’s when you’re playing a musical instrument or riding your bike. Perhaps it’s when you’re developing an exciting, creative presentation at work.
Optimizing flow goes hand-in-hand with honoring your values, embracing your evolution, and being more present. Flow allows you to feel more creative and fulfilled, and these feelings help you better understand yourself.
Identify Concerning Patterns
Do you struggle with procrastination? Do you lash out at your loved ones when you feel stressed? Do you drink too much alcohol or frequently overeat?
Nobody is perfect, but concerning patterns may represent deeper issues blocking confidence or happiness. Some people know why they have these patterns. Others feel confused by them.
Regardless of your personal circumstances, you owe it to yourself to spend some time reflecting on the areas in your life you want to change. Wanting to grow as a person is a virtuous goal, but it requires being honest about your own weaknesses and struggles.
Once you identify a problematic pattern, it can be helpful to ask yourself:
- What function do I think this behavior plays in my life?
- What are the pros and cons of stopping this behavior?
- How will my life change if I stop acting in this way?
Try not to criticize yourself if you can’t change a certain pattern overnight. Habits take time to develop, and breaking or modifying them is difficult!
Speak to a Therapist
Therapy encourages a deeper level of self-exploration and self-awareness. It also offers support as you navigate new changes and make important decisions. If you feel trapped in a painful pattern- or if you keep sabotaging your own happiness or growth- it’s essential to work through these barriers.
A therapist will ask thoughtful questions to better understand your thoughts, feelings, relationships, motives, and dreams. Your answers can reveal critical information about who you are and what you stand for.
Self-exploration is an active, indefinite process. The work is never fully complete. But as you commit to the work, you’ll enjoy better self-esteem, healthier relationships, and a greater sense of fulfillment.