How Carl Jung can help us better understand our 21st century selves

His work can help us navigate the many challenges of modern life.

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Looking out across an Atlantic beach.
Looking out across an Atlantic beach.

People everywhere are experiencing a greater volume, complexity and rate of disruption than ever before. And that was before Coronavirus upped the ante.

In this context, it might seem curious to look to the past for lessons that can be applied today. But the truth is, the work of Swiss psychiatrist and psychologist Carl Jung is as relevant today – almost a century later – as it was ground-breaking when first published.

In fact, as a practicing developer of Jung’s Typology for almost four decades, I believe that almost everything we talk about is in some way related to his work. So, what can we learn from Professor Jung to help us successfully navigate the many challenges of modern life?

1) Self-awareness is the foundation on which all else is built

Jung wrote, “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” What Jung was telling us was that every great discovery, every personal or professional achievement, every meaningful connection begins first with increased self-awareness, leading to increased others-awareness.

Self-aware people are more likely to be self-assured people. They make better decisions – faster. They conduct relationships in a way that is mutually beneficial and respectful. Their communications are designed for those around them, helping key messages land better. They are more likely to be greater influencers of others.

If you’re looking to achieve greater impact, improve your relationships, build a more effective team, or be more productive; the starting point is heightening your self-awareness – in other words, ‘Know thyself’.

2) Jung gives us a common language to understand ourselves

Jung’s study of personality type has given us a way of understanding that people think and behave differently.

Jung used the term introvert to explain the set of behaviours displayed by people who turn inward for psychological sustenance. Conversely, he used the term extrovert to describe those who need greater human interaction to thrive.

He also recognised that people perceive and process information differently – and gave us the language to be able to explore that. People who need tangible evidence are more likely to have a sensing preference, as opposed to those who more easily take an intuitive leap. The decision-making functions are Thinking, arguably more rational, and Feeling, arguably more emotional.

Need a little context? It’s likely the more self-sufficient introverts among us are finding ‘lockdown’ restrictions a little easier to cope with. Unless you throw full-time work and home-schooling into the mix – and then all bets are off!

All languages require a common vocabulary and Jung’s systematic analysis of the structure of our psyches gives us a way to explain ourselves and connect with one another. Where race, religion, or economic mobility divides us, Jung gives us a common language to break down barriers and build connection.

3) There are many definitions of success

Jung’s study of the development of self-awareness teaches us that there is more than one way to be successful, and that all are equally valid.

There is something incredibly powerful and liberating in this. Almost a century ago, Jung was challenging the idea of the glass ceiling. Or, at least, giving us the language – and possibly the encouragement – to do so.

4) We will all experience bumps in our journey through life

Jung’s examination of the journey of self-awareness helps to normalise the internal conflicts we all experience and gives us goal posts in the complicated process of trying to bring more into our consciousness.

He lets us know feeling conflicted is perfectly normal but the best way to manage these anxieties is to understand how they arise and how to overcome them – through heightened self-awareness.

Jung helps us understand what can’t be easily explained

Jung teaches us that self-awareness is a process of noticing what you know about yourself and that going through that process will serve you in positive and unexpected ways. Interest in Jung is growing, and this demonstrates how he remains relevant after more than 100 years.

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