Wisdom//

Self-Knowledge is a Prerequisite for a Happy Life

You don’t understand yourself as well as you think you do.

Courtesy of nd3000 / Shutterstock
Courtesy of nd3000 / Shutterstock

Growth in life and career starts with self-knowledge.

Socrates was once asked to sump up what all philosophical commandments could be reduced to, he replied: ‘Know yourself.’

The phrase, “Know thyself,” is centuries old, but it’s still relevant today. Research from psychologist Daniel Goleman shows that self-awareness is crucial for all levels of success.

How well do you think you know yourself?

Most people’s knowledge about themselves is distorted.

“Princeton University psychologist Emily Pronin, who specializes in human self-perception and decision making, calls the mistaken belief in privileged access the “introspection illusion.” The way we view ourselves is distorted, but we do not realize it. As a result, our self-image has surprisingly little to do with our actions,” writes Steve Ayan.

Self-knowledge is about understanding your real (and true) needs, desires, goals, weaknesses, and everything else that makes you tick. It requires a deep understanding of your past and current self.

Your personal theories (self-narratives) about who you are, influence how you behave. An accurate sense of who you are makes self-improvement possible.

Self-knowledge (self-awareness) is insanely hard to acquire, though.

Some people engage the services of therapists to help them understand themselves better because our minds are skilled at hiding the truth about ourselves from our conscious grasp.

Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, once said, “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”

A bit of introspection can open up so many opportunities to create the life you want — whether you want to build a successful career, a strong relationship, or life your best life.

“Think of it this way: you can’t truly take care of yourself if you don’t know what your needs are, and you can’t improve yourself if you don’t know your best qualities and the ones that are, uh, more challenging,” says Terri Pous.

Your true self is the real ‘you’, and is made up of your true character, values, desires, emotions and beliefs.

The sum total of who you are as a person, not as a son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, or wife. The true self as it really is.

The search for your true self can take a while.

To have knowledge of your true self would be a genuine ‘cognitive’ or intellectual achievement that will be the beginning of a happy, meaningful and fulfilling life.

Developing self-knowledge allows you to understand how you’ve been shaped by the many cultural and social expectations around you and what really motivates your goals, desires and actions in life.

Self-awareness opens the door to wisdom.

In her book, Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life, Tasha Eurich explains:

There is strong scientific evidence that people who know themselves and how others see them are happier. They make smarter decisions. They have better personal and professional relationships. They raise more mature children. They’re smarter, superior students who choose better careers. They’re more creative, more confident, and better communicators. They’re less aggressive and less likely to lie, cheat, and steal. They’re better performers at work who get more promotions. They’re more effective leaders with more enthusiastic employees. They even lead more profitable companies… some research has even shown that self-awareness is the single greatest predictor of leadership success.

It pays to embark on one of the most exciting journeys: into our deepest, most elusive selves. Your success depends on it.

You owe it to yourself to find the real you. The path to your success starts with a critical look in the mirror.

If you look hard enough (and often) you will develop self-knowledge.

Your “self” lies before you like an open book. If you don’t have time to explore, read, and deeply understand who you are, you will continue to pursue a ‘false” self that only guarantees emptiness.

“Oliver C. Schultheiss of Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany has shown that our sense of well-being tends to grow as our conscious goals and unconscious motives become more aligned or congruent. For example, we should not slave away at a career that gives us money and power if these goals are of little importance to us, writes Steve Ayan of Scientific American.

Aligning our conscious goals and unconscious motives is a difficult task. Only a few people can achieve such harmony, but it’s not impossible.

To improve your self-knowledge, start with quantified “self-logging”

One of the best ways to increase self-awareness is to write down what you think you know about yourself and everything you unconsciously know about your true self.

Writing about life experiences improves our physical and mental health, according to research from Southern Methodist University.

How much you confront your life’s challenges (both easy and difficult) defines your level of self-knowledge.

The basic idea of this exercise is that, if you collect enough data about yourself, you can make improvements based on that information.

Start your self-introspection by diary.

View yourself at a distance from your conscious self — for example, in solitude. And write out what you think you are now: your beliefs, values, morals, traits and goals.And what, or who contributed to shaping them.

Do the same for your unconscious self. What do your “hidden self” really want from life. Try to imagine, as vividly and in as much detail as possible, how things would be different from your life now.

Don’t rush the process. Take your time. You can’t know yourself in a day.

Once you have enough information about your two selves, begin to create harmony by pursuing some of your unconscious goals.

You will be surprised at the results.

This process (for you alone) can help you clarify the distinctive nature of your personalities — what you think you want or know about yourself, what you need to watch out for and what your true priorities and potential might be.

The best part of a self-knowledge exercise is that, when you’re feeling lost or every time things feel out of control, you can whip out your journal and reconnect with your true self.

Your conversation with yourself should be only with yourself.

Closing thoughts

Becoming self-aware is the basic foundation for creating the life you want. Your happiness depends on it.

But improving your self-knowledge won’t happen in a day.

Sometimes it takes years of reflection, introspection, and difficult conversations with people you affect directly or indirectly.

But as you begin your journey of self-awareness, you will find get more comfortable being your true self, transparent, and even vulnerable. You will create harmony between your current self and unconscious or true self.

Originally published on Medium.

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