How Well Do You Know Your Self Anyways?

We all like to think that we know ourselves. I mean, come on. Haven’t we quite literally been the one who’s been there the entire time, in every single waking – and sleeping – moment? Seems like that should mean something, right?

And we have all of our friends and family to share their observations about us to further deepen our knowledge of ourselves. Maybe you’ve heard them say something about you for years. Some characteristic they’ve identified about you (even if it happened only that one time) that they remind you of regularly, so it becomes part of your thinking – knowing – about who you are. Something seemingly benign like, “Oh, Kelly. She always forgets stuff.” Or, “You always react like that.” Or, “She should do ____ for a living, she’d be good at it.”

Equipped with all of this knowledge about ourselves, we go about setting up our lives – complete with careers, relationships, a house, maybe a couple kids. We live our lives each day. We find our groove. We get up and do our morning routine before we take off for work. We end our workday and do our evening routine thing. Not bad, right? Seems like we know what’s going on and we can take care of business.

I know its cliché, but I think we all eventually reach a point when we realize something’s missing, that there has to be something more, that something needs to change in our lives. Maybe it’s a lackluster career. Maybe you realize you’re drowning in physical clutter or financial obligations. Maybe one or more of your relationships is bringing you down more than lifting you up. Or maybe you’re struggling to identify or articulate the source of your discomfort. Whatever it is, I think we all hit this point at least once during our adult lives. 

But what then? We may be tempted to just hunker down and wait for the discomfort, the uncomfortable question, to pass. It’s probably just a phase, right?

A better way to navigate through this phase would be to reach out to someone who can ask the right questions to help you find the right answers. Maybe a therapist or coach, a realtor or financial advisor, or maybe a personal trainer. This is where people are when they find me, that is, someone who can coach them toward greater awareness and achievement.

Working with clients, it’s my job to ask a lot of questions. These questions are designed not only for me to understand them better, but also to help them understand themselves even better. Often, I will then ask my client to think about how trying that idea feels to them – to really pause to listen to what their insides are telling them. Most of the time the client will be agreeable to trying the new idea, but other times the client may reject the idea and explain, “I just know myself and I don’t think that will work.”

Whether it’s when we’re working to develop a strategy to help them cultivate a new habit, or when we’re working on uncovering where to go next or to discover what’s been keeping them from moving forward, clients will often say things like, “I know myself and I just know that I won’t do that” or “I tried to do that before and it just didn’t work for me.”

To a certain extent, yes, this is good enough and you should work with this knowledge. I’ll use a personal example. I prefer to work out after 5:00pm, so I build the rest of my schedule around that understanding. I’d be setting myself up for failure if for some reason I decided that I should switch to working out in the mornings. I wake up every morning with my brain on overdrive and ready to work, so it’s so much more conducive for me to go straight to quieter, more intellectual activities in the morning when my thoughts are fresh and flowing. So, knowing myself in this situation supports my goals for occupation and physical wellbeing.

In cases like this, there isn’t a reason to push to do something different because what is being done truly is working. Instead, you build around this knowledge. For example, whenever I worked with an organizing client who put her keys in the same place every day, but regularly misplaced her purse, I wouldn’t suggest that she put her keys somewhere else. I would have instead ask her to consider putting her purse where she puts her keys. This is a simple example where knowing yourself helps.

Where I would likely question a client’s conclusion that something would or would not work for them, though, is when it comes to their stepping outside of their comfort zone to find their true calling. Facing the challenge of answering some of the bigger, more potentially impactful questions can arise for us, such as those regarding career or relationships, and we often respond to those questions from the comfort of our groove or routine, or what we think of as “knowing ourselves.” When we respond to these bigger questions based on “knowing” ourselves, we are actually responding based on who we have been in the past, not who we can be into the future.

When we repeat thoughts or actions, our brains will literally wire themselves around those thoughts and actions in order to function more efficiently. That’s why changing a habit can be such a struggle. So your brain has wired itself to put your keys in that same spot every day and now you don’t even think about it. Your past behaviors have created your current, and future, reality.

We also have thoughts and have developed beliefs about how life should be, what career we should have, where and how we should live, and so on, and then created a life around these beliefs. These thoughts and beliefs are based on our many experiences, and also on the opinions of others and various “outside” influences. Just as where you habitually put your keys has developed supportive wiring in your brain, beliefs about ourselves have been wired.

So let me ask you: How well do you really know your true self? Do you really have an understanding of what your full capacity is when you’re basing your perspective on what’s in the rearview mirror? Or have you gotten stuck in a groove, running on habit and outdated beliefs that may have never actually belonged to you, but were assigned to and absorbed by you?

Changing what we believe about ourselves can be very challenging, but we are capable of such change. Think about the situation we’ve all heard of when a parent lifts something incredibly heavy that’s fallen onto their child in order to save the child. There are many examples of these and other feats, and it’s a solid bet that the parent in the story would have never thought that they could have taken such heroic action before they were faced with the situation.

Applying this idea to your own life, where might you be limiting your future based on a past perspective of who you are? Do you really understand what your potential for the future is when you look at it from the perspective of knowing yourself?

For example, based on how you’ve handled situations in the past, perhaps repeatedly, do you stay at a job even when it makes you unhappy because you believe it’s the only work you know how to do? Or do you stay in a relationship that makes you unhappy because you believe this person is the best person you’ve ever been with or ever will be with?

Could it be that you’re living the life of a past version of yourself? One that’s based on the mood or the place you were in life when that situation occurred or decision was made and which influenced the way you handled it or felt about it? Is the self you know based on the habits and routines that you’ve fortified over the years?

Of course, your current self is going to encourage you to stick around because you’re wired based on past experiences. But if you tap into your vision of how you want to be, what do you think your future self is capable of? Can you find the true happiness and fulfillment you’re looking for when you ponder these big topics with the limited view of who you have been in the past?

If you do find yourself clinging to this current version of yourself, ask yourself why. Is it possible that fear of the unknown, the fear of failure, or the fear of success keeps you in your comfy groove of the known? What kind of happiness and fulfillment could you be missing out on? When is the last time you did something to shock your system and jolt yourself out of the way you’ve always done it? Even things as simple as driving a different route, taking a trip to a new destination, or striking up a conversation with a stranger.

When was the last time you asked yourself:

  • Is this really what I believe?
  • Is this really who I am?
  • Is this really what I want?
  • What could I do regarding ___?

When you play around with these questions, are you met with potential problems? Obstacles? Doubts? Well, of course you are! When we look at doing anything new, there’s always a learning curve, and as we work through that learning curve, we rewire our brains. We need to push back against limiting thoughts and beliefs.

Maybe you’d like a different career, but it requires a different skill set than you currently possess. Instead of letting that stop you, how about looking for a resource to help you manage it instead? For example, I have my own business, so I obviously have accounting and taxes to manage. While I was once a financial analyst, I’ve never learned accounting, let alone taxes! And because I wasn’t interested in learning accounting, I hired someone to do it for me instead of letting this particular lack of skill (or interest) stop me from doing what I wanted to do.

What would it be like to become curious about yourself and to let go of “knowing” yourself? Just begin! Bring activities like meditation, journaling and quiet reflective time into your daily routine. They will cultivate mindfulness, as well as a deeper connection with your inner guide – the “you” that really knows you the best. Get curious and excited about what will show up. And just like the parent who lifted the heavy thing off their child, you may surprise yourself!

I’m here to support you in your journey. xo

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